Editor’s Note: We finish off this month’s theme on ethnography in education with an interview with Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito (@mizuko). Mimi has some impressive experience with the topics covered this month: she is the Research Director at the Digital Media and Learning Hub, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning, and a Professor in Anthropology and Informatics at UC Irvine (after getting two PhDs from Stanford). And she is as kind and generous as she is brilliant.
In this interview, Mimi provides insights on bridging disciplines – from ethnography to economics – and institutions – from academia to industry. She also discusses the challenges and opportunities in forging new research agendas and shaping a field, something with which she has a lot of personal experience. We are thrilled to share Mimi’s insights with you to round out this month’s theme on ethnography in education. To learn more about Mimi, check out her many books and reports, summarized at the end of the interview.
Morgan: You’ve worked on a lot of compelling projects using ethnographic methods. What do you see as the strengths of ethnography?
Mimi: I think, for me, I was always in an unusual bucket as an ethnographer because I’ve always done research ‘at home’ and I haven’t taken on the frame of culture in quite the same was as ethnographers do, but I’ve adopted and adapted the perspectives and political commitments and methods of ethnography, and for that has worked very well in studying youth media. My approach has been to study youth culture and media as a space of cultural difference within a particular society. These technologies are new and children and youth occupy a somewhat segregated culture. Feminist ethnographies look at social stratification, and my approach shares affinities with those.
When I started out, there wasn’t a lot of work in anthropology looking at children and youth cultures, and I found that the perspectives of ethnography was really useful for looking at these subaltern and disempowered groups. A lot of my perspectives came from my training in anthropology about how to give voice to the unique ingenuity and perspectives of those who are disempowered. The role of youth in most societies as a relatively oppressed and marginalized population has been relatively under-studied in anthropology. The field has done a great job of studying regional inequities, and gender, race, and class, but has been remarkably silent about the everyday oppression that most societies have based on age.Read More… On the Importance of Ethnography in Education: an interview with Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito