The Ethnographic Self as Resource

The Ethnographic Self as Resource: Writing Memory and Experience into Ethnography

Peter Collins
Anselma Gallinat
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 270
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qd2xw
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  • Book Info
    The Ethnographic Self as Resource
    Book Description:

    It is commonly acknowledged that anthropologists use personal experiences to inform their writing. However, it is often assumed that only fieldwork experiences are relevant and that the personal appears only in the form of self-reflexivity. This book takes a step beyond anthropology at home and auto-ethnography and shows how anthropologists can include their memories and experiences as ethnographic data in their writing. It discusses issues such as authenticity, translation and ethics in relation to the self, and offers a new perspective on doing ethnographic fieldwork.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-828-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Peter Collins and Anselma Gallinat

    The primary objective of this book is to provoke a sustained consideration on the part of anthropologists of the ways in which the self can be a resource in doing ethnography, both in the field and in the study. The project began, as so many do, in the conversations between the two editors, who felt that, despite a plethora of writing on the periphery of this key issue, there was no text that addressed directly the question ‘To what extent can the self of the anthropologist be used as a resource in doing ethnography?’ We invited a number of scholars...

  4. Chapter 1 THE ETHNOGRAPHIC SELF AS RESOURCE: AN INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-22)
    Peter Collins and Anselma Gallinat

    The purpose of this chapter is to provide, briefly, the disciplinary context in which the idea of the self as resource in doing ethnography has emerged. We will delineate the relevant developments in the discipline with particular regard to ‘anthropology at home’, the reflexive turn and auto-ethnography. We will briefly introduce the work of scholars who already apply the kind of integrative approach we propose and then go on to detail the implications of such research and writing for methodology and the discipline at large. These include issues such as authenticity, ‘playing the native card’, memory and memorisation, ethics and...

  5. PART I: BEING SELF AND OTHER:: ANTHROPOLOGISTS AT HOME
    • Chapter 2 PLAYING THE NATIVE CARD: THE ANTHROPOLOGIST AS INFORMANT IN EASTERN GERMANY
      (pp. 25-44)
      Anselma Gallinat

      In this chapter I shall discuss the possibilities and implications of including personal memories as ethnographic data in ‘ethnographies at home’. For many anthropologists who work at home their personal experiences preceding fieldwork and possibly even anthropological training can be expected to inform their fieldwork and writing. Kürti, an anthropologist from and working in Hungary, for example, writes: ‘One of the first questions that should intrigue all anthropologists is: can I be my own informant? The answer to this almost banal question must be a resounding yes’ (2000: 283). Memories will be invoked when reading other scholars’ work. Descriptions of...

    • Chapter 3 FOREGROUNDING THE SELF IN FIELDWORK AMONG RURAL WOMEN IN CROATIA
      (pp. 45-62)
      Lynette Šikić-Mićanović

      Self-awareness and attention to one’s thoughts, feelings and experiences or ‘narrative of self’ have been contested in the social sciences. Criticisms include claims of narcissism, self-absorption, exaggeration, exhibitionism and self-indulgence on the part of the researcher that uses personal experience as a central focus of their research (Okely 1992; Bochner and Ellis 1996; Ellis 1998; Coffey 1999). However, the researcher’s experience is crucial as it is not the unmediated world of others but the world between ourselves and others that adds reality to the field (Okely and Callaway 1992). Postmodernist critiques of ethnographic writings (see Clifford and Marcus 1986; Denzin...

    • Chapter 4 SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE ‘ENCHANTMENTS’ OF VILLAGE LIFE, OR WHOSE STORY IS THIS?
      (pp. 63-77)
      Anne Kathrine Larsen

      As we grow older we tend to focus and reflect more and more on our past. This is also the case for anthropologists reviewing their private as well as professional lives. While our early fieldwork will in most cases be interpreted by a young novice, later fieldwork is experienced by an older person who has accumulated not only more fieldwork proficiency but also greater life experience. The mature fieldworker is also in a position to contemplate her previous fieldwork. The anthropologist in the course of fieldwork is sometimes compared with a child learning to speak the language and to handle...

