John Van Maanen, “Fieldwork on the Beat,” in John Van Maanen, James M. Dabbs, Jr., and Robert R. Faulkner (eds.), Varieties of Qualitative Research, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1982, pp. 103-148

[p. 139]: “Fieldwork means both involvement and detachment, both loyalty and betrayal, both openness and secrecy, and, most likely, both love and hate. Some where in the space between these always personalized stances toward those one studies, ethnographies get written.”

I’m not sure if that description represents a false dichotomy or an acknowledgment of the complexity of human relationships. But if there is a dichotomy, I hear something that SPN might address. SPN at least challenges detachment and secrecy.

[145]: “Ethnography involves participant observation, but observation is the governing term because no matter how far the researchers may move in the opposite direction, they remain outsiders who will eventually leave the field, write reports, and move on in ways quite different from those studied.”

There’s a dividing line between SPN and ethnography (and a description that makes me wonder if autoethnography is oxymoronic). I won’t leave the field I study via SPN, at least not just because I’m done studying or have other research projects. I will continue equally as observer and participant, fellow constructor of the reality studied.

[147]: “I think it unavoidable that a reasonably well done study will make some people mad.”

Tee hee. Or should I say, uh oh?

[147-148]: Member and collegial tests are therefore hardly unequivocal or determinative. How far one chooses to respond to them is essentially a matter of reason, taste, and gut feeling. To use the elegant words of sociologist Egon Bittner (1973, p. 121), ethnographic research is based fundamentally on “passion and judgment”; thus, the accuracy of such reports can never be fully assessed. Perhaps the essential test as to whether one got it right or not is a most practical and heuristic one, a test based simply on the use the ethnography has for others who follow into the same field. Validity is then partially grounded in the return trip and established or denied only in close contact with those who were studied (and others “like those” who were studied). The original concepts and descriptions are then either rediscovered, altered, or abandoned on the basis of their ability to capture and give meaning to another’s observation and experience. Imperfect as this test may be, it is, in the final analysis, what is usually called science.

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