Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes

In "Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes", Emerson, Fretz and Shaw stress the importance of method in that method cannot be separated from "findings".(p.11). The two go hand in hand, as how we go about finding something determines what we will in fact find. With this in mind, I wonder why teachings in ethnographic method are only now gaining in popularity. So when we realize that we can't separate the two, we realize that it has become crucial to look at the more "personal" entries as part of the process. They do not believe in calling field notes diaries because they think that even the more personal and emotional aspect that some feel should be kept private, are in fact part of how the ethnographer saw what s/he did. They do not believe in the separation between "findings" and "feelings".(p.12). They refer to the "feelings" part as "subjective" findings and what we consider fact as "objective" findings. "...this separation assumes that 'subjective' reactions and perceptions can and should be controlled by being segregated from 'objective', impersonal records".(p.12). The two are simultaneous. The also attribute this need to separate the two to personal feelings acting as 'contaminants'. They believe that the more personal side of the research offers "avenues of insight into significant processes".(p.12).
Emerson, Fretz and Shaw stress the value of cultural relativism in the interpretation of other cultures as well as in the process of writing ethnographic field notes. The ethnographer must stress the importance of finding the "indigenous meaning". They worry about the ethnographer obsessing too much about how the reader will interpret, rather than trying to truthfully convey what life means to the people in the culture. But here we are once again at the kind of interpretation the ethnographer uses. We have to ask if the ethnographer has interpreted the "indigenous meaning" in the best way s/he knew how? Thus field notes are "written accounts that filter".(p.13). They attribute this all to the increasing popularity of the use of recording equipment so the studied culture can speak more for themselves. But most of all field notes help us retain the moment to the best of our ability. Seeing it this way makes it hard for me to believe, at least at this point, why some think they are a hindrance. One last thing on the importance of field notes is: "...the distinctive and unique features of such fieldnotes, brought forward into the final analysis, create texture and variation, avoiding the flatness that comes from generality".(p.14). Very true.
In this book they stress the importance of recording the details of every interaction between the ethnographer and the person being studied. This will ultimately help remember or even just figure out how an interpretation was reached. I think that overall what they are trying to stress is that every detail counts. If we record the interactional detail then we can can interpret the process of evaluation on a much more detailed level than without. I am realizing that it is not just about the end result, it is also very much about documenting process because you can't have one without the other. Here are 5 of the some of the most important terms to remember for ethnographic fieldwork: "inscription", "transcription", "translation", "textualization" and "narration".(p.15-16).
Ultimately, they leave it up to the ethnographer when and where the field notes are written. They do have suggestions however, and here are a few:
-The ethnographer can make mental notes to be remembered and recorded later.
-s/he can just make one-word jottings to be elaborated on later. This can be done with just single words, or as they say, some learn short-hand in order to be able to record the most possible information without having to write a lot.
-s/he can write things down while in the presence of others, or have a pace to run to quickly when something appears relevant. I get the impression that sometimes seeing the ethnographer writing things down can be intimidating to people and possibly change their behavior or responses, which is not a positive effect. This brings me to what they call a "moral issue".(p.21). What this means is that the ethnographer wants to become a trusted person to the people of the said culture. They describe it as a feeling of being "torn between their research commitments and their desire to engage authentically those people whose worlds they have entered".(p.20). So in response to this, some ethnographers keep the actual writing until s/he is behind closed doors. I imagine that this might happen more at the beginning and then the awkwardness might begin to dissipate as more trust ensues. Their recommendation is once again, to be as truthful as possible in all accounts: "openness avoids...risks...and...likely sense of betrayal".(p.21). It seems to me that it is a bit complicated because although these notes are so important, so is the observation and the flow of continuity. So while the ethnographer needs to be observant and let the situations flow naturally, there needs to be a little time, especially for a novice, to write things down. This is where I imagine it becomes a truly delicious thought to be able to have another set of eyes and arms. This might be where a second person could come in? Costly and probably complicated though. They say that the short-hand note taking becomes easier with time. I understand as well that all these techniques vary from situation to situation and as experience increases.
So here we are at the problem of what to "jot" down, especially as a novice. They suggest note-taking of "initial impressions", especially words that capture the moment that helps to remember the environment.(p.26). Following this, they suggest "observing key events or incidents", ie: "something that surprises or runs counter to her expectations".(p.27). They suggest that to initially omit things that we might think are not applicable, or possibly a feeling of anger or embarrassment, would be to omit things of importance. We should make this kind of decision at the beginning and only later, when we are pouring over our notes, should we make the decision that something is not relevant enough. Their next suggestion is to move from what we think of as important personal thoughts or reactions and begin to move to what we think are important reactions and actions of the person himself. We need at this point to begin trying to interpret how the other person sees things and leave our own feelings somewhat behind or put them on the back burner, if you will. At this point we need to begin to see "local knowledge and meanings".(p.28). In other words: 'when, where, and according to whom".(p.28).
An important point that they make is that initially it is important for the ethnographer to broaden his/her horizon and try to get the big picture. The ethnographer has no way of telling at this point what will be useful later. They tell us that this enables the ethnographer to record "a series of incidents and interactions of the 'same type' and look for regularities or patterns among them".(p.29). Variations among similar incidents can lead a novice to attempt a better understanding of the situation(s).
They then suggest recording bits of conversation among the people who are being studied. I am going to try out a tape recorder for my final project to see how not only I like it, but if it generally makes others uncomfortable. The most important suggestion so far regarding initial "jottings" is to avoid recording one-word sentences that encourage a typical generalization of the people being studied. If we do, the final ethnographic project will have a generalized air as well.
It is suggested that the "jottings" should be words that "'show', rather than tell about people's behavior".(p.32). "The researcher wants to preserve in as accurate a form as possible".(p.32). It is important to not guess as to why a situation has just happened or is happening and to leave the interpretation to the end.(p.32). Field notes should be recorded if not during the situation, then immediately following it to produce the most accurate account.
