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Over the past few decades there have been tremendous developments in audience research. Sonia Livingstone’s (2014) book chapter captures some the highlights of these developments. Unsurprisingly, Livingstone’s chapter includes  Stuart Hall’s ‘encoding/decoding’ model that has been of outstanding influence in the field. Hall’s concept is closely related to ‘reception theory’ (Iser 1980) and Morley’s (1993) concept of the “active audience”. By and large, when audience research discussed the active audience it was turning away from the idea that media content was passively received by a people sitting in front of their radio and television set. The focus shifted from passive reception to (active) interpretation of media content.

A couple of years ago I came across articles published by the Indian-American scholar Lakshmi Srinivas based at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Srinivas research (2005, 2010ab) immediately struck me as very exciting as it took the ‘active’ in ‘active audience’ literally. She was and remains interested in people’s action and interaction when they visit cinemas. Last year (2016), Srinivas published her research as a book entitled “House Full: Indian Cinema and the Active Audience“.

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In the book, Srinivas discusses how in India people actively participate in the production of the cinematic experience. She begins her exploration outside the cinema hall where people queue to purchase tickets and wait to enter the auditorium. Inside the auditorium a social structure emerges that  can be based on people’s social class but is also related to the nature of the social grouping that attendance a film screening. Where they sit people create a space where all group members can comfortably participate in the film experience. Children for example may sit on prepared blankets and consume food that has been brought to the cinema. During the film it is very common to vocalise loudly responses to the film’s content, such as to locations or actors that are recognised. People also sing along to tunes that are part of the film. Or if they are not interest in long musical sequences they might use the time to chat with others, leave the cinema for socialising outside, or having a smoke. Whilst in Western cinemas it is generally assumed that everybody sitting in the same auditorium sees and experiences the same film, audience members in Indian cinemas construct their cinematic experience in interaction with others and by fitting together the bits of the film they see with content they pick up from conversations with others.

I highly recommend Srinivas’ “House Full” to everyone interested in film consumption and audience research. A more comprehensive review of the book has been published in Symbolic Interaction. 

 

 

References

Hall, S. (1980). Encoding/Decoding. Culture, Media, Language, 128–138. http://doi.org/10.1007/BF00986815

Iser, W. (1980). The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Livingstone, Sonia (2012) Exciting moments in audience research – past, present and future. In: Bilandzic , Helena, Patriarche, Geoffrey and Traudt , Paul, (eds.) The social use of media: cultural and social scientific perspectives on audience research. ECREA Book Series. Intellect Ltd, Brighton, UK, pp. 257-274.

Morley, D. (1993). Active Audience Theory: Pendulums and Pitfalls. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 13–19. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1993.tb01299.x

Srinivas, L. 2005. Imaging the Audience. Journal of South Asian Popular Culture. 3 (2): 101–116.

Srinivas, L. Cinema Halls, Locality and Urban Life. Ethnography. 11 (1): 189-205

Srinivas, L. Cinema in the City: Tangible Forms, Transformations and the Punctuation of Everyday Life. Visual Anthropology, 23 (1): 1-12. [Lead article. Selected for Editor’s Choice].

Srinivas, L. (2016). House full : Indian cinema and the active audience. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

vom Lehn, D. (2017). Reengaging with the “Active Audience”: An Ethnography of Indian Cinema. Symbolic Interaction. http://doi.org/10.1002/symb.292

 

 

Two or three years ago, I met Gary Alan Fine, the ethnographer and sociologist who wrote such wonderful books on restaurant kitchens, young orators in high school debating societies, mushroom collectors and many more. We came to talk about varieties of ethnography and one of its German variations: “Phenomenology-based Ethnography”. This form of ethnography pervades German qualitative sociology but is less well-known in Anglo-Saxon sociology. It has been developed by the late Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler together with other  German sociologists and ethnographers of whom a good number studied with Thomas Luckmann, the famous student of Alfred Schutz, at the University of Konstanz (Germany). Gary Fine wondered whether it was possible to put together a Special Issue and encouraged me to approach the editor of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Charles Edgley, with the idea. With the wonderful support of Charles Edgley this Special Issue edited by myself and Ronald Hitzler, has now been produced and is in the process of being published, first on OnlineFirst of JCE.

Journal of Contemporary Ethnography – Special Issue: Phenomenology-based Ethnography

Table of Content

Dirk vom Lehn and Ronald Hitzler – Phenomenology-based Ethnography: Introduction to the Special Issue

Abstract

The article provides the background and rationale for the Special Issue. It explains the origins of phenomenology-based ethnography in Alfred Schutz’s analysis of the life-world and points to some recent development in this approach that is of particular importance in sociology in German-speaking countries. It finishes with a brief introduction to the articles of the issue.

Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler – Life-World-Analytical Ethnography: A Phenomenology-Based Research Approach

Abstract

Life-world-analytical ethnography aims to investigate the subjective perspective—the life-worlds—of other people. Life-world-analytical ethnography is based on the premise that any world which is not apprehended as a life-world—that is, as the totality of a world that is subjectively experienced—is a fiction. For we do not, in fact, have any knowledge of a world that is not subjectively experienced—of the world per se, as it were. The investigation of one’s own life-world is a difficult program in itself, a program that mundane phenomenology, in particular, endeavors to pursue. However, the investigation of the life-worlds of other actors calls for numerous additional precautions and measures. This article discusses the origins and foundations as well as particular challenges of life-world-analytical ethnography.

