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Knowing How to Know

Knowing How to Know: Fieldwork and the Ethnographic Present

Narmala Halstead
Eric Hirsch
Judith Okely
Series: EASA Series
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Knowing How to Know
    Book Description:

    This volume examines some crucial issues in the conduct of fieldwork and ethnography and provides new insights into the problems of constructing anthropological knowledge. How is anthropological knowledge created from fieldwork, whose knowledge is this, who determines what is of significance in any ethnographic context, and how is the fieldsite extended in both time and place?

    Nine anthropologists examine these problems, drawing on diverse case studies. These range from the dilemmas of the religious refashioning of the ethnographer in contemporary Indonesia to the embodied knowledge of ballet performers, and from ignorance about post-colonial ritual innovations by the anthropologist in highland Papua to the skilled visions of slow food producers in Italy. It is a key text for new fieldworkers as much as for established researchers. The anthropological insights developed here are of interdisciplinary relevance: cultural studies scholars, sociologists and historians will be as interested as anthropologists in this re-evaluation of fieldwork and the project of ethnography.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-069-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction Experiencing the Ethnographic Present: Knowing through ‘Crisis’
    (pp. 1-20)
    Narmala Halstead

    The volume focuses on anthropologists constructing knowledge through encounters which re-position the ethnographic present. The accounts bring out a notion of the ethnographic present beyond the idea of a privileged and separate time-space as one occupied by the ethnographer writing about the ‘timeless’ present of others (Fabian 1983). Whilst acknowledging both the use of the term as dualistic modes of the present and the critiques which argue for its necessary construction, ‘an encounter outside history’ as Kirsten Hastrup notes (1990: 51), this volume identifies another space in which the ethnographic present has to be located. This considers the anthropologist’s engagement...

  4. Chapter 1 Knowing, Not Knowing, Knowing Anew
    (pp. 21-37)
    Eric Hirsch

    In 1999 I returned to the Upper Udabe Valley to revisit the people I had first lived and worked among as an anthropologist. I initially went to live there during the mid-1980s. Among the many things I learned or re-learned during my return one stands out in particular. It concerns a convention that I had thought was no longer performed, but was actually currently engaged in. More significantly, and more surprising for me, the convention was current practice during my initial fieldwork, although I thought its abandonment in the pasthad consigned it to the past.

    The convention I...

  5. Chapter 2 The Transformation of Indigenous Knowledge into Anthropological Knowledge: Whose Knowledge Is It?
    (pp. 38-54)
    David P. Crandall

    The creation of anthropological knowledge is a complex, interpretive, analytical and transformative process of taking what is foreign and ‘other’ and domesticating it – making it our own. By congealing the individualised knowledge of many persons into a single intellectual object and setting that object within a form of interpretive discourse of the anthropologist’s own choosing, the transformation is complete and anthropological knowledge is born. Though this process may seem ominous, I think it is not much different from what happens in ordinary conversation and is simply the way human beings engage the thought of others. This does not mean that...

  6. Chapter 3 Knowing without Notes
    (pp. 55-74)
    Judith Okely

    When I first conducted anthropological fieldwork there were few if any formalised discussions about the practice. Certainly there were no courses on fieldwork. This does not mean that the gap should be filled by some of the very instrumental text books which are now emerging. The move from action and participation to knowledge is a profound intellectual problem (Marcus 1998). The most rewarding fieldwork is when the anthropologist is open to what comes and what the people often consider significant. Thus the anthropologist may find herself changing emphasis and topic. This openness and disponibility (Breton 1937) means that research practice...

  7. Chapter 4 To Know the Dancer: Formations of Fieldwork in the Ballet World
    (pp. 75-91)
    Helena Wulff

    ‘If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it’, Isadora Duncan famously said.¹ Not only is dance elusive, it is also nonverbal.² There are certain moods in dance that cannot be adequately translated into text. In my study of career and culture in the transnational world of ballet my ambition was ‘to know the dancer from the dance’ to paraphrase W. B. Yeats, even though the dance played a part too, and thus had to be understood in anthropological terms.³ Anthropologists of dance tend to look for what dance conveys about its society,...

  8. Chapter 5 Knowledge as Gifts of Self and Other
    (pp. 92-109)
    Narmala Halstead

    This chapter considers the negotiations of access in the field by moving beyond an idea of access as gaining entry into field-sites. It looks at access as a process which mediates research encounters to become part of knowledge construction. Anthropologists have dealt with the issue of access in fieldwork plans by involving local assistants, networks and offers of gifts. The need to gain physical access to the people anthropologists study co-resides with the emphasis on obtaining the confidence of research participants and privileging their perspectives on their lives. What the emphasis obscures is that access is not just about what...

  9. Chapter 6 Knowledge from the Body: Fieldwork, Power and the Acquisition of a New Self
    (pp. 110-129)
    Konstantinos Retsikas

    Over recent years there has been serious debate within the discipline about the nature of fieldwork – anthropology’s centrepiece and distinct characteristic – and the constitution of knowledge that stems from such an intensive and transformative encounter with the Other, however the latter(s) is construed. The debate follows from the postmodernist critique of the 1980s and the interrogation of the claims to objectivity of traditional ethnography, according to which facts are always somehow out there, pre-existing and fixed, waiting to be discovered by inquisitive and impartial observers (Clifford and Marcus 1986; Haraway 1991). In place of such epistemological fictions, the postmodernist movement...

  10. Chapter 7 What is Sacred about that Pile of Stones at Mt Tendong? Serendipity, Complicity and Circumstantial Activism in the Production of Anthropological Knowledge of Sikkim, India
    (pp. 130-150)
    Vibha Arora

    Therite de passageof fieldwork that transformed me into a competent fieldworker and an anthropologist was undertaken by me in Sikkim, situated in the Eastern Himalayas of India. The former Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim was incorporated into India in 1975 as its twenty-second state.¹ I conducted multisited fieldwork in Sikkim and the Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal between August 2001 and September 2002, primarily among the Lepchas and the Bhutias, but also the Nepali groups and the Tibetan refugees.² This paper discusses my fieldwork experiences to highlight the role of serendipity, complicity, circumstantial activism and archival research for the...

  11. Chapter 8 Learning to See: World-views, Skilled Visions, Skilled Practice
    (pp. 151-172)
    Cristina Grasseni

    Most of the ethnographer’s anxiety when first confronted with the field comes from the sense of not knowing what to look for. This article addresses the process by which the ethnographer may become involved in processes of apprenticeship and ‘enskilment’ (Ingold 1993c: 221), which may allow her to ‘learn to see anew’. The theoretical tenet of the essay in fact is the idea thatskillmay be a way of embedding relations between human beings and the environment they inhabit. I draw different examples from my fieldwork conducted in the valleys north of Bergamo, in the alpine region of northern...

  12. Chapter 9 Rescuing Theory from the Nation
    (pp. 173-194)
    Viranjini Munasinghe

    I chose to title this chapter ‘rescuing theory from the nation’ after Prasenjit Duara’s title of his inspiring bookRescuing History from the Nation(1996) because I believe we are both addressing a similar problematic: attempting to rescue a space for analysis even as we acknowledge and illustrate how the very concept of our object of analysis – the nation – is compromised as an appropriate object of analysis by the conventions of our respective disciplines – history and cultural anthropology. Duara and others such as Chakrabarty (Chakrabarty 2000) have deeply unsettled our notions of history by pointing to the intimate connection between...

  13. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 195-196)
  14. Index
    (pp. 197-210)