Field notes are essentially one of the main ways in which the ethnographer remains an outsider. As I understand it, there is a tendency for an ethnographer to change the way in which s/he write the notes according to how much s/he feels that they are totally immersed in the said culture, maybe even ceasing to write them at all because they recognize this as the action that draws the line between stranger and friend.
Emerson, Fretz and Shaw say that there are many ways in which an ethnographer can organize and write up the ethnography. They suggest "initial writing that is as spontaneously organized as conversation about a day's varied in language and sentence patterns as the voices of individual speakers; and as unevenly and loosely phrased as the hurried flow of writing dictates".(p.47). There are also of course many ways in which to organize the notes into writing, but I think that that largely depends on how the mind of ethnographer works and how s/he is used to organizing as well as how the information has unfolded.
They talk about a couple of perspectives from which the final ethnographic project can be written. One way is the third person in which the ethnographer tells the story from the perspective of a person that is tied very closely to the group. Another way is obviously from the perspective of the ethnographer himself. Something that strikes me as interesting is the fact that if the ethnographer already has in mind the perspective from which s/he wants to write at the beginning of the research rather than from the beginning of the writing, this must alter the not only the theme of the entire project, but also the interpretations that are made. I am sure that I have already talked a little about this but perhaps it might be better to stray from deciding too early on which perspective to use, and leave this to the end so as to be as objectively interpretive from the beginning and throughout the entire project. However, they do say that it is important to remember to leave out initial interpretations so as to record exactly what is happening instead. Interpretations can cloud the note taking and can possibly lead the ethnographer in the "wrong" direction.(p.57). They discuss the omniscient point of view as well, which I assume that most ethnographers take, rather than a sense of detached reporting. After all, the reader will assume that the ethnographer is the expert on the subject and is allowed 'privileged access' to to the thoughts and emotions that determine the actions of the said group. To take an omniscient view, however, requires a lot more time devoted to detailed interpretation in the actual research as well as in the writing. They say that whether the ethnographer is to use the first-person, third-person or omniscient view depends largely on how much the ethnographer in "involved" with the said group. For instance, is he or she going to be a detached or very involved person with the group that is being studied?(p.59). I think I might prefer a combination of all three if that is entirely possible. I can see myself getting completely obsessive with the amount of interpretations that I could have as well as the many different styles of writing that inherently dictate how I am to interpret in the first place. Despite whatever perspective I ultimately decide to take, efficient fieldnotes are extremely important and I really like what they say here about such fieldnotes: "In general, descriptively effective fieldnotes will enable a reader to distinguish initial understandings from retrospective reinterpretations".(p.62). Also very important: "An ethnographer may also want to minimize the degree of retrospective reinterpretation in order to highlight his own processes for determining meaning".(p.62). I think this is very important to remember. If the ethnographer relies on retrospective reinterpretation too much, then the initial thoughts, feelings and interpretations by the ethnographer himself can be lost in the final project. Emerson, Fretz and Shaw seem to think that judgements by the ethnographer should be "explicit in written asides".(p.72). This leads me to what i have discussed before about honest ethnographic writing, in the sense of honesty about what lead the ethnographer to this information and conclusions. They talk about how the information goes through many types of "filters" before it is even written on the page, and that the reader has only the final writing to get a sense of "being there". Therefor, if the ethnographer is honest about how s/he came by the information and the reasons they interpreted the information in such a way, the reader has a more "open" way of understanding the information on the page. When considering the importance of such honesty which is apparently a new trend in anthropology, we begin to realize that anthropologists are now admitting to the fact that ethnographic writing is an interpretation and not a 'mirroring' of the culture. I think that it took anthropologists a long time to be able to admit this as a reality instead of a defeat because they relied heavily on the fact that they wanted the world to know that they are experts on the culture. To admit that theirs is merely one interpretation amongst many possible interpretations I think suggested that anyone could do this kind of work with no training or expertise required. This kind of interpretation, they are now realizing, does in fact require much training and expertise.
I see including dialogue as important in ethnographic writing so I think that I will prefer taking a tape recorder on my travels with me. In formal interviews, I imagine that the presence of a recorder won't affect what the person says, however, I am sure that to record something less formal, I will encounter self-consciousness and filtering as well as numerous ethical situations which I am sure every ethnographer loathes.
I feel as if I might eventually be drawn more toward narrative ethnographic writing but as they say in this book the ethnographer must be careful not to dramatize in order to link sequences to create a more flowing story. This would end up altering important information as well as accurate conclusions.(p.89). With narratives also comes a tendency to either omit important details or at the other end of the spectrum, include too much.(p.97). Technique obviously comes with experience, however, I imagine that with each project, new interpretations come to light after much "further thought and analysis".(p.100).
As other authors have stressed as well as Emerson, Fretz and Shaw, "asides, commentaries and memos" are a must. How extensive and numerous they are, however, varies form ethnographer to ethnographer. I imagine that they are used frequently in the beginning as well as in the final ethnographic project. To sum up this section, Emerson, Fretz and Shaw say: "In making writing choices, therefore, HOW ethnographers write fieldnotes becomes as consequential for readers and those depicted as what they write. Whether as privately filed sources or as public excerpts in final documents, fieldnotes persuade".(p.107).
