The importance of ethnographic research in activist networks

Jones, N. (2014). The importance of ethnographic research in activist networks. Communicating Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Technical Communication. Ed. Miriam Williams and Octavio Pimentel. Baywood: Amityville, NY. Pp. 45-59.

In this article, Jones presents an analysis of Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW), an organization dedicated to the innocence movement and wrongly convicted minorities. Even though discourse artifacts can help show the efforts of the IPNW, Jones argues that in order to keep looking into the efforts and communication strategies employed by the group, an ethnography was used to study the activist group’s ability to manage complex scientific and legal information. Jones engaged in a 7-month ethnographic study of the organization. Jones works from Spinuzzi’s (2008) definition of a network, one that “translations or transformations that tie together mediated activities” (p. 48).

Jones builds from these conceptualizations of networks and uses them as a frame for understanding IPNW. As a result of her ethnographic study of the network, Jones discovered three main threads in the IPNW: narratives within the network, language, and goal setting. Jones utilized a triangulated approach to ethnography in the study, which included participant observations, semistructured interviews, and artifact collection (p. 57). As a result, the data gathered from Jones’ study is important, but the application, description, and value of ethnographic approaches are the true highlight of this chapter. Researchers of activist and community-based groups will find incredible value in building on Jones’ ethnography described here.