Examining Talk in Post-observation Feedback Conferences: Learning to Do Linguistic Ethnography

Fiona Copland


As this collection of work demonstrates, linguistic ethnography is a dynamic and interdisciplinary field. Yet it is also nascent, and LE researchers are exploring its boundaries through developing approaches to data collection and analysis, and uncovering, sharing and drawing on theoretical constructs from a range of disciplines including sociology, philosophy and cultural studies. Many involved in this work have come to linguistic ethnography from either ethnography or linguistics and have made a number of adjustments to the ways they conduct research; for example, ethnographers learn how to do text analysis, and linguists learn how to observe ethnographically. The questions posed by the editors of this collection to contributors (see Introduction) were designed to encourage explicit reflection on these processes and, in so doing, to demonstrate how researchers situate their work within linguistic ethnography. The questions asked are repeated here:

  • 1. In what ways did LE enable you to get to parts of the process you study which other approaches couldn't reach?
  • 2. In what ways has appropriating LE led to changes in your work and the methods you use?
  • 3. How has your own discipline influenced/recontextualised the concepts and emphases within LE?

In order to answer the first two questions, I describe my background in applied linguistics research, specifically teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), and show how I developed the ethnographic side of my practice while conducting research on post-observation feedback conferences in pre-service teacher training. I describe an ethnographically grounded methodological framework, which facilitated a shift in my gaze from an explicit and exclusive focus on the linguistic to a commitment to ensuring linguistic data and analyses are contextually situated. Central to the production of this shift from doing linguistic analysis to doing linguistic ethnography were two analytic questions that began increasingly to dominate my encounters with data. These were, 'What's going on?' and 'How do you know?' (see, too, Introduction). In responding to the second question in particular I realised that I needed not only to integrate ethnographic and linguistic data and analysis, but more importantly, I needed to adopt an ethnographic sensibility. In this chapter, I describe how I began to understand what this meant and how this change in sensibility led me to more nuanced and equivocal research findings than I believe a linguistic analysis alone would have produced.

I begin the chapter, however, by introducing the research traditions that have influenced TESOL research. This brief discussion will go some way to responding to question 3, which I will return to in the concluding comments.

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