In ethnographic fieldwork we seek to avoid ethnocentric thinking and while constructing the project, we must remember that interpretation based solely on the ethnographer's past socialization will not help us accomplish this, in other words "a standard of what is 'supposed to be'".(p.111). The ethnographer MUST attempt an interpretation as close as possible to the people being studied as if it were their words. In other words s/he "must not lose that commitment to local views when she writes memos or later on...even though she may be tempted to transform members' meanings into analytic concepts more familiar to herself and to her readers".(p.109). In sum, it is important to gear the research in such a way that enables group members to answer in their own words and use their own interpretations. This way, the ethnographer clouds the project less with his or her own "personality".(p.114). The ethnographer should aim to ask questions that can be answered in a way that is revealing and telling of the group member's self. Emerson, Fretz and Shaw believe, however, that the information gathered from this type of research still merits much analyzing and interpretation on behalf of the ethnographer himself, to go beyond the actual responses and actions to determine the thoughts, feeling, emotions and motivations behind the group's answers.(p.126). In their words concerning member's meanings: "...the ethnographer's task is not simply to identify member-recognized terms and categories but also to specify the conditions under which people actually invoke and apply such terms in interaction with others".(p.139). Its about how "members construct meaning through interactions".(p.140). In order to achieve this, ethnographers should rely primarily on participant observation rather than on interviews.
They go on to suggest many ways of sorting through, coding and organizing fieldnotes which I imagine is a very personal thing and takes much time. I can't imagine that this is the most fun part but all ethnographers must do it. I understand coding as the process by which the ethnographer sorts through and organizes fieldnotes, initiating the process of bringing themes together and attempting to organize the information in ways that might reveal patterns. They stress on page 152, that the focus of the ethnography will change perhaps even several times in the coding process. They also stress the fact that all categories of fieldnotes during the coding process need not all be tied together and that different themes can rest on their own.(p.152). In the end, they say "By the time the ethnographer finishes reading the complete set of fieldnotes, her categories and themes will have fundamentally changed".(p.153). When the ethnographer sees patterns and therefore attempts to develop theory, they ask us to keep in mind that " is more accurate to say that the ethnographer creates rather than discovers theory".(p.167). It seems to me that remembering this might help the ethnographer stray from thinking that there is only one analytical approach.
One thing that I wrote in my notes was that this book stresses that the ethnographic project is not necessarily about creating an end result, but rather an "open" interpretation to the questions HOW and WHY? This is something that is extremely important to consider when determining the "reason" for doing the research and writing the ethnography in the first place: "Grasping the continuously analytic character of fieldwork often entails a shift in the ways we often think of the ethnographer's relationship both to the fieldnotes and to the analysis of them".(p.168). And: "Analysis is less a matter of something emerging from the data, of simply finding what is there; it is more fundamentally a process of creating what is there by constantly thinking about the import of previously recorded events and meanings".(p.168).
Emerson, Fretz and Shaw then turn to the process of writing the ethnography. They suggest organizing the data in a "'weblike character', allowing readers to use data offered in support of one idea to confirm or disconfirm other ideas".(p.186). This is another example of honest writing and lets the reader do some sort of confirmation on his or her own and possibly some of their own interpretation as well. There are many ways to perform the actual writing of an ethnography, and John Van Maanen discusses many of these in his book Tales of the Field: On Writing Ethnography which I have read before and decided I liked the narrative style. I also read Return to Laughter by Elenore Smith Bowen. Her narrative on a small tribe in Africa was one of the first of its kind and was an extremely honest portrayal of not only the tribe and the people who belonged to it, but also about the trials, fears and mistakes that happen during fieldwork. It was a very revealing account of fieldwork "behind the scenes" and she discussed aspects of the process of ethnography that was sort of taboo in the discipline of anthropology.
In the conclusion of this book, Emerson, Fretz and Shaw suggest that the ethnographer take his or her roe very seriously by realizing how much they are handing delicate work. They have the power to manipulate and control everything that they see, record and interpret on the said culture. On the concept of 'reflexivity' they quote Atkinson(1990:7): 'the notion of reflexivity recognizes that texts do not simply and transparantly report an independent order of reality. Rather, the texts themselves are implicated in the work of reality-construction'.(p.213).
As a novice in the business of ethnographies, I find the process of interpretaion to be scary as well as slightly daunting and it is something that I fear I will not be good at. The following quote will be something that I remember always: "The process of forming relationships with specific people subjects the ethnographer to their meaning systems, ones that must be learned and understood, if only in order to get by".(p.214). This makes so much sense and what it means is that the very process of getting to know members of the studied culture will automatically open the ethnographer up to their "menaing systems" and s/he will already be on their way to successful interpretation! And so, to conclude, the authors of this book as well as myself will continue to stress the importance of participant observation in order to not only understand rituals and ways of life but to develop relationships with the very people that make rituals and ways of life come alive: "Hence, through relationships with others, the possibility exists for appreciation and understanding of the interactions the researcher observes in their, not simply his own, terms".(p.216).
I also read "Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative approaches", 4th edition which is a lengthy book. There is a lot on statistics, etc. It is a book which I am sure I will refer to in the years to come but maybe not necessarily a book that is commentary-worthy.
I have read a few other books on Creole Louisiana as well which is the topic for my final project, so let me know what you are interested in hearing!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes

Now I will be commenting on my next reading: "Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes", by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel l. Fretz and Linda L. Shaw.
I read this book right after I had read Michael Agar's "The Professional Stranger" and there was quite a difference between the two. The main difference was that as I have said before, Agar does not think that field notes are that important and can serve as a distraction. This book was entirely on the importance of field notes, how they are thought out and how the final ethnographic work should be written. I imagine that these four anthropologists would have a lot to discuss if they met and that it might be quite a heated conversation.