    • Chapter 5 THE ETHICS OF PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION: PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON FIELDWORK IN ENGLAND
      (pp. 78-94)
      Nigel Rapport

      In his acclaimedReflections on Fieldwork in Morocco(1977), Paul Rabinow argued that the strength of an interpretive social science lay in experiential, reflective and critical activity; certainly, to sociocultural anthropology, a positivistic stance was not appropriate. For anthropologists and the informants they met ‘in the field’ lived in different ongoing life-worlds: the point of fieldwork and its recounting was to set up a third world of partial meeting and translation (Rabinow 1977: 5, 151).

      In the years since Rabinow’s reflections, such ideas have been developed into their own sub-genre, amounting to a template for a new type of activity...

  6. PART II: WORKING ON/WITH/THROUGH MEMORY
    • Chapter 6 ETHNOGRAPHERS AS LANGUAGE LEARNERS: FROM OBLIVION AND TOWARDS AN ECHO
      (pp. 97-110)
      Alison Phipps

      I – for we have to begin this way, in this book – I am a language learner. I have always been a language learner. And yet, as Merleau-Ponty reminds us: ‘The wonderful thing about language is that it promotes its own oblivion’ (Merleau-Ponty 2002: 466).

      I don’t quite know how I got here but I’m standing in a lecture theatre in front of around fifty Portuguese academics and, with some nerves and deep breath, I’m starting off in Portuguese. This isn’t an easy thing to do. I’ve been learning Portuguese for about two years and it’s been something of...

    • Chapter 7 LEADING QUESTIONS AND BODY MEMORIES: A CASE OF PHENOMENOLOGY AND PHYSICAL ETHNOGRAPHY IN THE DANCE INTERVIEW
      (pp. 111-128)
      Jonathan Skinner

      In the same year that we were told that ethnography was in an ‘experimental moment’ (Marcus and Fischer 1986), one that should remain endlessly experimental, Paul Stoller (1986) was introducing us to an anthropology of the senses. Stoller used cuisine as an entrée to the senses, arguing that anthropologists should give readers or viewers ‘a sense of what it is like to live in other worlds, a taste of ethnographic things’ (1986: 156). Stoller’s ideas stem from the work of the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty (1962), who, suggests that the task of representation is creative in itself, a task that requires the...

    • Chapter 8 DUALLING MEMORIES: TWINSHIP AND THE DISEMBODIMENT OF IDENTITY
      (pp. 129-149)
      Dona Lee Davis and Dorothy I. Davis

      Memory is an intriguing, complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Memory is poetically depicted as subjective time travel (Tulving 2002), the present of things past (Rapport and Overing 2000: 7), a mental mirror (Kotre 1995), a labyrinth that takes a different turning each time we come back to it (Teski and Climo 1995: 1), and a conundrum of record and resource (Boyarin 1994, Kotre 1995). More prosaically, memory is depicted as everyday forms of social process and action (Garro 2001). Memories also link us to our earlier selves (Lowenthal 1985). Themes of identity, person and selfhood permeate the memory literature (Fivush et...

    • Chapter 9 REMEMBERING AND THE ETHNOGRAPHY OF CHILDREN’S SPORTS
      (pp. 150-164)
      Noel Dyck

      Positioned at the analytical intersection between childhood as a realm of socialisation and sport as a medium of physical and cultural expression, children’s sports readily accommodate a premise of futurity. Games and performances conducted in the ‘here and now’ may be read as offering previews of the finished products – that is, the young men and women – expected to step forth in due course from these and other venues of childhood. Socialisation studies of the sort pursued within psychology tend to focus greater attention upon the definition and calibration of general stages and anticipated sequences of developmental processes than...