Thomas S. Eberle – Exploring another’s subjective life-world: A phenomenological approach

Abstract

Regarding the relationship between phenomenology and the social sciences, significantly different traditions exist between German-speaking countries and the Anglo-Saxon world, which create many misunderstandings. Phenomenology is not just a research method; in its origin, it is a philosophy and has epistemological and methodological implications for empirical research. This essay pursues several goals: First, some basic tenets of Husserl’s phenomenology and Schutz’s mundane life-world analysis are restated. Second, an approach of “phenomenological hermeneutics” is presented that complies with the postulate of adequacy and aspires to understand other people’s life-worlds more profoundly than the widely accepted research practice of treating interview transcripts as data. The methodical procedure is illustrated using selected pieces from a case study of a patient who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and became severely disoriented. Third, some crucial implications of such an approach are discussed in regard to a phenomenology-based ethnography.

Siegfried  Saerberg – Chewing accidents: A phenomenology of visible and invisible everyday accomplishments

Abstract

This article compares two variations of bodily practices and bodily-grounded orientations and systems of relevance: the blind and the sighted life-worlds. Blindness is conceptualized as a particular style of perception being in no way a deficit but on equal footing with sight. Comparison will show differences and commonalities that may give a deeper insight into how bodily and sensory orientation and practice work in a mundane situation. This situation is feeding behavior and in particular its failure in “Chewing Accidents” focusing on three variations: tongue biting, swallowing a wasp, and biting on a cherry pit. Data are taken from participant observation, focused interviews, and online sources such as blogs and medical forums. By virtue of a detailed phenomenological description of chewing behavior, the article shows that blindness is not the contradiction of sight and vice versa. Invisibility is an element of the everyday life-world, with the latter being dependent on dark areas.

Michaela Pfadenhauer and Tilo Grenz – Uncovering the Essence: The Why and How of Supplementing Observation with Participation in Phenomenology-Based Ethnography

Abstract

Participation in phenomenology-based ethnography is about involvement and “doing-it-yourself,” which generates data derived from immediate experience that can contribute to the reconstruction of the internal viewpoint by uncovering the essence of a phenomenon. This phenomenological orientation is the main focus of interest of the present paper. Based on reflections on the ethnographer as a participant who voluntarily assumes the role of the stranger, we demonstrate how observation can be supplemented with participation. We exemplify it with an ongoing research project on the deployment of a so-called social robot in dementia care. Our aim is to show that a subjective perspective, which does not claim to be superior but rather to be of value in its own right, increases the knowledge yield.

Dariuš Zifonun – Posttraditional Migrants: A Modern Type of Community

Abstract

This article analyses the participation of migrants in sport. Based on the case study of a Turkish soccer club in Germany, it scrutinizes the structural and processual features of ethnic self organization. The club responds to the problems of social order in modern complex societies—problems emanating from the pluralization of social life-worlds—by employing a number of characteristic answers. Among them are the segmentation into sub-worlds, the composition of an integrative ideology of friendship as well as the creation of a soccer style. In processes of legitimation and delegitimation, questions of belonging and recognition are being negotiated. All of this allows for the management of ambivalence in everyday life and contributes to the distinctively posttraditional character of community. The article suggests that a sociology of social worlds approach can substantially contribute to the study of the interactive social structures of society.

Hubert Knoblauch and Bernt Schnettler – Video and Vision: Videography of a Marian Apparition

Abstract

In this article, we sketch the field of qualitative video-analysis and locate videography within this. Instead of presenting the methods of videography formally, we illustrate the application of this method in a particular field: Marian apparitions occurring in a German town in 1999, captured live on video. The presentation of the method in this paper follows a general methodological structure. (1) We first outline the ethnographic context of the setting in which the video-recordings were made. This context includes actors, religious associations, and locations as well as some aspects of the apparitional events’ historical genesis. (2) We then turn to look at the performance of the Marian vision as recorded in the video. By applying sequential analysis, we roughly identify a temporal order to the event, which exhibits an interesting deviation from earlier forms of apparitions due to the way it takes a subjectively “spiritual” form. This finding leads us to finally (3) address the role of the subjective perspective that, as we argue, is a further essential dimension of videography. It is on this level that we are made aware of the relevance of the life-world as a methodological background for the kind of interpretive social science that takes the actor’s perspective into account.

Paul Eisewicht & Heiko Kirschner – Giving in on the Field: Localizing Life-World Analytic Ethnography in Mediatized Fields

Abstract

This article proposes a differentiation of ethnographic research by theoretical paradigm, methodological stance, and scientific purpose. Following these categories, we specify life-world-analytical ethnography as originating from the (subject-centered) action theory with an emphasis on observational participation, an affirmative–descriptive attitude toward the research, as well as the implementation of data gathered by personal experience and its interactive verification within the field. Furthermore, we address the challenges ethnographers are facing when conducting their research in mediatized fields and illustrate the advantages of a life-world analytical approach on our case of online-livestreams and videogaming. We thereby introduce the concept of passing to methodologically expand this approach.

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Two or three years ago, I met Gary Alan Fine, the ethnographer and sociologist who wrote such wonderful books on restaurant kitchens, young orators in high school debating societies, mushroom collectors and many more. We came to talk about varieties of ethnography and one of its German variations: “Phenomenology-based Ethnography”. This form of ethnography pervades German qualitative sociology but is less well-known in Anglo-Saxon sociology. It has been developed by the late Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler together with other  German sociologists and ethnographers of whom a good number studied with Thomas Luckmann, the famous student of Alfred Schutz, at the University of Konstanz (Germany). Gary Fine wondered whether it was possible to put together a Special Issue and encouraged me to approach the editor of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Charles Edgley, with the idea. With the wonderful support of Charles Edgley this Special Issue edited by myself and Ronald Hitzler, has now been produced…

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