Collaboration or Participant Observation? Rethinking Models of 'Linguistic Social Work'

Dobrin, Lise M.
Schwartz, Saul
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University of Hawaii Press
Documentary linguists aspiring to conduct socially responsible research find themselves immersed in a literature on ‘collaborative methods’ that does not address some of the most pressing interpersonal challenges that fieldworkers experience in their community relationships. As recent controversies about the nature of collaboration indicate, collaborative models embed assumptions about reciprocity, negotiation, and the meaning and moral valence of categories like ‘research,’ ‘language,’ and ‘documentation,’ which do not translate equally well across all communities. There is thus a need for a method flexible enough to respond to the complexity and diversity of what goes on in particular cross-cultural researcher-community relationships. In this article, we encourage documentary linguists to consider the benefits of participant observation, a research method that is designed specifically to deal with the interpersonal nature of fieldwork in the human sciences. Because it ties knowledge production directly to the development of social relationships across difference, participant observation can help documentary linguists think fruitfully about the social approaches they take in their fieldwork, whether these ultimately come to involve formal collaboration or some other form of reciprocity.
participant observation, linguistic fieldwork, collaborative research
Dobrin, Lise M. & Saul Schwartz. 2016. Collaboration or Participant Observation? Rethinking Models of `Linguistic Social Work'. Language Documentation & Conservation 10. 253-277.
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