    • Chapter 10 GARDENING IN TIME: HAPPINESS AND MEMORY IN AMERICAN HORTICULTURE
      (pp. 165-182)
      Jane Nadel-Klein

      Gardens are good to think. Equally, they are good to remember. And they are widely experienced, even among non-gardeners. Who, among the readers of this chapter, has not at some point delighted in a view of cultivated plants? But why does one person become a gardener and another, say, a chess player, a sculptor or a bingo enthusiast? And why does an anthropologist who has spent her professional life doing research among Scottish fisherfolk suddenly find herself turning to her avocation as a new ethnographic resource?

      In 2003, with the appearance of my book,Fishing For Heritage: Modernity and Loss...

  7. PART III: ETHNOGRAPHIC SELVES THROUGH TIME
    • Chapter 11 THE ROLE OF SERENDIPITY AND MEMORY IN EXPERIENCING FIELDS
      (pp. 185-199)
      Tamara Kohn

      In this chapter, I shall examine how personal accidents and emotion-laden incidents generate lasting but changing memories or reflections – they can quite literally be where ‘shit happens’ (as we shall shortly see), but, through the passage of time and space and the maturation of memory, they may come to be recognised as productive sites of anthropological and self-‘knowledge’. In our attempts to demonstrate proficiency, fluency and purpose in our studies of others, particularly in our writing and even when we are at our most reflexive, we have tended to let those moments go – to erase them from the...

    • Chapter 12 SERENDIPITIES, UNCERTAINTIES AND IMPROVISATIONS IN MOVEMENT AND MIGRATION
      (pp. 200-214)
      Vered Amit

      I live in a country with one of the coldest climates in the world. In February, when the snow has been piling up on the ground for months, ice coats the sidewalks in treacherous sheets or hangs in icicles from roofs, nights are cold and long and even sunlamps don’t seem able to keep SAD (seasonal affective disorder) at bay, I have been known to ruefully note that I ended up ‘here’ because my father was looking for a place ‘without sunshine’. Of course this comment exaggerates and simplifies even if it does capture some of the more ironic elements...

    • Chapter 13 ON REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING IN WRITING AND FIELDWORK
      (pp. 215-227)
      Simon Coleman

      Some twenty years ago David Lowenthal (1985) famously quoted the opening lines of L.P. Hartley’s novelThe Go-Between(1953) in telling us that ‘The past is a foreign country.’ But it might equally be said that, for many anthropologists, a ‘foreign country’ – or at least a field site, wherever it happens to be – represents a very particular kind of past, constituted by field notes and other, less tangible but often powerful kinds of memory. L.P. Hartley’s image uses a spatial metaphor to indicate the distance of the past from us, its irretrievability from the perspective of the present...

    • Chapter 14 THE ETHNOGRAPHIC SELF AS RESOURCE?
      (pp. 228-245)
      Peter Collins

      This chapter is about the ethnographic self. I will argue that the ethnographic self is the self, no more, no less. I will argue, further, that the self is maintained and sustained through narrative and that this is the case whether or not a person is engaged in ethnography. The self and narrative are mediated by memory: one is constantly recalling narratives in the process of engaging with others and making sense of the world. So, I aver, as the self is a resource in life, so must it be during the doing of ethnography. There are two preliminary points...

  8. Chapter 15 EPILOGUE: WHAT A STORY WE ANTHROPOLOGISTS HAVE TO TELL!
    (pp. 246-252)
    James W. Fernandez

    I expect that most readers, like myself, have found themselves stimulated and instructed by the special insight and intuition into the human condition present in this self-directed and self-oriented collection of essays. Their authors tell us much about the fabulating ways (Lévi Strauss 1963) that we humans capture each other’s imaginations, that is our imaginative selves, and the ways that we do or don’t make music together (Schutz 1977).¹ There are, in brief, many riches in this collection, and perhaps, something of a Pandora’s box as well. For this collection and its contributors’ venturesome mettle do, after all, raise challenges...

  9. NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 253-256)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 257-262)