In the preface, they discuss how the importance of field notes has been dissipating over the years, even with the new-found concentration and/or discussions on methods in anthropology. They attribute this decline in importance to a number of things that include: embarrassment of field notes by the ethnographers themselves which lead them to keep them so private that one might even never see any direct quotes from them, or any usage at all in the final ethnographic project. They say also that field notes can be too "revealing" or "too messy". For these reasons they say that how anthropologists create field notes is "mysterious".(p.ix). But I suppose that the more that we talk about methods in anthropology these days, more anthropologists might be more willing to discuss their personal methods. They also say what I have mentioned before and that is that many anthropologists disagree on the importance of field notes as well as whether they help with the final ethnographic project, or whether they are merely a diary to help with the stresses of fieldwork.(p.x). They think, and I have to agree at this point, that every ethnographer sees the importance of field notes in very different ways as well as differ in their techniques for writing them.(p.xi). Some anthropologists feel that the technique for writing field notes is a subject that can't be covered in the teachings of methods. I think that different anthropologists should share with students how they go about writing them along with the rest of their methods, yet possibly point out that it can be a personal choice and that there is no correct way. Turns out that these authors think the same thing as they have stated at the bottom of page xi. They also say that the tendency for some anthropologists to regard field note writing as a nuisance is probably because they want people to understand that it is still very important to grasp the 'big picture' and not get honed down on detail. I can understand that but some people do not trust their memory as well as others and it seems to me that they can be quite useful in "capturing the moment" with as much recorded detail as possible. I really like what they say here about the writing of field notes: "Writing field notes would encourage experiential education students to observe more finely and systematically, to consider both the mundane and the dramatic, and to attend to others' activities and concerns as closely as their own".(p.xv). They also think that field notes are especially important for beginners in the sense that they can help document the "explicit and implicit instruction given interns about what things are important and how things should be done".(p.xv). I think that this makes a lot of sense and for my final project I think that I will use them for that purpose amongst many others I am sure.
Field notes are indeed part of their definition of ethnographic field research methods: "These two interconnected activities comprise the core of ethnographic research: First-hand participation in some initially unfamiliar social world and the production of written accounts of that world by drawing upon such participation".(p.1).
"...the task of the ethnographer is not to determine "the truth" but to reveal the multiple truths apparent in others' lives".(p.3).
One very important point that they make that the other books did not really cover is the consciousness of the effect of the ethnographer in the study and consequently an influence on the written account. I suppose if one is to merely observe from afar then this might not be seen as important, but I think that one would really have to be a fly on the wall in order to not have some sort of effect on the group that is being studied. They call this "reactive effects" and say that they "should not be seen as 'contaminating' what is observed and learned. Rather, these effects are the very source of that learning and observation".(p.3). They think that instead of 'contaminating' the "evidence", if you will, these "reactive effects" help to illuminate how the said culture interacts with each other and others who are not necessarily an integral part of their culture. I agree and as I have said before, honesty in the ethnographic writing as to the process of how the interpretations were reached is a must and the reader will be able to determine these "reactive effects".
Contrary to the old view of ethnographic field research which highlighted learning about the culture from a distance, they encourage direct participant observation and believe that this helps to "acquire empathy for local ways of acting and feeling".(4). I see method in ethnography as progressing from the "armchair" techniques, to distant observation and now as participatory as possible. Makes sense to me. I am going to embark on my final project on local Creole food in New Orleans...what am I going to do? Not eat it?!!!
To go a step further here into participatory studies, not only does it help "being there" as well as involving oneself in the group actions, but it helps determine the emotions behind the culture that determine their actions. It also helps the observer understand what motivates speech and how "people grapple with uncertainty and confusion".(p.4).
Now that we have the reasons for participant observation down, we have to think about what interpretations are the best and most accurate. Are there any that are the best and most accurate? No and that is why I like to use the term interpretation. They also think along these lines and believe that there are numerous ways to perceive and interpret and that none are the only 'natural' or 'correct' way.(p.5). I think that this subject might possibly one of the most hotly debated topics in anthropology today.
I like the way this book was written because Emerson, Fretz and Shaw are professors who teach a class on methods and so they use the students work as examples which is nice for a novice like me.
They describe field note writing as a process of interpretation whereby we can create many different interpretations of the same situations. They say that this is where we can write down the 'significant' and leave out what we think is "not significant'.(p.8). I wrote this in my notes: "So how do we then account for the "missing" of the proposed significant?". I guess that is it-different interpretations are caused by different thoughts on what is 'significant'. I guess that we do not have to account for it. But then what if we are Margaret Mead and years later our work is completely challenged by someone and they accuse us of not seeing the properly 'significant' and that our interpretations are wrong? I guess we sit and pray for the rest of our lives that even if someone thinks this, they will not share it with the rest of the world of anthropology!
I do see now, however, why they suggest writing different interpretations down because then they go on to say: " is important to recognize that fieldnotes involve INSCRIPTIONS of social life and social discourse. Such inscriptions inevitably REDUCE the welter and confusion of the social world to written words that can be reviewed, studied, and thought about time and time again".(p.8). They say that we write our field notes to "transform" events into writing which involves the "inevitable processes of SELECTION".(p.9). No pressure or anything. It is no wonder that this is a slightly sensitive topic for both the ethnographer and the culture subject.
So then we transfer observation to writing and this here is a pretty amazing way of describing this transfer:
"Further reduction occurs with the representation of a recorded slice of embodied discourse as sequential lines of text in a 'transcript'. For while talk in social settings is 'multichanneled event', writing 'is linear in nature, and can handle only one channel at a time, so we must pick and choose among the clues available for representation".(p.9). Apparently somebody by the name of Walker in 1986 said this and I think it is a truly brilliant way of describing the transfer of observations into writing.
Another interesting point that they make is that the method that an ethnographer chooses reflects how the ethnographer personally views "social life and how to understand it".(p.10). In other words, how he or she finds meaning in his/her own life will tend to be how they methodically interpret the lives of others. Field notes thus change over time with information added and taken away, much like we do in our own minds in our everyday lives.
'Rather it is both intuitive, reflecting the ethnographer's changing sense of what might possibly be made interesting or important to future readers, and empathetic, reflecting the ethnographer's sense of what is interesting to the people he is observing".(p.11).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Now I will be discussing another book that I read called ANTHROPOLOGICAL LOCATIONS: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science, by Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson.

In the introduction, they say that methods are taken for granted in anthropology. It seems that way, however, as I and this independent study are living proof that there are a lot more studies these days on the subject of anthropological methods.

