In this episode, I speak with Dr. Barbara Dennis of Indiana University on her new ethnography, Walking with Strangers: Critical Ethnography and Educational Promise, published in 2020 by Peter Lang Press.
Walking with Strangers features the IU-Unityville Outreach Project and tells the story of a 4-year-long participatory, critical ethnography in a local United States school district. The book speaks into the contemporary conversations around immigration, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the experiences of Dreamers. The project involved a multilingual team of graduate students, educators, community members, and students who together aimed to transform school practices in order to bring about more success with transnational students who were enrolling in the district at an increasing rate. Over the span of several years, what began with a simple request for help, morphed into a rich ethnographic understanding of the complex tensions produced by monocultural and assimilationist ideals when juxtaposed with strangers. A unique and innovative feature about the book lies in that it seamlessly weaves together substantive discussions, methodological practices, and ethical challenges revolving around a transformative, social justice project.
Walking with Strangers has made significant and much-needed contributions to the field of critical and social justice oriented educational research. In particular, it zooms into the complex and localized dynamics among immigrant families and students, predominantly white communities, public schools structured by white culture, and teachers unprepared for educating transnational children. The book not only sheds light on the innovative approaches through which educational researchers and educators could bring positive changes to the school life of marginalized and disadvantaged students, but also candidly reflects on the places where such efforts failed when confronting white privilege and gender oppression.
Barbara Dennis is a peace and social justice activist, and critical educational ethnographer. She is a professor of qualitative inquiry in the Inquiry Methodology program at Indiana University’s, School of Education. She regularly publishes on feminist ethnography, critical participatory ethics, and methodological theory.
Pengfei Zhao is a critical researcher and qualitative research methodologist based at the University of Florida. She is currently working on a book manuscript studying the coming of age experience of rural Chinese youth during and right after the Cultural Revolution.
Pengfei Zhao is a critical researcher and qualitative research methodologist based at the University of Florida.