A few days ago, Tennessee passed a law requiring words to have their “natural and ordinary meaning.”
From a linguistic perspective, this is bunk.
Ethnographic and interview methods are, by their nature, interactive. But that means researchers have to account for a unique variable: themselves.
Even physicists complain about the observer’s paradox — the act of observing changes the thing being observed. And it’s only truer when the thing being observed is not a thing but a person.
“Any story differs with each passing moment, new purpose, and favored vantage point. Neither the whole story nor the true one ever exists, however much we may wish for it. If we could achieve wholeness and absolute truth in our stories, we would have no more stories to tell. And tell stories, we must.”
–Shirley Brice Heath, Words at Work and Play
The first part of this essay was concerned with data that purports to be objective, but really isn’t. All of which raises an obvious question: how can we make our data more objective?
Speaking as an anthropologist, I’ve got some bad news for you: we can’t. It’s not possible to observe human behavior from no vantage point at all. And I would go a step further and say that we shouldn’t try to.