Ethnography of Politics and Political Communication

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<ul><li><p>Ethnography of Politics and Political Communication</p><p>Page 1 of 11</p><p>PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2014. All RightsReserved. Under the terms of the l icence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in OxfordHandbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).Subscriber: Oxford University Press - Master Gratis Access; date: 21 September 2014</p><p>Subject: PoliticalScience,PoliticalBehavior,PoliticalMethodologyOnlinePublicationDate: Sep2014</p><p>DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199793471.013.28</p><p>EthnographyofPoliticsandPoliticalCommunication:StudiesinSociologyandPoliticalScienceEevaLuhtakallioandNinaEliasophTheOxfordHandbookofPoliticalCommunication(Forthcoming)EditedbyKateKenskiandKathleenHallJamieson</p><p>OxfordHandbooksOnline</p><p>AbstractandKeywords</p><p>Theethnographicapproachhasparticularpotentialforstudyingpoliticalcommunicationthroughenlargingunderstandingsofpoliticalinstitutionsandexpandingdefinitionsofpolitics.First,wideninginstitutionalunderstandingtakesadvantageofethnographyscapacitytoopenwindowsthattraditionalanalysisofpoliticalinstitutionsleavesshut.Second,ethnographyisuniquelyabletoexaminenewformsofengagementthatpeoplehavenotyetdefinedaspolitics.Third,studyingpoliticalcommunicationethnographicallymeansexpandingthemodesofcommunicationandactivityexaminedtoincludenonverbalandvirtualcommunication.Politicsisoneoftheprincipalarenasinwhichcultureunfoldsandbecomesobservable,yetinwaysthatarenotlimitedtopoliticalinstitutionsordecision-makingpractices.Commontopoliticalethnographiesisthecapabilitytoshowhowhowandwhyarelinked:howapoliticalprocessorpracticetakesplaceenablesfindingoutwhyitdoes.</p><p>Keywords:politicization,depoliticization,participation,ethnography,everydaypractices,organizationalstyle,empowermentproject,conflict,sedimentation,levelofgenerality</p><p>WhyEthnographyandPoliticsAreaNecessaryMatch</p><p>Anessayonethnographyofpoliticalcommunicationmustbeginwithtwoquestions:Whatdowemeanbypolitical,andwhatdowemeanbyethnography?Dependingonthesedefinitions,thereareeitherveryfewethnographiesofpoliticalcommunicationorasubstantialnumber,spanningthedisciplinesofcommunication,sociology,politicalscience,history,business,andpolicy.Asforthedefinitionofpoliticalethnographyanditssalience,recentdebates,especiallyinthefieldofpoliticalscience,havearguedaboutdifferentdefinitionsoftheconceptanditspositionintheacademicfieldwithsuchzealthatweconsideritunnecessarytoenterthisfray(seeTilly,2006;Auyero2006;AuyeroandJoseph,2007;Yanow,2009;Kubik,2009;Pachirat,2009;Warren,2009;Schatz,2009a,2009b;Wedeen,2010).Instead,wefocusondiscussingthefindingsandconsequencesoftheethnographicapproachtopoliticalphenomena,bymeansofafewparticularlyillustrativeexamples.</p><p>Inthewidestpossiblesense,theancestorsoftodayspoliticalethnographerswrotetraveldescriptionsfirst,andanthropologicalaccountsalittlelater,aboutdistantculturesinwhichsocietieswereorganizedandthepoliswasconstitutedandactedoninwaysunfamiliartoWesterntraditions.Thesehistoricalaccountscontinuetoremindusthatunderstandingpoliticsrequiresmultiplestrategiesofanalysis.