On page one, what strikes me as interesting and in direct contrast to Michael Agar's book is that they say: "As all graduate students in social/cultural anthropology know, it is fieldwork that makes one a 'real anthropologist', and truly anthropological knowledge is widely understood to be 'based' (as we say) on fieldwork". Agar disagrees with this and I think, as I have said before that I can't imagine doing fieldwork without referring to my field notes as my "bible". I still think that Agar might stand alone in his opinion that field notes shouldn't have too much importance.

Beyond just simply stating that I agree with Gupta and Ferguson on the importance of fieldwork, I really believe in what they say here regarding the difference between anthropology and other social sciences: "Fieldwork thus helps define anthropology as a discipline in both senses of the word, constructing a space of possibilities while at the same time drawing the lines that confine that space".(p.2). So zeroing in on things that I have said previously regarding boundaries and the things that separate anthropology from other disciplines can be simply stated that the boundaries are found in the fieldwork.

The essence of anthropology is "reworking" and "reinventing" tradition. Reinventing method is a way in which we can make anthropological traditions grow and change, and now with increasing studies in methods, this can be accomplished. The authors' view on anthropology is that the field is the central defining concept, therefor method is naturally at the center too.

And here I go with another great quote defining fieldwork: '"The Field' is a clearing whose deceptive transparency obscures the complex processes that go into constructing it. In fact, it is a highly overdetermined setting for the discovery of difference".(p.5). Very true.

In the introduction, Gupta and Ferguson discuss what constitutes the "field". It is similar to what I have talked about before, so I will try not to be redundant. On page 13, they talk about the fact that more often than not, the more unfamiliar and "strange" a field site is, the more it is considered "real fieldwork". What happens here, is that fieldwork at "home" is then not considered very important and seems to be the type of ethnography that will not merit much attention. On the subject of the field being at "home" now for some anthropologists, they warn that we should not scoff at the methodological differences but embrace them rather, because anthropology is based on "difference" and the discipline should embrace different methods as well.(p.29).
On the subject of globalization, they say: "...Do we still think of fieldwork in the archetype of the white-faced ethnographer in a sea of black or brown faces?...Perhaps we should say that, in an interconnected world, we are never really 'out of the field' ".(p.35). If we do in fact stretch the anthropological boundaries for ethnography, we must find ways to defines our methods. We can't say that we are "always in the field", because then we have an all-inclusive situation where there are no boundaries left.
This book gives an historical account to fieldwork which I found fascinating. In the beginning fieldwork was grounded in the discipline of science, motivating scholars to travel to unfamiliar places in order to observe and document exotic specimens, enabling them to give an account of "being there". In chapter 2, Henrika Kuklik talks about the political motivations, spurred by colonialism that inspired much of anthropological fieldwork in the first place. It began with armchair anthropologists sending "unsophisticated workers",(p.54), to do the fieldwork, while taking credit for their findings back at home. Eventually these workers were seen to not be trusted with their interpretations of their findings, and anthropologists began seeing the need to travel themselves for first-hand knowledge.
In chapter 3, Mary Des Chene discusses the need for acceptance of multi-methods and mulit-fieldsites in anthropology. If there isn't going to be just one acceptable field site, then there mustn't be only one way of looking at method.(p.80). She talks about the widening of locales and research practices is a way to see more of not just the world but the interconnectedness between these various worlds in a way not previously seen. By letting the research methods guide us to our knowledge "rather than dictated by disciplinary culture area maps", we can discover many new things about culture.(p.80):
"Altering our research practices, including the ways in which we conceptualize locales for study and understand such connections, is one step on the path to a more coeval treatment of other places and other people".(p.81).
In chapter 4, Liisa Malkki discusses the importance of method straying from concentrating just on the concrete and structural aspects of a culture's life to move across these borders and begin seeing the "formative, consequential events that are accidental, fleeting and anomalous".(p.92). She says that if we begin to try and see more of these aspects of cultures when doing an ethnography, then these aspects can then also be used to explain much more of what we see in the more structural parts as well. The "accidental, fleeting and anomalous can help define what we see in the concretely visual aspects of behaviour in communities, organizations, rituals, etc.
To comment again on objectivity in method, which is a subject that I have covered before with some of the other books, is to again stress honesty in order to separate from the concept of "true objectivity". If the ethnographer is honest in the methods of interpretation, less "true objectivity" is expected or idealized: "It is a principle [objectivity] that I do not respect....To me, total objectivity is a lie....The most important thing is that you are honest....that you play with your cards on the table.(Pedelty 1995:220).".(p.98).
An interesting thing in chapter 8, written by Joanne Passaro, is that method is something that is included in the problem of ethnography covering "the primitive" in ways that uncovered knowledge about them that "we" had already expected. She calls in "accommodation to preexisting social laws" and that "we 'discover' coherent bodies of knowledge that recreate what we already assume, and we reinscribe the politics of the status quo".(p.151). This means that anthropologists and the world that we live in already have their preexisting expectations of the way in which "the primitives" think as well as the way in which they live. Popular method acts a way of reinforcing this way of thinking. If method changes in certain ways, we should begin to see "the other" in new ways that challenge popular thought.
She also makes the point that when people question the amount of "otherness" that an ethnographic project has, what needs to be remembered is that there are many groups "at home" that can make the ethnographer feel even more distant than the typical ethnographic project that is carried out thousands of miles from where they call "home". This tends to be more true, I think, with increasing globalization that brings "the other" closer to us in many ways.
I say that new methodological processes are important, but what Passaro points out is that even with new method the final ethnographic project seems to end up shedding what new interpretations these methods might lead to in order to get back to what funding agencies want to hear and what they expect, resulting in the kind of typical ethnographic project that the ethnographer was trying to avoid.(p.157). In other words, funding agencies want to hear what they expect to hear about "the other" and thus it becomes even harder to introduce the new kinds of interpretations. Kind of frustrating to think about but important as well and maybe something to "fight" the funding agencies on. She says that "theorizations and generalizations-and not the messiness of everyday life-are what is considered fundable, publishable, and indeed-by most of us-valuable, much of what does not fit into received categories or already elaborated theory often winds up on the cutting room floor".(p.157).
