Here is the second interview for our new blogpost series Media Ethnographer, and our guest is Emek Çaylı Rahte. Emek has a PhD in Radio Television Cinema program, and is currently an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Hacettepe University. Her research interests include media and identity, gender, and television dramas.
You recently published an article in Mülkiye Dergisi reviewing several ethnographic work on the media of Turkey which gained momentum starting in the 200os. You provide insight into the ethnographies of media produced in Turkish language. What are your findings and conclusion?
For a long while, I was thinking about the lack of an anthropological sight in ethnographic studies. In Turkey, communication and media studies programs are leading areas conducting ethnographic studies. Anthropology or sociology departments do not adequately take interest in the study of media and doing ethnographic fieldworks, I mean ethnographic works especially on media-related everyday life. That’s why visual anthropology and visual sociology needs more improving in Turkey’s academic climate to enrich the variety and interdisciplinarity of ethnographic works in Turkish academia. Most of the instances of ethnographic texts on media that I encounter are not including any ethnographic fieldworks or even an ethnographic perspective to everyday life as a whole. Most of all, it is because of the media-centred way of studying media cultures and most of the academic works sight theoretical l inspiration in traditional aspects of British cultural studies. In my article, I move forward with all these matters and questions in my mind to figure out what “good media ethnography” is. In google scholar, I made a literature review of Turkish articles doing ethnography or ethnographic researches, dating back from 1970 to 2018. I found out that most of the articles were discussing ethnography or some of them were pretending to make ethnographic researches but practically and actually they were not “doing ethnography”. This is the reason I embraced a separation between “doing ethnography” and “adopting and ethnographic perspective” in qualitative research. By all means, making fieldwork is not synonymous with “doing ethnography”. In most of the articles, ethnography is generally understood as a tool of data collecting. But ethnographic methodology is something more with its distinctive ethical principles and ways of seeing. In 4343 articles at google scholar, only 1% of them were in the field of media ethnography. And making a detailed analysis of these articles in the field of media ethnography, I found out that only 50% of them were including thorough fieldwork research. The number of field studies who were “doing ethnography” was very limited. As a conclusion, I underlined again that “good media ethnography” means a “good field study” with an anthropological aspect. It means any sort of “being there” to make thorough field research, which means to “penetrate” and access the everyday life experiences; going deeper and looking closer to see and interpret the practices and social world of people, cultural groups or communities of any kind.
You know this area very well. Where are we going in terms of ethnographic studies about the media of Turkey? Are there any topical tendencies?
Parallel with global tendencies in ethnographic researches, after the 2000s, a remarkable increase in ethnographic studies on media is seen. The quantitative findings in my article show that, in the 2000s comparing to the 90s, ethnographic studies increased by ten times. By means of media ethnography, a notable increase happens between 2010 and 2018. Not surprisingly, the majority of the studies are using keywords such as netnography, online ethnography, virtual ethnography, cyber ethnography and etc. It reveals how social media boosted the interest in ethnography. But just like Tim Ingold’s considerations in his “That’s Enough About Ethnography” we always need to be cautious when we call something ethnography. When we think of the ethnography of the internet, just like John Postill argues, a “remote ethnography” is possible without “being there” physically. Or sometimes we can make “thin descriptions” instead of “thick descriptions.” But if the point with ethnography is to catch the emotion and access the life experiences in the field there is a problem here. Some researchers only make textual analysis or quick participant observations online and call themselves ethnographic works. That is controversial. I supervise three Ph.D. dissertations. All of them makes in-depth-interviews but they do not call their research an ethnography. The same goes for my MA students as well. Among eight, only one of them is doing ethnography in her thesis. She wants to write the ethnography of YouTuber kids. In the beginning, I dissuaded her from writing an ethnographic thesis because it demands more time and experience in the field. Also, it entails more effort to catch the gaze of the “native” to be able to make a “thick description”. These are not usually possible with an MA thesis. But we decided to give a try. And we will see.
