The Importance of Saying ‘Yes’ in Ethnographic Research

To prepare for ethnographic research, doctoral candidates learn a diverse set of skills. From observational techniques to critical discourse analysis, we study the best methodologies to engage in fieldwork studies and document the experience. I’ve taken many classes and read countless guides on best quantitative and qualitative practices, many of which I employ on a daily basis here in China, where I am conducting ethnographic research for ten months. Although I have studied, lived, and worked in China in the past, this is my first time in this country in a new role: researcher. I’m now learning to navigate the fine lines between asking questions vs. interrogating, observing vs. staring, and not being nosy despite trying to be invited to everything. Appropriately conducting oneself as a researcher takes a significant amount of cultural knowledge, aplomb, and to be honest, trial and error. Of all the skills I have studied, practiced, and employed, there is one skill that has provided far more opportunities and data than any of the prescribed methodological practices: always saying ‘yes.’

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