Here is what Passaro says about new methods and general ways of thinking in anthropology and I don't know if I could have said it better:
"An anthropology of liberation would seem to require, above all, continual challenges to our own objectifying practices, practices which, intentionally or not, cut down to 'manageable' size the multiple, interconnected, overdetermined, and enormously complex subjectivities of the people we study".(p.161).
I think that what she says about our previous and typical subject choices for ethnography is interesting. We have tended to choose the "primitive" and typically bounded cultures as a way of making sure that we are studying "units". Bounded culture "units" are easier to do research on, fits with the colonial way of thinking, and enables us to escape having to see all the things that join the world together such as: "unstable, hybridized, and nonholistic experiences".(p.161). She thinks that seeing these "unstable, hybridized, and nonholistic experiences are a must for "adequate social analysis"-which I call modern-day social analysis-as well as THE way in which we depart from the typical colonial way of thinking and interpreting.(p.161).
Passaro talks about reflexive writing in the final ethnographic project. It has become a popular way of writing an ethnography,(inserting oneself into the writing), and it seems to be popular thought that it gives the ethnographer more "credibility".(p.171). She says that it does not necessarily, but that "reflexivity has the advantage of calling attention to differences that make a difference".(p.171). I can see how an ethnographer would expect perhaps more trust from their reader with their interpretations. I think that I would like to use reflexive writing in the future as I believe in the most honest way of presenting an ethnography.
In chapter 10, James Clifford discusses the possibility of fieldwork losing its importance as something that every anthropologist should do at least once.(p.195). He thinks that fieldwork is one of the ways that anthropology has always been defined, but that this might change and we might start seeing anthropologists who have never conducted fieldwork because it will be something that loses its importance. I think not. I can't even imagine anthropology without it. Where then would the PROOF come from? Who will believe these anthropologists who have skipped the fieldwork process then?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Continuation of blog entry and starting at page 98.
Agar talks about methods of ethnography being heavily influenced by the socialization history of every individual ethnographer. All aspects of method including what one sees, what one hears, what one records as notable or important as well as the direction of interpretation are all affected by the personal history and personality of the ethnographer. This is the real reason why “true objectivity” is impossible. As I have mentioned before, the way to get around this in order to achieve conclusions that are closest to the truth as well as gain the trust of the reader is to openly admit biases thereby explaining how an interpretation was reached. I see this as the only proper way to conduct research and write an ethnography…..with as much truth as possible about not only the “other” but of the ethnographer him/herself.
Agar says that using more than one ethnographer can be useful as well. I wonder if that might at times confuse interpretation? Although, obviously this gives the ethnographer more than one, proving to the reader that so much of what we perceive as the truth is merely interpretation.
Agar talks about the holistic perspective of ethnography and that is when you take an “individual observation” that “cannot be understood unless you understand its relationships to other aspects of the situation in which it occurred”.(p.125). He believes that these relationships should be checked and validated and that the ethnographer should never cut corners. In my opinion, if the ethnographer can do this and always keep this in his/her mind, then the thought process as well as the interpretation process is more in depth and as “accurate” as well. This methodological training can also work to eliminate the usage of biases for interpretation.
To sum up Michael Agar’s message regarding method in anthropology: “…I am concerned with the development of a more explicit ethnographic methodology; on the other hand, things like the learning role, the long-term intensive personal involvement, and the holistic perspective are what set ethnography apart-they enable us to learn what people are like rather than seeing if a minute piece of their behavior in a context we define supports or does not support our ideas of what they are like”.(p.126).
In chapter 5, Agar discusses the importance of methodology. He believes that methodology "...serves some purpose, some high-order goal. ...What we need, then, is a sense of our goals-just what are we trying to accomplish when we do ethnography? Only then can we properly evaluate specific methodologies. After we use a method, we should be closer to the goal than before we used it".(p.127). I think this says a lot regarding the absolute importance of not just singularly choosing a method, or just a goal, but to see the importance of the proper method to obtain just what you want the final ethnography to accomplish. What this also means is that method seeks to equate the view and interpretations of the ethnographer with that of the native group. It seems so simple when put like that but as we all know, there are so many methods one could use. They seem to all differ. So now, what do we do when there are differing opinions within the native group? Yikes. Agar sees this as a possible positive occurrence because it can strengthen the goal of the ethnographer. I think that what he means is that it can strengthen it because the ethnographer then puts much more thought into each opinion and interpretation and maybe this can lead him/her to find a mean? Not sure if that's the right way to put it, or if the word mean is the proper term, but I basically mean that the ethnographer in this case will not just settle on one account, opinion or interpretation, and that differences of opinion will force more of a thought process to attempt at finding the "truth". Then this leads us to what he talks about on p.130, and that is, what role is the ethnographer supposed to take on as a method? Is it supposed to be just that of the observer or is there supposed to be participation as well? I think that there have been many heated conversations between anthropologist regarding this subject. I think that it must depend on the research and research group. What if its really dangerous? On second thought, I think that that might be kind of fun, but still some people might not want to put themselves in danger. How about a little bit of both? If the ethnographer just observes then he/she might truly miss out on some awakening interpretation that could only be gotten through participation.
Agar says that methods seek to accomplish this: "They should add to the procedures used by the ethnographer to transfer observations into accounts that group members say are possible interpretations of what is going on".(p.131). Makes sense to me. Makes really good sense.