</p><p>Asimilarchallengetoourtaken-for-granteddefinitionsofpoliticsconfrontsWestern-educatedinvestigatorswhoconductcross-culturalethnography.Thesetemporalandspatialleapsforcetheresearchertoconfrontsomethingthatotherresearcherscanmoreeasilyavoid:thepuzzleofdefiningsomeinteractionsandactivitiesaspoliticsandothersasnotpoliticsapriori,withoutdeeplyunderstandingthecontextandsituation.AsCliffordGeertz(1973,311312)noted,politicsisoneoftheprincipalarenasinwhichthestructuresofmeaningwehabituallycall</p></li><li><p>Ethnography of Politics and Political Communication</p><p>Page 2 of 11</p><p>PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2014. All RightsReserved. Under the terms of the l icence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in OxfordHandbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).Subscriber: Oxford University Press - Master Gratis Access; date: 21 September 2014</p><p>cultureunfoldandbecomeobservable.Whatunfolds,then,isnotlimitedtopoliticalinstitutionsordecision-makingpractices,butbothreflectsandconstitutesavastarrayofactivitiesandmeaningswithwidelydifferentscopesofpoliticalconsequences,rangingfromtheobstaclesofpoliticizationexperiencedinapoorFrenchsuburbtothemotivationsofkeepingupwithexhaustingpoliticalworkinUSSenate-levelcampaigning(cf.Hamidi,2009;Mahler,2006).</p><p>Inthischapterwearguethattheethnographicapproachhasparticularpotentialforstudyingpoliticalcommunicationthroughenlargingcommonunderstandingsofpoliticalinstitutionsandexpandingcommondefinitionsofpolitics.First,wideninginstitutionalunderstandingtakesadvantageofethnographyscapacitytoopenwindowsthattraditionalanalysisofpoliticalinstitutionsleavesshut.Bypryingthesewindowsopen,ethnography,whendonewell,forcesustoseewhatmeanings-in-contextconstitutetheseinstitutions.Peeringinsidethebig,institutionalstructuresofpoliticsshowshowtheyareintricatelyandpreciselycomposedofelementsthattypicalresearchdoesnottheorizeaspartofpolitics;bythesametoken,ethnographyalsoforcesustonoticeatypicalpoliticalprocessesandarenas,outsideoftheinstitutionalizedforums.Thus,second,ethnographyisuniquelyabletoexaminenewformsofengagementthatpeoplehavenotyetdefinedaspolitics.Third,studyingpoliticalcommunicationethnographicallyalsomeansexpandingthemodesofcommunicationandactivityexaminedtoinclude,forexample,nonverbalandvirtualcommunication.Inadditiontotheirimpactonempiricaloutcomes,suchaspatternsofvotingandactivism,variedmediathatincludenonverbalandvirtualcommunicationcanhaveimplicationsthatchallengestandarddefinitionsofpolitics.</p><p>CurrentpoliticalethnographiesareundeniablyindebtedtostreamsofwritingandresearchgoingbacktotheearlymodernEuropeanstraveloguesdescribingexoticcultures,andfromthereontothetraditionoflinguisticanthropology.Nonetheless,inthistextweconcentrateprincipallyontheworkofethnographersfromthepastcoupleofdecadestostressthecrucialroleofethnographyinunderstandingwhatismostpropertocurrentpoliticalcommunication:mediatedflowsinglobalized,complex,andtransnationalsettings.Theneedtounderstandthesetransformationsbringsustotheparticularandincreasingimportanceofpoliticalethnographytoday.Inthecurrentpluralityofcontextsforpoliticalcommunication,multiplelevels,styles,andmeansofcommunicationaresimultaneouslyinfluential,andthelackoftoolstograspthismultiplicityhamperspoliticalanalysis.Inaworldofglobalandglocal(Brenner2004)crisscrossingmeanings,weaksignsgrowinimportance.Politicalethnographyisatbestaformofinquirythatspecializesinweak,barelyvisiblesigns,habitsandpracticeshiddenfromnewsheadlines,andthecountertrendsthatmaybebubblingunderneaththem,sometimestakingtheheadlinesaswellasmacro-levelpoliticalanalysisbysurprise.</p><p>HowDifferentOrganizationsCloseDown,OpenUp,andShapePoliticalCommunication</p><p>Sohowsurprisinghavethenewsheadlinesfromthepoliticalethnographychannelbeen,inrecentyears?Whathavewelearned,really,andwhatisspecificallyethnographicaboutthesefindings?Inthissectionweexplorepoliticalethnographyfromthreeoverlappingperspectives:theethnographicaccountsofstudyingestablishedpoliticalinstitutionsoraction;thegraspofpoliticalprocessesandcapacitytorecognizepoliticsinfragile,new,and/orunexpectedcontextsofanethnographicapproach;andtheethnographerstoolstoanalyzeandunderstandobstacles,hindrances,andthelackofpoliticsthatlargelyescapeotherresearchapproaches.Welookattheseperspectivesbysketchingbodiesofstudiesthatsharecertainfeaturesandthroughillustrativeexampleshighlightingthosefeatures.