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Ethnographic Practice in the Present

Ethnographic Practice in the Present

Marit Melhuus
Jon P. Mitchell
Helena Wulff
Series: EASA Series
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Ethnographic Practice in the Present
    Book Description:

    In its assessment of the current "state of play" of ethnographic practice in social anthropology, this volume explores the challenges that changing social forms and changing understandings of "the field" pose to contemporary ethnographic methods. These challenges include the implications of the remarkable impact social anthropology is having on neighboring disciplines such as history, sociology, cultural studies, human geography and linguistics, as well as the potential 'costs' of this success for the discipline. Contributors also discuss how the ethnographic method is influenced by current institutional contexts and historical "traditions" across a range of settings. Here ethnography is featured less as a methodological "tool-box" or technique but rather as a subject on which to reflect.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-543-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)
    Jon P. Mitchell

    This volume brings together the results of two workshops held at the eighth biennial conference of the European association of social anthropologists (Easa), in Vienna 2004.¹ Each sought to assess the position of ‘ethnography’ within the discipline of sociocultural anthropology, focusing less on the well-developed critique of anthropology ‘as a kind of writing’ (spencer 1986) than on the methodological implications of ethnographic practice in fieldwork. Ethnographic fieldwork is often hailed as the distinguishing feature of anthropology as a discipline, and anthropologists defend it as a method that generates theoretical insights that could not have been generated in any other way....

  6. 1 Ethnography and Memory
    (pp. 16-27)
    Johannes Fabian

    This chapter will primarily address the writing of ‘ethnography’; little will be said about fieldwork. The reasons are personal. it will soon be twenty years ago that i carried out my last field research, whereas i am as busy as ever producing ethnography. My excuse is that, to my knowledge, we still don’t quite understand how it came about that ‘ethnography’ (lit. ethno-writing) could become a synonym for fieldwork and hardly anyone seems to be bothered by the fact that ‘ethnographic writing’ is a clumsy pleonasm. one may suspect that this has to do with anthropologists’ desire to be recognised...

  7. 2 Fieldwork as Free Association and Free Passage
    (pp. 28-41)
    Judith Okely

    Without consciously realising it at the time of proposing this paper for the EASA conference in Vienna in 2004 upon which this chapter is based, I drew on ideas from sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis. Now I realise that this can be seen as a tribute to the great writer who moved to Vienna aged four and who studied and graduated in that city and lived there until 1938.

    Psychoanalysis has been explored in relation to cross-cultural interpretation and experience, especially in Freud’sThe Interpretation of Dreams(1900/1954). Here I examine the process of fieldwork, the interaction between the anthropologist and...

  8. 3 Bringing Ethnography Home? Costs and Benefits of Methodological Traffic across Disciplines
    (pp. 42-55)
    Thomas Widlok

    Anthropology, it has been suggested, has exploded methodologically, influencing many other disciplines but not necessarily to its own advantage (Mars 2004: 1). Ethnography in particular has been appropriated by neighbouring disciplines; its exploding popularity is a cross-disciplinary success story. However, an explosion, after all, leaves little or nothing intact and useful behind. What are the costs of success for anthropology in terms of its distinctive fields, concepts and methods? Going out to encounter ‘other cultures’ has gained currency and is now a general possibility undermining the near monopoly that anthropologists had held for much of the twentieth century in terms...

  9. 4 Ethnography at the Interface: ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ as an Anthropological Field of Enquiry
    (pp. 56-68)
    Christina Garsten

    In exploring globalisation processes, one can hardly escape the role of corporations and of the market. With recent social change, such as the remodelling of welfare states and intensified globalisation of trade, the spirit of Western market capitalism colours our ways of thinking about the dynamics of societies as well as the make-up of social relations. We learn to gear our minds to market reasoning and to corporate interests, all the way from day care through the school system, into professional life – and sometimes even sociability is modelled with market thinking lurking behind. We spend of lot of time and...

  10. 5 Notes from Within a Laboratory for the Reinvention of Anthropological Method
    (pp. 69-79)
    George E. Marcus

    This chapter provides me with the opportunity to articulate some basic orientations that inform a memoir I am beginning to write on supervising doctoral dissertation research projects over the past two decades. This work has occurred in a department that renewed itself on the back of the 1980s Writing Culture critiques (Clifford and Marcus 1986) of mainstream ethnographic writing and method at the core of anthropology’s disciplinary identity, and then, in the spirit of this critique, moved from the 1990s into the present period of developing research on topics and under circumstances that have come to challenge the basic assumptions...

