Making sense of the other

Ethnographic methods and immigration research

Authored by: Patricia Fernández-Kelly

Routledge International Handbook of Migration Studies

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  May  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415779722
eBook ISBN: 9780203863299
Adobe ISBN: 9781135183493


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In this chapter I aim to show how ethnographic research can enhance our understanding of immigration adding value to broad generalizations through the discovery of details at the microlevel. How immigrants process information, define themselves vis-à-vis mainstream populations, and adapt to conditions of tolerance or hostility constitute relevant questions in the production of knowledge and the design of policy. Because immigration amplifies ordinary experience, it accentuates phenomena of general interest, including changes in family composition, multiple adaptations to external pressures, mobility in the labor market, and evolving ideas about race and ethnicity. Thus, the ethnographic study of immigration yields knowledge that illuminates the experience of multiple groups, not solely immigrants; its relevance is substantive and practical; theoretical as well as instrumental. Research about immigrants may be regarded, in the words of Robert K. Merton, as a “strategic site” for broad sociological analysis (Merton 1987).

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