8.04 Methodological Considerations

d) Interpretation of Data.

There must be other interpretations that can be made from my logbooks. As an example, people often showed an interest in the dynamics of collective group working. Why do collectives work well or fall apart? This is not something that I have analysed here but my notebooks might be of interest to someone who was attempting to make such an analysis.

The application of third party theory as a method of interpretation of ethnographic data is seen as politically suspect. Ethnographic data is seen as 'theory generating'.[1] Theory generated from the subjects themselves on their own terms, is less likely to impose the values of one culture on another. It should even use their own words, expressions and ideas but not be bound by them.[2]

In this case many members of Exploding Cinema are capable of expressing their position at least as well as me and often do. Often this is done in a style closer to the underground idiom.[3] The point in this case is not my skill at writing but more basically the will to pull the complex whole together in a form that meets the demands of a particular epistemic formation.[4]

What I want to claim for the work? Not a generalisation about the way collectives work but rather a generalisation about the value of such collective cultural production within a wider frame. The participant observation was about generating an account that was able to come to grips with complex social relations on a level that was emotionally connected, as well as generating data from more detached quantified methods like Content Analysis and from qualitative methodologies like Oral History.

As I have noted one of the classic observations of ethnography is the difference between what people say and what people do. This can be extended to the gap between the documented representations of their activity and what they actually did. The logbooks can serve to fill gaps left by the group's own self documentation or to act as checks on these types of representation.

For historians seeking to 'explain' the 'facts' of the French Revolution, the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the effects of slavery on American society, or the meaning of the Russian Revolution, what is at issue is not, 'What are the facts?' but rather, how are the facts to be described in order to sanction one mode of explaining them rather than another. (Hayden White, 1986, p134)




[1] Agar (1996) p420


[2] Alison Clark expressed this view in a research seminar at the Royal College of Art (1999) but is also commonly found in Nineties ethnographic literature.


[3] Various writings are included in the archive materials. An interesting attempt at a collectively made article, 'No Stars, No Funding, No Taste', was published in Filmwaves 11, spring 2000. Collective members added paragraphs and edits until the article was deemed complete. Arranged as if an interview by a fictitious interviewer 'Molly Spartan'.


[4] My epistemic formation may consist of a nexus of conventions from academic doctoral research, Royal College of Art, Communications Studies, Film Archives (BFI) etc.