  11. 6 Making Ethics
    (pp. 80-94)
    Sharon Macdonald

    The Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth and the American Anthropological Association have had codes of ethics for some decades now; and debate about ethics and ethnographic research is likewise long-standing and ongoing.¹ In recent years, however, there has been a proliferation of additional ethics codification, emanating from a wide array of organisations, including research councils and governments. A key difference from the codes of professional organisations is that these are generally to be implemented at institutional (i.e. university) level, which has led many universities to draw up their own codes of ethics and procedures for the...

  12. 7 Ethnographic Practices and Methods: Some Predicaments of Russian Anthropology
    (pp. 95-106)
    Alexei Elfimov

    My aim in this chapter is to reflect on ethnographic field practices as they have developed or remained underdeveloped in the Russian tradition of anthropological research. As in many other anthropological traditions, the past decade in the Russian tradition was a period that highlighted the uncertainties in regard to the field – that is, in regard to its location, its status, its accessibility, the methods of studying it and other aspects. Most of these uncertainties, indeed, seemed, or seem now, rather global; but their actual apprehension was locally coloured and in many ways was a product of the local academic tradition...

  13. 8 Getting the Ethnography ‘Right’: On Female Circumcision in Exile
    (pp. 107-120)
    Aud Talle

    For the last few years I have been trying to write an ethnography of ‘female circumcision in exile’.¹ Basically, my aim has been to describe and analyse a social practice that within a brief period of time has moved from its ‘place of origin’, where it is deeply encoded in cultural forms and ways of living, to unfamiliar and hostile surroundings far away. This ethnography is in other words about a social and cultural practice that has ‘travelled’, and actually still travels (see, for example, clifford 1997; gupta and Ferguson 1997; Marcus 1998). The spatial fluidity of the subject matter,...

  14. 9 An Ethnography of Associations? Translocal Research in the Cross River Region
    (pp. 121-134)
    Ute Röschenthaler

    This chapter is inspired by reflections about research carried out in the remote rain forests of the cross river region of cameroon and nigeria.¹ It presents the research project and the mobile method that was applied to realise its objectives: the reconstruction of dissemination histories of the various associations in the region and to understand the driving force behind the process of dissemination. I shall argue that the method of research has an impact on the kind of information that is obtained in the field; the chapter also argues that the imponderabilities of fieldwork have at least as decisive an...

  15. 10 Tracking Global Flows and Still Moving: The Ethnography of Responses to AIDS
    (pp. 135-151)
    Cristiana Bastos

    Contrary to some grim predictions regarding its future as a branch of knowledge associated with vanishing worlds and with colonialism, anthropology is alive, well and perhaps more politically engaged and theoretically vibrant than ever. Furthermore, ethnography and fieldwork remain its core and method. They had to adjust to the novelties, to new settings, new spatial definitions, new research agendas, new forms of interaction with the subjects, new sources of data. But, rather than succumbing to or being submerged by the methods of other disciplines, fieldwork and ethnography evolved and often became tools for other social sciences as well.

    How did...

  16. 11 Ethnography in Motion: Shifting Fields on Airport Grounds
    (pp. 152-168)
    Dimitra Gefou-Madianou

    Ethnography today is changing fast from its traditional forms, both from within the discipline and through the appropriation of fieldwork by other social sciences. Both developments have forced us to rethink of our methodology and find new ways to capture the present. And this is a present that moves, that makes itself felt in shifting grounds that host floating images and fragmented realities. To follow these movements ethnographers have to devise flexible forms of fieldwork that generate ‘openness’ and reflection on their informants’ part, and which may take them to the mobile grounds of their action wherever it takes place,...

  17. Epilogue 1 Re-presenting Anthropology
    (pp. 169-175)
    Simon Coleman

    A few years ago, I wandered into the anthropology department at the University of Chicago and found my attention grabbed by the contents of a glass case that was standing in the entrance hall. It was a display of field notes made, as far as I remember, by past Chicago anthropologists, and I spent a happytwentyminutes deciphering the often dog-eared texts dotted around the case. What made this display so alluring – much more intriguing than displays of finished monographs – was the window it afforded on to a normally hidden practice of ethnography: the notes represented fragments from ‘the...

  18. Epilogue 2 Prelude to a Re-functioned Ethnography
    (pp. 176-184)
    Douglas R. Holmes and George E. Marcus

    The challenges for contemporary ethnography are remarkable and compelling, as the contributions to this book attest. Rather than offering a reflection on what these pieces accomplish, we shall focus in these closing remarks on what they anticipate: specifically, what kind of emerging ethnographic practices they prefigure. Indeed, we think each of the contributions in this text, in its fashion is gesturing towards what we have termed a ‘re-functioning of ethnography’

    Jon Mitchell in his introductory chapter (echoing Marcus) acknowledges ‘provisionality’ in the state of play of contemporary ethnographic practices reverberating in one way or another through each of the chapters...

  19. Index
    (pp. 185-196)