</p><p>Ethnographicresearchonpoliticssensitizesanalysisofthewaysthatdifferentorganizationsinvokedifferentkindsofpoliticalengagement.Itdoessobytakingintoaccountthenitty-grittydetailsandeffectsofdifferentformsofpoliticalaction,networksandtactics,asAuyeroandJoseph(2007,3)describethebenefitsofpoliticalethnographyinintroducingtheireditedvolumeonthetheme.Inotherwords,ethnographicstudiesshowhowpoliticalpracticesreflect,construct,andoccasionallytransformorganizations,expanding,contracting,orreshapingthepossibleplacesforpoliticalexpression.</p><p>Thisfeaturemakesethnographyausefulapproachforstudyingvariouskindsofpoliticalorganizationsandprocesses,withthepromiseofresultsthatreachbeyondnotjustsurveysandpolicyanalysis,butalsointerview-basedstudies.Beitbusinessasusualorchangeandcrisismomentsofmoreorlessinstitutionalpolitics,NGOs,collectiveaction,andsocialmovements,ethnographicstudiesshowthatpoliticalcommunicationtakesshapeand</p></li><li><p>Ethnography of Politics and Political Communication</p><p>Page 3 of 11</p><p>PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2014. All RightsReserved. Under the terms of the l icence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in OxfordHandbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).Subscriber: Oxford University Press - Master Gratis Access; date: 21 September 2014</p><p>hasvariousconsequencesasitunfoldsindifferenttypesoforganizations,contexts,andsituations,andthatgeneraltalkaboutpoliticalculturesshouldalwaysbeevaluatedwithprecaution,withacarefulinspectionoftheeverydaypracticesthroughwhichtheculturesmaterialize(e.g.,Ables,1991;Lichterman,1996;Sampson,1996;Eliasoph,1998;Mische,2009;Moore,2001;Elyachar,2002;Baiocchi,2005;Mahler,2006;Steinhoff,2006;Yon,2009;Eliasoph,2011;Luhtakallio,2012).</p><p>LearningParticipation,DisplacingPolitics?</p><p>Oneexampleistheworldwideparticipationindustry,whichhasbeengiventhetaskofrenewingandsavingdemocracyfromacrisis(e.g.,Moore,2001;Baiocchi,2005;Talpin,2006;PollettaandLee,2006;Lee,2010).Butwhatdoesparticipationactuallyproduce,andcanitsavedemocracybysimplybeingimplemented?InacomparativeethnographyoforgansofparticipatorydemocracyinFranceandItaly,Talpin(2006)describestheeffectsofdeliberationamongtheparticipatingcitizens.Henotesthatovertime,somethingindeedchangesintheparticipantsactions;theylearnhowtoparticipateappropriately.Thismeansthatthey,inhiswords,learntoplaygoodcitizens,whichincludesaskingtherightkindofquestionsandavoidingsayinganythingthatmightseemtoocontroversialoroutofplace.Talpinconcludesthatitseemsarbitrarytotrytoseparatedeliberationasapracticefromitssupposedeffects,asdeliberationistheprocessitself.Separatingdeliberationfromitseffectswouldbelikeseparatingthedancerfromthedance.Whatthecitizenslearnedfirstandforemostwastodeliberateaccordingtotheguidelinessetandkeptbythelocalpoliticalleaders.AsLeesstartlingstudiesalsoshowintheUScontext,playinggoodcitizeninthesesituationsthattheparticipationindustrytendstocreatecanoftenrequireenteringaratherapoliticalorevendepoliticizinggame(Lee2010).</p><p>Thisexampleisnotchosentoshowthatparticipatorydemocracyisasham,buttostressthattheinternationallypromotedimageofparticipatorydemocracydoesnotactuallycapturetheseprocesses.Rather,theseforumsteachpeopleakindoforganizationalstyle(EliasophandLichterman,2003).Theylearntofollowtherulesofthegame.Onecannotbecomeadecentmemberoftheneighborhoodcouncil,thebureaucracy,ortheactivistgroup,forthatmatter,untiloneknowswhattheunspokenorganizationalstyleis.Theimportanceofmasteringtheorganizationalstyletolearnappropriatemodesofparticipationisnotnew;Mansbridge(1983)describeshowandwhy,intheclassicsiteofcivicengagement,Vermonttownmeetings,working-classpeopleroutinelycouldnotbeartobeoutspokenparticipants.