What’s new? Innovation and Transformation in Educational Ethnographic Research // Internationale Tagung / 16.-18. Juni 2022 / Europa-Universität Flensburg
Elisabeth Shove

Keynote speakers at the conference What's New?

Prof. Dr. Felicitas Macgilchrist (Georg-Eckert-Institut und Universität Göttingen)


Noisy data: Ethnographic approaches to digital education

As digital educational technologies are used more widely at all levels of education, data science plays an increasingly central role in the background of educational practices. Key in data science is the reduction of ‘noise’, i.e. reducing what is referred to as meaningless data or removing outliers, so the models will work better. But outliers and other ‘rich points’ are often of central importance to ethnographers. This talk reflects on how an ethnographic sensibility to noisy data can generate new insights on contemporary educational practices, and what this could mean for educational research in a digitally infrastructured world. It first traces the metaphor of noise in data science. It then reads several scenes from ethnographies in schools through the metaphor of noise to account for moments of rupture and repair. Overall, the talk suggests that a major implicit struggle over education today is about noise: Who notices it, who feels pressure to reduce it, who celebrates it? The talk ends by reflecting on methodological implications for ethnographically informed research in education as students and educators are woven into global networks of data flows: First, how classic participant observation remains central yet also changes; second, how the impetus to follow in multi-sited ethnography engages with new spaces; third, how digital methods can be embedded into ethnographic research.

Prof. Dr. Sofia Marques da Silva (University of Porto)


How digital ethnography may contribute to new mobility narratives about young people growing up in peripheral spaces

Every ethnographer now and then asks the question "What's wrong with ethnography?" (Hammersley, 2001). Anxieties about authority and representation, knowledge relevance, accuracy of methodological procedures and concepts surface when new contexts, tools or experiences make new social phenomena visible and challenge the method to adapt, change and integrate new features.

This contribution is about the discussion of digital ethnography, as being methodologically appropriate to study and understand the life trajectories of young people from rural border regions in Portugal. The life trajectories of young people in a digitized society and culture are accompanied by an increasing degree of mobility (Urry, 2000; Cresswell, 2011), resulting from networked and multisituated movements. Digital media have expanded the possibilities for making the density of young people's movements more visible. They show that these movements are punctual, intense, connected to immediate practices, and reveal lifeways and different scales of mobility. Following young people through multiple locations has been an experience of juxtaposing movements, tracking cross-regional and simultaneous online and offline locations and routes, including the ability to create retrospective routes.

This digital ethnography, developed between 2011 and 2020 after a year of in situ fieldwork, provided access to new processes of cultural production and social articulations, and an understanding of transitions in youth not only as a temporal process, but as a process that evolves across multiple spaces and places (Farrugia, 2018). However, digital ethnography has shown that this muitisituated state does not weaken young people's connection to territory, to place, even if this seems paradoxical.

The pursuit of digital experiences (Pink, 2012) seems to require changes or adaptations in ethnographic method. However, while ethnography may be adaptable, it is purposeful, and we follow people, objects or discourses in different places (Hine, 2009) to achieve this goal.

Cresswell, T. (2011). Mobilities I: catching up. Progress in Human Geography, 35, 550–558.

Hammersley, M. (2018 – 1992). What's wrong with ethnography? The myth of theoretical description. Methodological Explorations. Routledge.

Farrugia, D. (2018). Spaces of Youth. New York: Routledge.

Hine, C. (2009). How can qualitative internet researchers define the boundaries of their projects?. In A. N. Markham, & N. K. Baym (Eds.), Internet inquiry: Conversations about method (pp. 1-20). SAGE Publications, Inc., https://www.doi.org/10.4135/9781483329086.n1

Pink, S. (2012). Situating Everyday Life: Practices and Places. London: Sage.

Urry, J. (2000). Sociology beyond societies: mobilities for the Twenty-First Century. New York: Routledge.

