When synchronicity occurs in ethnography​




Sometimes in the middle of an intense qualitative study involving in situ immersion ethnography -- particularly one whose goals and objectives have not been solved yet or that reflect findings and data that don't fit together, and everyone on the team is still scratching their heads -- the observer may witness an event, finding, impression, situation, icon, or visual sighting that at first appears to be nothing. It's idiosyncratic or insignificant yet it has a certain attraction; it's arresting. It's interesting, odd, and the astute researchers glances at it intensely, but may not know what to do with it. She may forget about it or mull it over without result. But later, under new circumstances in the same study -- in an entirely different household or region -- this same observation, event, or situation--or one very similar to the first oddity -- repeats. It repeats under unexpected situations, perhaps in another part of the country. It may be subtle or accompanied by our reactions of shock, surprise, even delight. Because we have been so intensely involved in the observationals, hour after hour, the presence of a meaningful coincidence causes us to pause and comment on it in debriefs. I/we discover, upon reflection, that the existence of this synchronistically repeated situation portends a greater depth of resonance and relevance for the overall findings than expected. It shows that something specific needs to be paid attention to. It suggests an ending to how the research will go. The synchronistic research event -- even if not understood until later, if at all -- begins to emphasize something important to the study or unravel a research puzzle.


Suddenly, this synchronistic occurrence provides a new, dramatic moment of indepth insight to the overall research momentum. The researcher may be taken on a new road of inquiry, a thread of questioning, or a new line of thinking may be opened up. Synchronicity becomes a kind of discovery mechanism facilitated by coincidence, by larger forces interfering and exerting power in what once was an orderly, expected, research unfoldment.


Synchronicity may lead to breakthrough or it may simply coalesce the team when some realize that a finding might be truer or more important because of the unexpected repetition of findings. Synchronicity does not happen in every research study, but when it does, the sighting of the coincidence can be unmistakable, at least to the lead ethnographer who is carefully analyzing and noting observations of impact. A synchronistic event in research may also connect to something personal for the researcher or client team; it may suggest what will happen to team members as a result of doing the research or it may simply emphasize the presence of the unexplainable, mysterious, or unknown...one of those components of qualitative research that continues to attract cultural anthropologists and depth psychologists into the field.