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Ethnographic Entanglements: How having multiple roles enriched my research in Nicaragua

Chelsey Hauge

Chelsey Hauge

Editor’s Note: the final guest author for this month’s Ethnography in Education theme, Chelsey Hauge (@chelseyhauge), is finishing her PhD this coming year at the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of British Columbia. Originally from California, Chelsey has spent the last decade cultivating her love of youth and media, from New York to Oakland, Vancouver to Nicaragua. She provides a perspective on ethnography in education outside of the United States with a fascinating account of doing ethnographic research on a youth radio organization in Nicaragua – while also running the program. She shows us that her deep entanglements with the program were an asset, not a liability, and invites us to reflect on the entanglements that any ethnographic research necessarily creates.


An experienced education researcher recently admitted to me that they did not allow their students to conduct dissertation research in spaces where the student was not only a researcher, but also a facilitator, teacher, leader, or producer. It was an admission of curiosity: I have conducted my own dissertation research on a program I am intimately involved with – I led this program’s inception, designed its goals, formed the partnerships necessary to carry out the program, trained its staff, and mentored its youth. In fact, I grew up within the broader auspices of the Amigos de las Americas (www.amigoslink.org) program, and only through years of involvement was I given the opportunity to craft and direct the media program in Nicaragua. I could have never conducted my ethnographic research on how youth come to tell particular social justice stories without these most intimate connections.

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The recognition that this entire project would have been located outside this researcher’s “rules” urged me to consider the possibilities and limitations of such close research and programming work. Certainly, ethnography is always a research practice built upon and muddled by complex relationships between researcher and research subjects. As researchers interested in the personal, the everyday, the experiences of folks, and the way events come together and shift, ethnographers enter into relationships where roles of “researcher” and “subject” are often unclear, where friendship and research grow from each other and even depend on each other.

As a researcher drawing on feminist ethnography, this gets even more complex as I am invested in a research practice that critically engages with the power dynamics in relationships, friendships, communities, between researchers and researched. The experienced researcher’s stance, then, serves to make their student’s lives less complicated, their research just a bit less tangled up with the researcher’s multiple commitments. Yet, the tangles I have encountered as I research civic engagement and youth media in Nicaragua are visible to me only because I inhabit both roles, and those tangles are productive, fascinating, and generative. I have been privileged to engage with a richness that would have been impossible without ebb and flow between both roles.

How I came to AMIGOS as a site – and to ethnography as a research method

I came to my research with youth media producers in rural Nicaragua before I ever called it “research.” Read More…

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