An important point that all of the authors of these books have made is that the creation of a good line of questioning is an essential method for steering the conversations between you and the local in a direction where you will learn the most amount of information. I imagine that this is another thing that takes time and practice. He says that asking questions that enable the ethnographer to get '"experience near' concepts".(p.139). In other words the line of questioning gets the ethnographer as close to finding out what the local thinks of a particular aspect of his/her culture. This is done by "baiting".(p.142). This is a way of gearing the question to get closer to what the ethnographer wants to find out in the shortest amount of time possible. Agar goes into a lot of linguistic concepts that I am not familiar with. I am sure that they have relevance to him and might even to me in the future but right now, I am sticking to the basics.
Next we get into repetition of ideas, thoughts and interpretations which I imagine is where statistics come in somewhat. Repetition is a way in which the ethnography can see some sort of "popular thought", if you will, that helps he/she arrive at an average. The statistics side of all this also includes a sampling of people to gather this kind of average as well. On the subject of sampling, however, it is hard to figure out the entire populations views and such with just one ethnographer: "You are, after all, only one ethnographer, and it is hardly your fault that dozens of variables are relevant to the issue".
As I have said before, Agar does not believe in the importance of field notes. I cannot at this stage of the game imagine how that is possible without a photographic memory and a lot of confidence. I don't thus far see them as anything but useful. I can see how they might be a little distracting because the ethnographer might get caught up writing too much of something that ultimately has not relevance but I know for a fact that they will be useful to me for many things.

There is one side note that I am going to just point out and maybe come back to later. It really is not a point, though, it is a thought. Agar discusses this a bit on page 234. What if your ethnography upsets people? What if the locals of the said group like it and believe in it, but your institution does not? Or even possibly the leader of the said group? When you believe in you ignore the possible political nature of the ethnography? Or what if your subject was influenced by a political situation or agenda of your own country and then you end up believing in much more than fulfilling this political agenda of your own country? Thinking about methods in ethnography is hard enough, but having to think about political and financial agendas of whomever influencing your work makes it so much harder, especially when your thoughts and beliefs about the said culture before you set out on the project and after have to indeed confuse the situation.
He calls for "methodological flexibility".(p.252). That makes sense to me when appreciating the difference of every culture and the various interpretations. However, it is hard to continue to have a discipline that modern-day anthropologists and students are expecting to grow with the times and globalization while at the same time having to create disciplinary lines to ensure there is a border defining anthropology against the borders of similar YET DIFFERENT disciplines: "The kind of creative response to a new field situation is what good ethnography has always been about".(p.252).
To conclude the book, Agar points out that one begins an ethnography striving to even just break through with only a beginning of an understanding of the said culture, but mainly to familiarize. To conclude with a final ethnographic project, the goal ends up being to become as if a stranger to be able to "document the experience from the perspective of a stranger".(p.252). This makes so much sense to me and wish I could have said it better! "INFORMAL TO FORMAL".
To sum up, of course I must quote Agar again....he leaves us with this thought: "So by all means the move to increase the general research sophistication of ethnographers should be encouraged. But at the same time, it would be tragic to lose what some converts call "soft", "unscientific", or "fuzzy" research. Much of the world we seek to understand has just those characteristics, including our own involvements in it as researchers. If we only pick up material that can be welded, we leave a lot behind".(p.246). The most important and sensible point that Agar seems to convey in this book is that for whatever reasons someone sets out to accomplish an ethnography, the end result and theories matter, yes, but the most important thing to remember is that the ethnography IS method and the two must not be separated. So, to set out to write an ethnography is to concern oneself with method and that the two cannot be separated.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Agar makes one very important point regarding train of thought during an ethnographic project. I think that it has a lot to do with ethnocentrism as well. He says to attempt a clear mind when studying the "other" and to try and disregard the way you have always thought and interpreted in everyday life: "...if you just listen and struggle with what patterns and passions drive their ralk, you get a glimmer of a different kind of life. And that glimmer, brief and fragmentary though it might have been, hints that what you thought you knew was way off base".(p.38).
If this is a mind set that one can tackle to the best of their ability as a novice, as well as be conscious of, I think that it is good training and might become somewhat of a second nature for future projects, thereby eliminating as much ethnocentrism as possible.
Here is Michael Agar's anthroplogical equation: "That's how abduction works. Instead of, from P we derive Q, or from Q we derive P, the logic changes to, what kind of P do I need to invent such that this new and interesting Q makes some kind of sense".(p.40). Now that makes sense!
I have previously covered a few of my own opinions regarding statistics. Agar seems to be an avid user and believer in them. As a novice, I really can't say much about them except that I fear them immensly. He does say, however, that popular thought amongst professionals in anthropology and sociology seem to love the existence of numbers in ethnographic writing, despite their relevance. It is about the relevant numbers, he says. I keep quoting this guy, but I truly could not say these important things in a better way: "If you're a top-down hypothesis-testing type, you can seal the system shut against new information and leave subjects with a choice of stepping into your framework or getting out of your study."(43). He goes on to talk again about positivism wchich unfortunately I do not get. It seems to me as if every anthroplogist has their own VERY DIFFERENT theories as to what this means and I remain utterly confused.
At this point in the book, he begins discussing techniques and ways of writing the final ethnography. I cannot leave out one very interesting point and that is that Agar is not entirely supportive of fieldnotes in general and if one uses them, he does not believe in the sacred aspect of fieldnotes as many anthropologists do. I get the sense that he thinks that they are given too much attention. In all the rest of the books that I have read for this course, fieldnotes are the seemingly main subject around which methods are described. Again, as a novice, I imagine myself becoming obssessed with them when I begin my ethnographic journey as a way to justify my work, memories of my fieldwork and references for the actual writing of the ethnography.
Agar talks about the many different ways in which one begins anthropological fieldwork and grant proposals. I feel as if it must all differ greatly, depending on one's credentials but also what institution, if any, the anthropologist is using as a starting point. I will nevertheless use this book as a reference for different research starting points.
