Writing, Transparency and Confessional Tales

In 1988 I was enthralled by the publication of John Van Maanen’s book Tales of the Field. An introduction to the book noted that:

Once upon a time ethnographers returning from the field simply sat down, shuffled their note cards, and wrote up their descriptions of the exotic and quaint customs they had observed. Today scholars in all disciplines are realizing how their research is presented is at least as important as what is presented. Questions of voice, style, and audience—the classic issues of rhetoric—have come to the forefront in academic circles.

My interest in John Van Maanen’s work was amplified by reading about Wolfgang Iser and his conceptualisation of the implied reader:

The concept of the implied reader offers a means of describing the process whereby textual structures are transmuted through ideational activities into personal experiences.

My PhD (1989) was framed with their work at the forefront of my thinking. (It was a time of action research and qualitative evaluation.) It was a decade influenced by ideas characteristic of those found in new paradigm research.

Almost exactly twenty years later I came across the discussion of radical transparency by Clive Thompson. I was alerted to his discussion through the WordPress home page (20 September) by this article. I think it links very closely with the publisher’s observation on John Van Maanen:

His goal is not to establish one true way to write ethnography, but rather to make ethnographers of all varieties examine their assumptions about what constitutes a truthful cultural portrait and select consciously and carefully the voice most appropriate for their tales.

I am at the end of my second week of my participation in CCK08 and feel particularly open to an approach to connectivism that acknowledges authorial voice and the potential for transparency. I am delighted that thoughts stimulated by a cultural climate in the 1980s are finding space and voice in 2008.

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