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4 - Social Silences: Conducting Ethnographic Research on Racism in the Americas

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 June 2019

Amy Jo Murray
University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Kevin Durrheim
University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
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Socially silenced topics such as racism can be of important social significance. Yet this significance can drive a topic underground, making it resilient and resistant to exposure and difficult for fieldworkers to observe as a phenomenon. While numerous ethnographic studies have demonstrated the importance of studying silenced phenomena, we still know little about how to conduct ethnographic research in silenced environments. Based on our experiences conducting ethnographic research (including participant observation, interviews and focus groups), along with the published reflections of others, in this chapter we discuss the broader significance and purpose of race-related silences and the various manifestations of racialized social silence, and then propose strategies for addressing them. We focus specifically on government and institutional silence, interpersonal silence, and interview or focus group silence. In doing so we hope to provide ethnographers with a toolkit for unearthing the deeper meanings associated with social silences. Although we focus on race in the Americas, our discussion and suggestions are intended to inform researchers encountering various forms of social silence across different contexts.

Qualitative Studies of Silence
The Unsaid as Social Action
, pp. 71 - 88
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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