I invite you to read my latest blog on the UC Humanities Forum on the role of humility and humor in academic conversation, performed brilliantly by eminent scholars Donna Haraway and Marilyn Strathern at the latest UC Davis Sawyer Seminar.
Nobody every said writing ethnography would be easy. On the contrary, there are legions of articles, books, and chapters articulating the difficulties of this very pastime. It is a genre unto itself. Yet like so many circumstances, its difficulty cannot be fully appreciated until one is immersed in the process.
I’d like to think I take a relational approach to my research. I do not assume that those with whom I play and study need my expertise to properly elucidate what matters in their own lives. They are already actively theorizing their lives through practice in incredibly complex ways. Part of my work is to understand how this is happening and perhaps approach why. There is no question of whether or not I will get it “right,” since that would assume there is only one way to live and think about the activity of biking. However, as I tell my students, while there might not be many “right” and “wrong” answers in my classes, there are certainly better answers–or answers that produce more favorable consequences.
So I seek to balance their voices and stories with my own, for in the research process I undoubtedly became implicated in the active and embodied theorizing of this activity called mountain biking. This, in turn, must be put into dialogue with secondary literature and a general argument about the “point” of all this and why anyone should care. It’s easy to talk about, but difficult to find the word-order that does it best.
The way I craft these stories is its own theorizing. Word choice matters. Placement of quotations and embedding description. Show, don’t tell. Isn’t that the writing advice we always tell our students?