Advertisement

The Broken Ethnography: Lessons from an Almost Hero

  • Randol ContrerasEmail author
Article
  • 38 Downloads

Abstract

In the past, ethnographers often presented themselves in the classic hero frame, where they appeared authoritative and calm. Recent ethnographers, though, reveal hardship and vulnerability yet prevail as “new age heroes” who overcame danger and doubt. Missing are the important methodological insights of ethnographers who experience multiple setbacks and obstacles, ones that lead to a broken ethnography, or one that never materializes or starts. Here, the ethnographer suffers, becoming dispirited and wanting to surrender or give up. This paper breaks that methodological silence, showing how difficult gang research in Los Angeles County placed me in a broken ethnography, one where I became disillusioned and questioned my abilities and resolve. In the end, the experience revealed important methodological lessons, ones that provide guidance for future ethnographers.

Keywords

Gangs Los Angeles Emotion Reflexivity Trust Rapport Ethnography Crime 

Notes

References

  1. Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1986. Veiled sentiments. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  2. Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1990. Can there be a feminist ethnography? Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 5 (1): 7–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Adams, Emily. 1993. Series of Hate Crimes Shakes up Residents of Hawaiian Gardens. Los Angeles Times, March 13.Google Scholar
  4. Adams, Jacqueline. 1998. The Wrongs of Reciprocity: Fieldwork Among Chilean Working-Class Women. Contemporary Ethnography 27 (2): 219–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Allen, Nick. 2014. Straight into Compton. The Telegraph, December 26.Google Scholar
  6. Andaya, Elise. 2014. Conceiving Cuba. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Anderson, Elijah. 1999. Code of the street. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  8. Anderson, Leon. 2006. Analytic autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35 (4): 373–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Anderson, Leon. 2011. Time is of the essence. Symbolic Interaction 34 (2): 133–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Behar, Ruth. 1996. The vulnerable observer. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  11. Behar, Ruth, and Deborah A. Gordon. 1996. Women writing culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  12. Berg, Bruce, and Howard Lune. 2012. Qualitative research methods for the social sciences. New York: Pearson.Google Scholar
  13. Blatchford, Chris. 2009. The black hand. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  14. Blee, Katherine. 1998. White-knuckled research. Qualitative Sociology 21 (4): 381–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bourgois, Philippe. [1995] 2003. In Search of Respect. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Brotherton, David. 2015. Youth street gangs. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Bucerius, Sandra. 2013. Becoming a trusted “outsider”. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 42 (6): 690–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Bucerius, Sandra. 2014. Unwanted. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Clifford, James. 1983. On ethnographic authority. Representations 1 (2): 118–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Clifford, James, and George Marcus. 1986. Writing culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  21. Collins, Patricia H. [1990] 2000. Black Feminist Thought. New York Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Contreras, Randol. 2013. The stickup kids. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  23. Contreras, Randol. 2015. Recalling to life: understanding stickup kids through insider qualitative research. In Advances in criminological theory, ed. Jody Miller and Wilson R. Palacios, 155–168. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  24. Contreras, Randol. 2017. There’s no sunshine: spatial anguish, deflections, and intersectionality in Compton and South Central. Environment and Planning D 35 (4): 656–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Contreras, Randol. 2018. From nowhere: space, race, and time in how young minority men interpret encounters with gangs. Qualitative Sociology 41 (2): 263–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Crenshaw, K. 1991. Mapping the margins. Stanford Law Review 43 (6): 1241–1299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Curtis, Ric. 1998. The improbable transformation of Inner-City neighborhoods: Crime, violence, drugs, and youths in the 1990s. Journal of Law and Criminology 88 (4): 1233–1276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Danziger, Sandra. 1979. On Doctor Watching: Fieldwork in Medical Settings. Urban Life 7 (4): 513–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Del Barco, Mandalit. 2011. Hate-Crime Arrests Signal 'Victory' for California City. National Public Radio, 14 June.Google Scholar
  30. Dobyns, Jay, and Nils Johnson-Shelton. 2009. No Angel. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  31. Ellis, Carolyn. 1991. Sociological introspection and emotional experience. Symbolic Interaction 14 (1): 23–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ellis, Carolyn. 1997. Evocative autoethnography: Writing emotionally about our lives. In Representation and the text, ed. W.G. Tierney and Y.S. Lincoln, 115–142. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  33. Ellis, Carolyn. 2004. The ethnographic I. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.Google Scholar
  34. Ellis, Carolyn, and Arthur Bochner. 2006. Analyzing analytic autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35 (4): 429–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Feldman, Martha S., Jeannine Bell, and Michele Berger. 2003. Gaining access. New York: Altamira Press.Google Scholar