Sofia Marques da Silva is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences of the University of Porto and member of the Centre for Educational Research and Intervention. She has been doing research in the field of inclusion, diversity and youth. She is the coordinator and member of several national and international projects, that involves research on young people's opportunities for education and grow, social inclusion and gender.  In the last 10 years she has been dedicated to the study of youth educational pathways, sense of belonging and resilient communities in border regions. She is the editor-in-chief of the Journal Ethnography & Education (Taylor&Francis/Routledge). She is vice-president of the Portuguese Society of Educational Sciences.

Prof. Dr. Ruprecht Mattig (Dortmund)


What’s new in the history of ethnography? Anthropological research and Bildung in the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt

The lecture considers the period around the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, which is highlighted as particularly formative for the development of anthropological research and the idea of Bildung. This period saw the emergence of new conceptions of the human being that were  characterized by their openness to the new and by their view of the development of humanity as a process that cannot be determined in concrete terms. Against this background, the lecture will take a closer look at Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835), a thinker who is well known as a classic of the theory of Bildung and a prototype of the educational politician, but whose ethnographic works in France, Spain, and the Basque Country are hardly known so far. The lecture explores the question to what extent Humboldt’s approach to ethnography is characterized by the search for the new and an open horizon of human Bildung. It is shown that in his ethnographic work he was interested in the development of the whole of humanity, which he understood not simply as intellectual or technological progress but as a balanced unfolding of human capacities with regard to bodily practices, aesthetics, science, philosophy, history, and politics. Against this background, Humboldt’s research outlook is characterized as profoundly cosmopolitan. Unlike many other ethnographers, Humboldt did not study remote pre-modern peoples. Rather, he was concerned with the question of how peoples could modernize themselves in such a way that they did not become alienated from their traditional cultures. In his ethnographic work, he was therefore not only interested in language, customs, and life forms, but also in social inequalities, the social function of media, and the spreading of new inventions. Finally, the lecture hints that Humboldt also incorporated some of the new anthropological insights from his ethnographies into his famous concept for the renewal of Prussian education. Although some of Humboldt’s ideas are outdated today, the lecture suggests that his thinking can still give important impulses to today’s educational ethnography. For the future he had in mind is far from being reached today. Overall, the lecture not only draws a new picture of Wilhelm von Humboldt but also sheds new light on the history of ethnography.

Prof. Dr. Elizabeth Shove (Lancaster University, UK)


Innovations in practice: hybridization, circulation and infusion.

How do social practices change and how do connections between them evolve? For those who subscribe to a ‘strong’ version of practice theory, there is no empty space: no period of human society that is not defined by interconnected complexes of social practices.  From this perspective, all contemporary practices are, in some way, linked to those that come before. By implication, understanding how societies change depends on understanding how social practices merge, how they circulate from one location to another, and how they are more and less consistently re-enacted.

These are large topics in the sense that they are important for the formation of extended, far-flung relations between practices, and in the sense that the issues they raise are relevant across many disciplines and sites of enquiry. This talk works through three ideas that help make sense of how social practices extend and change. These are ‘hybridisation’ (in which two or more practices merge to produce some new and emergent form); circulation (in which relations between co-existing practices change as new connections are made) and infusion (which is about how such connections are instantiated and reproduced in different sites and settings).  

Prof. Dr. Davide Nicolini (Warwick)



In my talk, I will discuss how we can put a practice-oriented sensitivity to work in research practice. I will start by claiming that, for me, a practice-oriented sensitivity is mainly the theoretically backed pragmatic effort of re-specifying the study of social and human phenomena in terms of networks, nexuses, and textures of mediated practices. I will then will discuss four strategies that can be used to carry out practice-based studies. The analysis of the concerted accomplishment of orderly scenes of action; the examination of how scenes of action are historically and materially constituted; the study of the development and disappearance of individual practices; and the inquiry into the co-evolution, conflict, interference of two or more practices. I will argue that these strategies, which build on the different traditions that go under the umbrella term of practice theories, provide different affordances and allow practice theory to present a view of the social that is richer, thicker, and more convincing than that of competing paradigms.  I will conclude by suggesting how practice theory is being misused in my community as a cautionary tale for others interested in embracing this approach.

Tagungsprogramm (Stand der Planung September 2020)