Tell us about your ongoing projects these days.
I have very recently started writing on the ethical issues in ethnographic researches. Recently getting permissions from the ethical committees of the Universities for the fieldwork studies is becoming more prevalent. Sometimes it takes to much time to get permission. For some fields, written consent form risks the research. Or sometimes covert participant observations becomes a necessity. Thinking on all these points motivated me to write about the debates on the ethical issues in qualitative researches, particularly ethnography.
You have been working on diverse issues as a media scholar. Why do you use ethnography as a methodological toolkit to explore all these issues?
Doing ethnography is hard work. Because of some very practical reasons and institutional, financial and political restrictions, making ethnographic fieldwork research becomes something you challenge. Years ago, I was very lucky when I was writing my Ph.D. dissertation. My supervisor Asker Kartarı always encouraged me to do ethnography. Even, the school management those days did not make any difficulties for me in being away for about three months in another city to do my field research. My research was about daytime TV shows. I spent several times in studios with the audiences. Also made interviews in the houses of the participants of the programs. For another more recent field research, I had to spend four months in Kosovo. That time, my Faculty and also my University supported me leaving for a full spring term. In that research, I wanted to figure out how and why the Turkish TV series make meaning in the everyday life of people in Prizren, Kosovo. You know, Balkans have strong ties with Turkey, culturally and politically. Also, Turkish TV series are watched considerably in Balkans, like in the Middle East. Using an ethnographic approach, I could hear the personal stories about Turkey, going to Turkey, watching Turkey from the Prizren people of different origins: Turks, Albanians, Bosnians, and Serbians. We could have a chance to watch some series together in their houses. Or in cafes, we could have a chance to discuss serial characters, scripts, casts. I was letting them make comparisons with their own lives For instance, we could discuss the violence against women in the series and what was the situation in Kosovo and in their own life worlds. The interviews were not limited to these for sure. A holistic perspective to see the everyday life of people, and by means of media ethnography, to go deeper in their everyday media and cultural experiences as a whole makes ethnographic research. A dialogical aspect to make people speak in their own words, encourage them to tell their own stories and a reflexive sight for a mutual interaction in the field are what I try to make out in most of my researches. But most of the time, I leave the field with a feeling that I need to spend more time in the field, speak to more and more people etc. There is always the possibility for any sort of ethnographical writing to turn into an incomplete story.
Can you tell us a recent ethnographic work that you read and liked?
John Postill, Tim Ingold and Daniel Miller are my favourite three anthropologists whose works I really enjoy reading. I can give Tim Ingold’s 2018 book Anthropology: Why It Matters as an example. In an interview on his book, Ingold tells that anthropology is not knowledge with defined borders but It is rather a conversation, a gathering of many voices. That is the point with the ethnography as well.
 Çaylı Rahte E (2018). Türkiye’de Medya Etnografisi Yapmak: Alanın Gelişimi ve Seyrine Eleştirel Bir Bakış. Mülkiye Dergisi, 42 (4), 593-637.
 Ingold, T. (2014) “That’s Enough About Ethnography!”, HAU-Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 4 (1): 383-395. Available online at https://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau4.1.021. For the Turkish translation, see http://www.momentdergi.org/index.php/momentdergi/article/view/246/466
 Postill J (2017b). “Remote Ethnography: Studying Culture from Afar. Hjorth, Larissa et al (eds.) The Routledge Companion To Digital Ethnography. London: Routledge.
 Çaylı Rahte E (2009). Kamusallık, Mahremiyet ve Medya: ‘Kadın Tartışma Programları’ Üzerine Etnografik Bir Araştırma. Yayımlanmamış Doktora Tezi. Ankara: Ankara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü.
 Çaylı Rahte E (2017a). Medya ve Kültürün Küresel Akışı: Türk Dizilerinin Kosova’da Alımlanması. Milli Folklor. 29 (114). 66-78.