Holistic Ethnography: Embodiment, Emotion, Contemplation, and Dialogue in Ethnographic Fieldwork
This paper theorizes holistic ethnography—an ethnographic method of inquiry that is similar to an embodied meditation practice—a conscious awareness of experience in which the researcher intentionally and variously focuses her attention on physical sensations, emotions, contemplation, and dialogue to contribute to deep sensemaking and critical examination. We illustrate this using an historical ethnographic field project as example. Only when we have immersed ourselves into our research within and beyond can we work toward a more dialogic understanding of the experience we are studying. We discuss how entering the experience through narrative requires us to focus on the embodiment of smell, taste, touch, sound, and sight of the phenomena we are studying; moving the story into our heart bids us to feel it deeply and unite with it at a place that transcends words and pulls us into the experiences; contemplating with our minds frees us to reflect on the experience and find meaning in it; and engaging dialogically invites us to discuss, connect, and voice each other and the experience into being. This approach to interpretation is messy yet thorough and provides a deep level of introspection and understanding. We end with a discussion of how this process can be used in the higher education classroom. By adding embodiment, emotion, contemplation, and dialogue to fieldwork and coursework, we suggest we are better able to critically examine cultural and social phenomena.
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