</p><p>Inamorecurrentsiteofciviclife,Eliasoph(2011)portraysprogramsthataimatfightingsocialexclusionandpromotingempowermentamongunderprivilegedyouth.Theseempowermentprojectsendupdoingsomethingquitedifferentfromwhattheyaredesignedtodo.Inthewhirlpoolofproject-basedgovernmentfunding,evaluations,andunspokenmissions,theyoungpeoplelearntorepresentunderprivilegedyouthandtalkandactinafashionthatsatisfiestheexpectationsoftheprogramplanners.Insteadofbeingempoweredinwaysthatthedoctrineoftheseprogramspromises,theybecomecapableofplayingintheworldofprojectswheremoneyisscarce,goalsunrealistic,andtheresultssoughtveryfarfromtheirownrealities.Theylearnhowtonavigatethesequasi-governmental,quasi-civic,quasi-politicalorganizationsthatreceivefundingfromstateandnonprofitsourcesaskillthatmaycomeinhandyiftheythemselvesendupgettingjobsinthisincreasinglyprevalenthybridnonprofitsector.Inthisway,participantsareinfactlearninghowtonavigateourcurrentpoliticalworld,inwhichitisincreasinglydifficulttofindtheboundarybetweengovernmentandnongovernmentalorganizationallovertheworldwheresomeNGOsbudgetsandpoliticalpowerexceedthoseofmanygovernments.Alongwiththispoliticalstructurecomesapoliticalcultureforexample,intheformofanincreasinglyinternationallanguagethatananthropologiststudyingNGOseffortsatbuildingciviclifeinAlbaniacallsprojectspeak(Sampson1996).</p><p>Thisisnottosaythatthestructureofanorganizationdeterminesitsstylesofcommunication.IntheBrazilian,university-basedactivistgroupsthatMischestudied,threeverydifferentstylespredominated.Inone,memberstriedhardtoalwaysagreeandbondandexpresstheirfeelings;inanothertypeofgroup,memberssharpenedtheirswordswithlouddebatevergingonfights;andinstillathirdtypeofactivistgroup,membersexploredideaswithoutfeelingtheneedtoconcludeanything(2001).</p><p>StudiessuchasMischesshowthatweshouldbeuneasywhenwetalkaboutpoliticalcultureingeneralandwaryofmakingbroadinternationalcomparisons.Instead,thespectrumofcomparativeanalysiswidensandgainsincolor,detail,andpertinencewhencarriedoutwithethnographictools.IncomparingFrenchandFinnishstylesofpoliticization,Luhtakallio(2012)showedthatbroadinternationalcomparisonsarenonethelesspossible.Thereare</p></li><li><p>Ethnography of Politics and Political Communication</p><p>Page 4 of 11</p><p>PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2014. All RightsReserved. Under the terms of the l icence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in OxfordHandbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).Subscriber: Oxford University Press - Master Gratis Access; date: 21 September 2014</p><p>featuresthatcharacterizelargeculturalentities,andanalyzinghowtheycometobethatis,throughandinwhatkindofprocessestheyactuallyexististhekeytounderstandingwhatisitthatmakesthemgeneralfeatures.Atthesametime,importantfissuresandweaksignsofchangethatmainlyescapetheeyesofpolicyanalysisbasedmodelbuildersbecomeapparent,andseeingtheseseeminglyinsignificantfeaturesofpoliticalengagementmakesitpossibletogetbeyondtwo-dimensionalcomparisons.Luhtakallio,forexample,concludedthatontheonehand,whenexaminedcloseup,theFrenchcontentiousnessininteractionsbetweenactivistsanddecision-makersincludedactivistsimplicitknowledgethattheywerecontendingwithstagnant,out-of-reachhierarchiesthatkeptthepowerconfigurationsintact.Ontheotherhand,theFinnishcultureofconsensusandinclusivedecision-makingincludedputtingalotofeffortintoquellingconflictsanddepoliticizingissuesofcontroversy,insteadofdealingwiththemthroughapoliticalprocess.</p><p>Finally,alltheseexamplesshowthatbeittheparticipationindustryoranothertypeofpoliticalinstitutionorgroup,carefulethnographycantellusanadditional,adifferent,andsometimeseventheoppositetalefromtheofficialstory,andthestakescanbehigh.</p><p>PoliticsintheMakinga...</p></li></ul>

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