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Ethnography in Today's World

Ethnography in Today's World: Color Full Before Color Blind

Roger Sanjek
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Ethnography in Today's World
    Book Description:

    InEthnography in Today's World, Roger Sanjek examines the genre and practice of ethnography from a historical perspective, from its nineteenth-century beginnings and early twentieth-century consolidation, through political reorientations during the 1960s and the impact of feminism and postmodernism in later decades, to its current outlook in an increasingly urban world. Drawing on a career of ethnographic research across Brazil, Ghana, New York City, and with the Gray Panthers, Sanjek probes politics and rituals in multiethnic New York, the dynamics of activist meetings, human migration through the ages, and shifting conceptions of race in the United States. He interrogates well-known works from Boas, Whyte, Fabian, Geertz, Marcus, and Clifford, as well as less celebrated researchers, addressing methodological concerns from ethnographers' reliance on assistants in the formative days of the discipline to contemporary comparative issues and fieldwork and writing strategies.Ethnography in Today's Worldcontributes to our understanding of culture and society in an age of globalization. These provocative examinations of the value of ethnographic research challenge conventional views as to how ethnographic fieldwork is and can be conceived, conducted, contextualized, and communicated to academic audiences and the twenty-first-century public.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0876-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)

    • Chapter 1 Color Full Before Color Blind: The Emergence of Multiracial Neighborhood Politics in Queens, New York City
      (pp. 3-22)

      The United States is in the midst of a great transition. Within a few decades, Americans of African, Asian, and Latin American ancestry will outnumber those of European origin. According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau projection, by 2042, the proportion of whites will fall from its present 65 percent to 50 percent, and by 2050, the country’s population will be 46 percent white, 30 percent Latin American (or “Hispanic”), 15 percent black, and 9 percent Asian. The great transition among America’s children will arrive even sooner. By the year 2020, fewer than half of children under age 18 will...

    • Chapter 2 The Organization of Festivals and Ceremonies Among Americans and Immigrants in Queens
      (pp. 23-41)

      On a Friday night in March 1990, I attended an awards ceremony and buffet dinner sponsored by the Coalition of United Residents for a Safer Community at the Knights of Columbus hall in Elmhurst, Queens. I was invited by the coalition’s organizer, Lucy Schilero, an Italian American woman in her thirties who had lived most of her life in a house in Elmhurst, just one block from its border with Corona. During the past twenty years, Elmhurst and Corona had been transformed from outer-city neighborhoods¹ of white homeowners and apartment renters—mainly immigrant and second- and third-generation Italians, Germans, Irish,...

    • Chapter 3 What Ethnographies Leave Out
      (pp. 42-56)

      In 1927 Margaret Mead prepared to write her second book on Samoa,Social Organization of Manu’a(published in 1930). Having completedComing of Age in Samoa(scheduled to appear in 1928), which aimed at a popular audience, she now wanted to write a “monograph” to establish her place among “scholars.” Before beginning, she read a handful of what we now call “classic” ethnographies. “I gathered together a pile of the famous monographs of the period—Rivers’The Todas(1906), Malinowski’sArgonauts of the Western Pacific(1922), [John] Roscoe’sThe Baganda(1911), and [George] Grinnell’sThe Cheyenne(1923)—and studied their...


    • Chapter 4 Ethnography
      (pp. 59-71)

      The word “ethnography” has a double meaning in anthropology: ethnography asproduct(ethnographic writings—the books and articles written by anthropologists) and ethnography asprocess(participant observation or fieldwork). The product depends upon the process but not in any simple A→B relationship. In constructing ethnographies, anthropologists do more than merely “write up” the fieldnotes they record as part of the process of doing fieldwork. If ethnographies can be seen as the building blocks and testing grounds of anthropological theory, then it must also be accepted that ethnographies and the ethnographic process from which they derive are shaped and molded by...

    • Chapter 5 Anthropology’s Hidden Colonialism: Assistants and Their Ethnographers
      (pp. 72-81)

      This chapter concerns hidden issues of scholarly history, the interpersonal context of fieldwork, and intellectual colonialism in the study of “other cultures.” For more than a hundred years, members of the communities and cultures studied by anthropologists have been major providers of information, translation, fieldnotes, and fieldwork. Although professional ethnographers—usually white, mostly male—have normally assumed full authorship for their ethnographic products, the remarkable contribution of these assistants—mainly persons of color—is not widely appreciated or understood. In no major treatment of the discipline is it portrayed as a fundamental part of the history of anthropology.

      Anthropologists remain...

