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Critical thinking means:
“taking the sociological imagination seriously by shifting from discrete instances of
phenomena to their broader social context.” (p.62)
Is a way of life that attempts to provide clearer images of the larger
picture we are all part.
Two Main Questions:
• How we remain scientific while simultaneously practicing critique? (p.61)
• Why should we bother to be critical at all?
• Knowledge is Power!
Traps and Tricks
8 Main Traps
• Most likely to occur during the interpretation and writing phase.
• Can doom a study as “simply another polemical exercise that
passionately rhetorical but scientifically unpersuasive.” (p.62)
Main Traps and Tricks
1. Seeing only what serves our purpose
2. Using Conceptual clichés
3. Placing passion before science
4. Making claims beyond demonstrable evidence
5. Replacing reason with stridency
6. Writing to the already committed
7. Forgetting the ethnographic project
8. Taking ourselves as given
Trap and Trick 1: Seeing only
what serves our purpose
Trick: Avoid imposing meaning on data.
• Dishonest and unethical.
“If data contradicts or demonstrate processes counter to our
expectations, we must then change our position to fit the data.”
• Never anticipate what will be found in a way that creates a built-in antagonism
prior to data gathering.
Trap and Trick 2: Using
Trick: Avoid buzzwords.
• “jargon trap” – leads to exaggerated claims and distorted
• “If a specific term *…+ is explicitly relevant to our analysis and discussion,
it is legitimate to use.” (p.63)
“All ethnography should demonstrate, not assert.”
• Effective critique should lead the reader by painting a picture of the
data, rather than by the passion of the researcher.
Trap and Trick 3: Placing
passion before science
Trick: Avoid ax grinding.
• Concluding section must be tight and with the goal of bringing data to bear
on a topic, and not to attack a favorite target.
Goal of Critical ethnography is not to castigate a particular group as
unjust and oppressive.
• Self-righteous indignation is not only ineffective but it also diverts attention
away from empirically based conclusions.
• Unless the materials speak to both the issues and the audience clearly, they are of no
substantive value and therefore should not be brought to the table.
KISKIF – Keep It Simple, Keep It Fun!
• Avoid unnecessary preaching.
Trap and Trick 4: Making
claims beyond demonstrable
Trick: Avoid overgeneralizing.
• Don’t speak beyond the data; the analysis should not exceed what
the data show.
• “Don’t attribute political motives to individuals or groups when
looking instead to interactional processes that operate
independently from political intentions.” (p64)
Trap and Trick 5: Replacing
reason with stridency
Trick: Avoid sledgehammers.
• Most common in studies that lack data and therefore have to rely
on simplified rhetoric.
• Good ethnography illustrates rather than asserts – “If a point cannot be
asserted empirically, then it should not be asserted.” (p.65)
• Empirical analysis should be thought as a scalpel, not a cudgel. And the metaphor of
incisiveness is more effective than the metaphor of battering.
Trap and Trick 6: Writing to the
Trick: Remember the audience.
• Don’t preach to those already convinced of your ideas, but instead
try to reach those who are not.
• Who those “others” are?
“All ethnography is a dual translation process.” (p.66)
• Best strategy:
• Fluency in “three languages:” the subjects, yours, and the audiences.
• Anticipate the strongest arguments that all type of critics might raise.
• “Intellectual integrity is never sacrificed to expediency.” (p.66)
Trap and Trick 7: Forgetting
the ethnographic project
Trick: Appreciate difference.
• “Critical ethnography is emancipatory.” (p.67)
• Goal of studying stigmatized populations should be to convey a common
humanity by comparing these with other populations juxtaposing the
unfamiliar with what it is more familiar and place it in a new context.
“Writing is communication.” (p.67)
• The use of a literary style is “more effective than a stream-of-
consciousness presentation of data.”
Trap and Trick 8: Taking
ourselves as given
Trick: Discover reflexive who we are.
• Ethnography is talk about data and analysis of the data.
• “Requires that we reflect who are we and what we say,” “how we might
influence and shape the slice of culture we study,” and “how we
ourselves are changed.” (p.67)
“If our views change the product of our study changes.” (p.67)
• Applicable to both the researcher and the participants under study.
• Avoid falling into the trap of creating a product of assertions rather
than a demonstrable claim.
Why be Critical?
Partly normative and partly practical
A. Personal satisfaction
• Integrates the private with the professional sphere of
• Becomes an exhilarating challenge.
B. Ethical Obligation
• There is always something better, and the goals of knowledge
should include to work towards it.
Why be Critical?
C. Intellectual responsibility
• Tends to transform conflicts of interest into theoretical challenges.
• Makes development of knowledge socially contingent in a responsible
way “because it provides a consumer warning while attempting to
refine its product.” (p.69)
D. Emancipatory potential
• “Free us from existing and unnecessary forms of cultural domination”
(p.69), and from ignorance, “by identifying and challenging them” (p.70)
• “It requires continually questioning the limits of our certitude.” (p.70)
Critical ethnography challenges the “primacy of professional
technique and authority” by identifying “what oppresses and how it
can be altered.” (p.71)
• Invites to engage in social change by “breaking the chalk.”
• “When done with subtlety and adherence to the data, it
becomes a powerful means both to understand other cultures
and to think about our own in new ways.” (p.71)
• Why Critical Ethnography?