fdb – Forschungsdatenbank der Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)


Rita Vallentin: "Not merely there" – Empirical evidence for the interrelation between an interaction and its observing researcher

VortagendeR Rita Vallentin
Tagung Sociolinguistic Symposium 21
Ort Murcia, Spanien
Jahr 2016


Rita Tamara Vallentin

European University Viadrina, Germany

The role of the researcher in data collection in the field of (linguistic) ethnographic inquiries has been reflected thoroughly in the last decades (inter alia DeWalt and DeWalt 2011; Duranti 1997; Slembrouck 2015). These considerations usually deal with the researcher's engagement as a participant observer in the endeavors of the community and its effects on the gathered data. Even though the researcher's position and possible influences on the data are theoretically acknowledged, often enough this acknowledgement does not spread into the analysis itself. However, the researcher, especially in settings of ethnographic (linguistic) research, cannot be considered a "blind spot in the scene" (Duranti 1997: 101), somebody merely or not "existent" to the people she observes.

The influence of the observing researcher will be shown based on a corpus of four month ethnographic research in 2009 and 2011 in a rural community located in the Guatemalan highlands. The data comprises 32 semi-structured interviews with community inhabitants, four narrative presentations of the community for visiting tourists and about 15 hours of audio-material from community meetings and trainings. The data chosen for this paper are two extracts from an organizational training focused on the women of the community. They are asked to allocate themselves into ethnic categories and answer other questions concerning language and community life. The researcher is present in this training and, although she is not actively participating, the women address and include her personally and explicitly in the course of the interaction. This rather "involuntary" and sometimes unanswered involvement shapes the way the women negotiate the categories in question. Hence, the data on the one hand reflects the effects of the researcher's presence on interaction in situ, on the other hand it is a contribution to the stream of research endorsing social categories as emerging and negotiated in interaction. It becomes salient that the researcher, even assuming the role of a mere observer, is made part of this interaction.

By showing that the assumed "uninvolved" researcher is referred to as a part of the situative context and as a knowledgeable authority on categorization, the talk aims to intertwine ethnography with conversation analysis (Deppermann 2000, Moerman 1988). It methodologically employs "a perspective on language as intrinsically tied to context and to human activity“ (Blommaert 2005: 233). Therefore, the detailed sequential analysis of the women's utterances is connected with ethnographic accounts, to nourish the micro-perspective of CA and to give an insight into social and linguistic practices within the community.

Einordnung in die Universitätsstruktur

Fakultät Kulturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Lehrstuhl Professur für Sprachgebrauch und Sprachvergleich