  36. Ferrell, Jeff. 1998. Criminological Verstehen. In Ethnography at the edge, ed. Jeff Ferrell and Mark Hamm, 20–42. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Ferrell, Jeff, and Mark Hamm, eds. 1998. Ethnography at the edge. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Ferrell, Jeff, Keith Hayward, and Jock Young. 2008. Cultural Criminology. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  39. Ford, Andrea and Carla Rivera. 1992. Hope Takes Hold as Bloods, Crips Say Truce is for Real. Los Angeles Times, May 21.Google Scholar
  40. Forrest, Burke. 1986. Apprentice-participation: methodology and the study of subjective reality. Urban Life 14 (4): 431–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Glover, Scott and Richard Winton. 2009. Dozens Arrested in Crackdown on Latino Gang Accused of Targeting Blacks. Los Angeles Times, May 22.Google Scholar
  42. Horowitz, Ruth. 1986. Honor and the American Dream. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Hoang, Kimberly. 2015. Dealing in desire. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  44. Hunt, Jennifer. 1984. The development of rapport through the negotiation of gender in fieldwork among police. Human Organization 45 (4): 283–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kaminer, Ariel. 2012. Columbia’s Gang Scholar Lives on the Edge. New York Times, November 30.Google Scholar
  46. Kleinman, Sherryl, and Martha Copp. 1993. Emotions and fieldwork. Newbury Park: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kondo, Dorinne. 1990. Crafting Selves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  48. Koning, Juliette, and Can-Seng Ooi. 2013. Awkward encounters and ethnography. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management 8 (1): 16–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Krikorian, Michael and Greg Krikorian. 1997. Watts Truce Holds Even as Hopes Fade. Los Angeles Times, May 18.Google Scholar
  50. Martinez, Cid G. 2016. The neighborhood has its own rules. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Mattley, Christine. 1998. (dis)courtesy stigma. In Ethnography at the edge, ed. Jeff Ferrell and Mark Hamm, 146–158. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Mock, Brentin. 2006. Latino Gang Members in Southern California are Terrorizing and Killing Blacks. In Intelligence Report. Montgomery: Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2007/latino-gang-members-southern-californiaare-terrorizing-and-killing-blacks. Accessed 05 May 2011.
  54. Monahan, Torin, and Jill A. Fisher. 2015. Strategies for obtaining access to secretive or guarded organizations. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 44 (6): 709–736.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Oakley, Ann. 1981. Interviewing women: A contradiction in terms. In Doing feminist research, ed. Helen Roberts. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  56. Pelisek, Christine. 2005. Avenues of Death. LA Weekly, July 14–20, 27(4).Google Scholar
  57. Rapp, Rayna. 2000. Testing women, testing the fetus. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  58. Rios, Victor. 2011. Punished. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Rodriguez, Gregory. 2007. Harbor Gateway's Commuter Gangs. Los Angeles Times, January 21.Google Scholar
  60. Sanchez-Jankowski, Martin. 1992. Islands in the street. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  61. Sanchez-Jankowski, Martin. 2016. Burning Dislike. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  62. Sanders, William. 1994. Gangbangs and drive-bys. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  63. Sims, Calvin. 2003. In Los Angeles, It’s South-Central No More. New York Times, April 10.Google Scholar
  64. Sluka, Jeffrey. 1990. Participant observation in violent contexts. Human Organization 49 (2): 114–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Smith, Dorothy. 1987. The everyday world as problematic. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Snow, David, Robert Benford, and Leon Anderson. 1986. Fieldwork roles and information yield. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 14 (4): 377–408.Google Scholar
  67. Stocking, George, Jr. 1983. The Ethnographer’s magic. History of Anthropology 1: 70–120.Google Scholar
  68. Terry, Don. 1992. After the Riots; Hope and Fear in Los Angeles as Deadly Gangs Call Truce. New York Times, May 12.Google Scholar
  69. Tunnell, Kenneth. 1998. Honesty, secrecy, and deception in the sociology of crime. In Ethnography at the edge, ed. Jeff Ferrell and Mark Hamm, 206–220. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Van Maanen, John. [1988] 2011. Tales of the Field. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  71. Venkatesh, Sudhir. 2000. American project. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Venkatesh, Sudhir. 2006. Off the books. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Venkatesh, Sudhir. 2008. Gang leader for a day. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  74. Wakeman, Stephen. 2014. Fieldwork, biography, and emotion: doing criminological autoethnography. British Journal of Criminology 54 (5): 705–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Walker, Michael. 2016. Race-making in a penal institution. American Journal of Sociology 121 (4): 1051–1078.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Warren, Carol, and Paul Rasmussen. 1977. Sex and Gender in Field Research. Urban Life 6 (3): 349–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Weide, Robert. 2015. Race War? Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Sociology, New York University, New York, NY.Google Scholar
  78. Williams, Terry. 1989. The cocaine kids. New York: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  79. Williams, Terry, Eloise Dunlap, B. Bruce Johnson, and Ansley Hamid. 1992. Personal safety in dangerous places. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 21 (3): 343–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Young, Michael W. 1987. The ethnographer as Hero. Canberra Anthropology 10 (2): 32–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA

Personalised recommendations