[URBANTH-L]Response to Ellman: theory, practice/ pragmatics

cmaida at ucla.edu cmaida at ucla.edu
Tue May 3 15:55:02 EDT 2005

With respect to doing ethnography and qualitative studies on public
issues. I have been involved as an evaluation with the UCLA-Duke National 
Center for Child Traumatic Stress, funded by the Substance Abuse an
Mental Health Services Administration, specifically its Terrorism and
Disaster Branch. Most recently, my colleagues in this group of child and
adolescent psychologists and psychiatrists received a grant from the
National Institute of Mental Health to develop a five-year training
program to improve the quality of child and adolescent mental health
research after a mass casualty event. Ten research teams across the
nation will be trained using a curriculum that is under development by
the grantee. As the evalutor of the grant, Ihave worked with the
investigators to employ structured interviews, expert review panels,
focus groups, and eventually some ethnography along with other
qualitative frameworks to ensure good process or formative evaluation
data. We have used a standard ethnographic program to analyze the focus
group transcrips, and have received IRB approvals from two universities
and a large hospital system in the New York City metro area.

In addition to the formal evaluation, we have number of  ways  to
critically evaluate the normative framework and the disciplinary or
ideological preconceptions that are routine in a study of this scale
.There is a bioethicist on the study team to ensure that research ethics
are included within the training curriculum, and that the discussion of
ethical issues is an ongoing part of the study. The other members of the
study team are politically well-informed both at the local-level and in
the national political arena. Further, the  NIMH grant is embedded within 
a nationwide network of over fifty child and adolescent treatment
development and/or application centers, so that there are hundreds of
colleagues who are aware of the study, who are being informed of its
progress, and whose feedback is welcomed. Web-based dissemination and
feedback is part of the grant requirement.

I came upon evaluation later in my career, and only after two years of
post-doctoral research in medical anthropology at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric 
Institute, 15 years of NIMH-NSF funded research studies in children's
mental health following natural disasters. and the publication of a book
in the area.  My interest in evaluating programs in this area comes
directly out of my scholarly work in the field as an anthropologist, who
is not a clinician.   The offer to evaluate these programs came from
colleagues in psychiatry and psychology who have worked with me over the
years. I have been fortunate to work among highly skeptical and critical
colleagues who are dedicated to their scientific fields, and who work in
institutions where academic freedom is highly valued. As a professor
within the UC system,  corporate trends and unionization concerns are a
part of everyday life in the twenty-first century university. Corporate
and governmental influences on the uses of anthropological knowledge are
key concerns emerging from this type of research, and these are often not 
a part of the discourse heard in my multidisciplinary study team, where I 
am the sole anthropologist.  That is why Sam Beck and I have been
chairing sessions at AAA over the years to provide a reflexive dimension
to these issues in our own professional arena.

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