The Heart Broken in Half
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The nature of field work in Dwight Conquergoods documentary can be described as ethnography. Ethnographers study the diversity and unity of cultural performances as a universal human resource for clarifying the meaningfulness of life (Conquergood 180). In the film, Dwight Conquergood creates a brilliant representation of how gangs live in Chicago. By residing in one of the city’s most dangerous and gang-ridden areas, he crosses several boundaries that many social scientists think are impermeable. Conquergood created a branch of performance ethnography that centered the political nature of the practice and promoted methodological dialogism from the point of encounter to the practices of research reporting (Conquergood 182).
One of the methods Conquergood used in his documentary was analysis. He drew on a broad range of work from researchers in anthropology and literary criticism as lenses through which to scrutinize activity in the various environments where he worked. The other method he used was participation. His research concentrates on how people make meaning through participating in or by being a witness of a performance. These methods served the study well since ethnography is all about direct engagement with the area partners, recording of this engagement, and crafting re-presentations of these records. Additionally this approach provides more information to the research (Jones 2).
Gangs symbolize misdemeanor and represent the deepest worries of ordinary civilians. Few filmmakers have attempted to deal with the human reality and intricacy of street gangs in Chicago (Goldman 366). However Conquergood gives voice to these gangs, engages with them, gaining their trust. The researcher spent time with the youths and in the due course created a bond. With the trust built, the youths were able to perform normally in their environment while being studied. Conquergood also acted as a friend and counselor for some of the youths, and became a witness on their behalf in court cases.
His approach in interactions with the gang is a positive aspect of this research. This is because, there would be no bond created if the researcher started condemning them, which would eventually lead to lack of information. Performance ethnographers work with expressivity, which is joined at the hip with the people that initially produce it (Soyini 320). This explains why ethnographers are more concerned on the subject of gaining empirical insight than preserving aesthetic distance. As a result, they might face poverty, human rights issues, or other injustices, but then ignore the details and results of their severity, replacing them with clichés about a common humanity (Soyini 321).
Interacting with street gangs in a daily basis could raise ethical concerns such as being asked to bang someone up or watch unethical kind of acts. In addition being in their environment could place researcher in unfavorable circumstances, for example physical disputes. However, even while keeping these in mind Conquergood was able to pursue his study in such a risky environment. The study he conducted could be termed as performative. Performative refers to the the communicative powers of research and the natural involvement of an ‘audience’, whether it is a group of peers or a group of students, a physical audience or a cyber audience, even an individual reader of a journal or a book (Soyini 322) . The performative turn in qualitative study is not only related with theatre, but also incorporates other arts. A performative research will take account of music, film, painting, dance, and poems (Soyini 324). Conquergood’s performative stances present an apparent set of rules for critically scrutinizing the epistemological and moral intricacies of the researcher-society partner relationship.
Conquergood, Dwight. “Rethinking ethnography: Towards a critical cultural politics.” Communications monographs 58.2 (1991): 179-194.
Goldman, Derek. “Ethnography and the Politics of Adaptation.” The Sage Handbook of Performance Studies (2006): 366.
Jones, Joni L. “Performance ethnography: The role of embodiment in cultural authenticity.” Theatre Topics 12.1 (2002): 1-15.
Soyini Madison, D. “The dialogic performative in critical ethnography.” Text and Performance Quarterly 26.4 (2006): 320-324.
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