    • Chapter 6 The Ethnographic Present
      (pp. 82-100)

      I intend this chapter’s title, “The Ethnographic Present,” to be ambiguous, to apply to more than may be obvious. I wish to approach its topic from four connecting angles, considering (1) the ethnographic present as the present state of ethnography; (2) the ethnographic present as a mode of presenting ethnography; (3) the ethnographic present as the ethnographer’s presence during fieldwork; and (4) the ethnographic method as a gift, or present, from our founders. If this hints of reflexive or autocritical concerns, let me advise that I am not about to rehearse or refine postmodern (or more pointedly, post–Marcus-and-Clifford¹) anthropology....


    • Chapter 7 Worth Holding Onto: The Participatory Discrepancies of Political Activism
      (pp. 103-114)

      Over the course of four decades I have attended hundreds of political meetings. Among them have been meetings of the Dzodze Social and Cultural Union (DSCU), an Ewe hometown association in Accra, Ghana; meetings of Gray Panther networks in Berkeley, California and New York City; and meetings of Community Board 4, its district cabinet, and block, civic, tenant, ethnic, and merchant associations in Elmhurst-Corona, Queens. To nonmembers, many of these meetings might seem boring. “Not much was happening” would have been the response, as it was from some of the undergraduates whom I have assigned to attend and write fieldnotes...

    • Chapter 8 Intermarriage and the Future of Races in America
      (pp. 115-132)

      Through four centuries, white and black Americans have lived together and apart—in closer propinquity through the first twenty-five decades, during which slavery existed, than in the fifteen decades since. Across these years, the power of race has been expressed and mediated through sex. Forced disruption of black conjugal ties and kinship networks, white-on-black rape, sexual mythology and fear, legal bars to interracial marriage, and the overriding of kinship by race are historic features of the United States’ continuing “American Dilemma.“¹

      The post-Emancipation decades have been marked by still-entrenched patterns of black-white residential segregation.² In the early 1940s, St. Clair...

    • Chapter 9 Rethinking Migration, Ancient to Future
      (pp. 133-152)

      Rising tides in the movement of information, commodities, and people characterize the contemporary world, and anthropologists of the present have been vigorous in charting these proliferating forms of transnational circulation.¹ Taking a global view, Arjun Appadurai discerns “a general rupture in the tenor of intersocietal relations” marking “the extended present” and attributes this to first, the impact of electronic media and second, the pace and ubiquity of contemporary migration. Of the latter, he writes, “Few persons in the world today do not have a friend, relative, or coworker who is not on the road to somewhere else or coming back...


    • Chapter 10 Politics, Theory, and the Nature of Cultural Things
      (pp. 155-173)

      Since anthropology’s “postmodern turn” in the 1980s, we have understood that ethnography is autobiographical.¹ In the sense that writing ethnography depends upon recalling and recounting one’s presence in fieldwork events, with the help of fieldnotes and records, this is certainly true. Yet this is a relatively trivial point, I believe, compared to the substantive and theoretical purposes of doing ethnography. This autobiographical truism becomes objectionable when used to justify making the author the major personage in memoirs that are presented as ethnography.²

      A more far-reaching argument I wish to advance is that anthropological theory is also autobiographical—even more significantly...

    • Chapter 11 Keeping Ethnography Alive in an Urbanizing World
      (pp. 174-187)

      My initial attraction to ethnography was romantic. The first book I read in my first cultural anthropology course in 1964 was Bronislaw Malinowski’sArgonauts of the Western Pacific(1922). I was hooked. I realized I could travel via ethnographies to places I would never go, and before my undergraduate years were out, I had encounteredA Chinese Village(1945),A Serbian Village(1958),Life in a Mexican Village(1951),Suye Mura: A Japanese Village(1939),A Village on the Border(1957), andA Village That Chose Progress(1950).¹ I also soon discovered ethnographies of places closer to home:Middletown(1929),...

    • Chapter 12 Going Public: Responsibilities and Strategies in the Aftermath of Ethnography
      (pp. 188-210)

      Engaging the public sphere is central to contemporary anthropology’s agenda.¹ Exhortations to do so are plentiful. Individual examples are readily identifiable. Yet analyses of how public engagement actually works are few. How may we disaggregate “the public sphere” into the actual pathways of audiences, sites, media, and roles that anthropologists encounter and navigate? And how do contemporary forays into action, advocacy, applied, popular, or public interest anthropology articulate with a disciplinary history of concern about ethical and professional responsibilities to the people we study and to “society at large?”

      To unravel these questions, let us begin with an insight from...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 211-234)
  9. References
    (pp. 235-282)
  10. Index
    (pp. 283-288)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 289-291)