I wrote a literature review for an academic in the department on LEPs, Local Enterprise Partnerships. It is far from my field but the work was well recieved and I’ve been offered the chance to co-author an article. It’s given me a lot of pleasure to do some work which is appreciated. It’s also made me very tired of the empty compliments of some people who praise me up to the eyeballs but don’t follow it up with anything practical.
One of the surprising outcomes of the literature review was that I realised there was no proper ethnographic work on LEPs. One or two of the papers made passing reference to the idea of ethnography yet there was no account of the actual goings on within any individual LEP.
Whilst there is some analysis of the composition of LEP boards, some attempts at working with ideas of social capital, what is missing is an account that includes descriptive material which gives a sense of how LEPs work. What do they do? The literature offers few specific examples of actions by LEP boards. The literature gives no account of an LEP meeting. How many meetings are there in a year? Who attends them? With what regularity to people attend the meetings? Do people actually want to be on these local enterprise partnership boards? Is it done from a sense of civic duty? As might be the case in other ‘3rd sector’ organisations? How do people behave at these meetings? Are they engaged with the process? Do they find them boring?
so this was on my mind when I attended a conference yesterday that was concerned, partly, with LEPs. I spoke with another academic from my department, Aidan, and I was discussing with him this notion that there was no real nitty-gritty information being published about LEPs. He had given a paper about work projects in Leeds and his paper to had avoided, he admitted, actually giving honest accounts of what was going on. I was laughing and saying that information was being passed through nods and winks literally. A raised eyebrow here and a sideways glance there communicated to those people in the know that they were in the know along with the speaker.
It made me think of the known knowns as described by Zizek drawing on a famous speech by Donald Rumsfeld. Zizek was interested in the unknown knows, the category avoided by Rumsfeld. However I was drawn to the known knowns, That category of knowledge which we acknowledge but don’t actually speak. That is in a sense here what Ethnography offers and also why it can be transgressive. It, from the perspective of the polite academic, might appear impolite ought to be breaking agreements based on trust and privacy, to tell the truth of what is actually going on.