He discusses the absolute importance of the use of locals in an ethnographic project. He believes that it makes the work go much faster if the ethnographer establishes or finds a solid connection with at least one local before embarking on the full project. I feel though as if a large portion of his technical advice is mainly for ethnographic work in the US, although still very important. It just depends on what kind of work an anthropologist will be doing.
An interesting thing that Agar talks about is the obsession of the "community" boundaries and that there is an increasing loss of such "bounded communities", thereby losing the interest of some anthropologists. This ties in very much with my discussion earlier on increasing globalization. There are very few remaining "bounded communities" and this means that a new set of anthropological questions need to be asked. It also means that new ways of interpretation must be created as well as new angles to be looked at to enable us to report as accurately as possible.
Agar writes very humorously in this book. On page 91, with the chapter heading: "Who are you to do this?" he says:

"Ethnography is really quite an arrogant enterprise. In a short period of time, an ethnographer moves in among a group of strangers to study and describe their beliefs, document their social life, write about their subsistence strategies, and generally expore the territory right down to their recipies for the evening meal. The task is an impossible one. At best, and ethnography can only be partial".

What I love here is how he blatantly admits what other ethnographers vehementy deny and that is that the "ethnography is only partial".
Agar thinks that a role is automatically assigned to the ethnographer and this subsequenty affects the knowledge that is gained in the method process. Perhaps if the ethnographer is at least conscious of this and it is recorded in notes and ethnogaphy, then maybe the interpretations can be thus understood with this in mind. So, he goes on to say that "'objectivity' is perhaps best seen as a label to hide probems in the social sciences. The problem is not whether the ethnographer is biased; the problem is what kinds of biases exist-how do they enter into ethnographic work and how can their operation be documented".(p.92). I have often thought about this in my readings and I agree with Agar when I say that what if the ethnographer duly admits these things? This means that the reader has more trust in the ethnographer and the ethnography because these biases are identified and explained, thereby allowing the reader to understand more clearly how the ethnographer arrived at these conclusions and their methods of interpretation. This leads Agar to one very important thought and that is that the ethnogrpaher must understand his/herself before being able to interpret the other. In addition to this, an ethnographic project surely results in the ethnographer learning a lot about themselves.
Agar thinks that the methodological questions that the ethnographer asks are vital to the information that is provided. This is something that all the books have seemed to agree on and I imagine that this is something that comes with experience, or at least to some degree. It seems to me that there is a technique as well as experience that is required for effective question asking.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"The Professional Stranger", by Michael Agar, was by far my favorite book out of the ones that I have read for this class. He has a very open and honest way of discussing methods and problems with methods in anthropology. He also thinks that the "traditional communities" have disappeared, which were the focus of anthropology up until now. He attributes this disappearance to increasing globalization, and subsequently definitions of anthropology and fieldwork methods have to change with the time. (p.3). Agar says that increasing globalization changes how we look at the other as well as how we are writing our fieldnotes and ethnographies. I love what he says here: "The politically active 'others', and their enemies, now read what we produce and add new dimensions of responsibility and authority".(p.3). It is interesting to me to think about these exotic and unfamiliar cultures now reading the ethnographies that are about them. It certainly does change things. I think that this can be thought of in a positive way: now the ethnographies are not just for the scholars of the discipline of anthropology, but now the cultures that these writings are on are reading them as well which can in turn help us find more accurate descriptions and interpretations; a more collaborative project, if you will. Agar sees this interest and more collaborative effort as a "fantastic opportunity - and a potential disaster".(p.3). I don't think that it has to be a complete disaster if the input and feedback from the "other" is recognized with a general understanding that the anthropologist is the scholarly "expert"with more training in interpretation. It is something to think about anyway, and I am sure that on many aspects of anthropology my opinion will change with experience.
I don't see that the very definition of anthropology and methods in anthropology have to be drastically different, I just think that with increasing globalization, educational opportunities and a general awareness, that the discipline can grow. It can change and grow with the times....after all, isn't part of cultural anthropology based on different INTERPRETATIONS?
On page 4, Agar talks about the fact that in the old model of anthropology, a picture was painted of the "other" and it was never thought about that they had the capacity to change and grow just like our culture. So what now? It seems to me that not much thought was put into the fact that the "other" was going to change too. I do think that that might be typical of the time and let's not forget that wonderful colonial attitude that spawned the interest in anthropology in the first place.
On page 5, Agar briefly states that now anthropologists are writing ethnographies with more of their personal self coming through so that : "So naturally, if you decide to make such previously hidden parts of the story explicit, then the kinds of information you go after and the way you write it have to change as well". This ties into what I have previously discussed and that is the autobiographical tone of self-realization in ethnographic writing and that this does in fact change everything you look at and how you interpret it. Apparently he agrees with me. He discusses the title: "Writing Culture is Poetics and Politics". Our poetics, (meaning how we write our ethnographies), affect the politics of culture. He is stressing the importance of the influence of ethnographic writing: what we see and how we see it. Agar also believes, and I have to agree with him at this point, that ethnography now needs to see as well as include the "bigger picture". I think that this ties into his discussions of globalization thus far in the sense that as I have said before, there are really no isolated communities anymore that are simply untouched by the rest of civilization and/or other cultures. He says that we are all "swim in the same interconnected global soup". It is also interesting to think about the fact that ethnographer and the "other" already know things about each other before first contact. When we take this into consideration, we also must see that there are many factors contributing to people's everyday lives. This means that in order to write an ethnography that is closest to the truth, we must look at the much broader picture. Of course, this will in turn make fieldwork, or ethnography in general a much more difficult task. For this reason, it is a good thing that there are increasingly more studies/classes on methodology of fieldwork because I think that we must really be trained for this type of work because the spectrum has gotten larger. It is no longer about studying the isolated group but now we have to think internationally as well. I think that is what I mean when I talk about the bigger picture. Even though Agar believes now in seeing the bigger ethnographic picture, he still believes that some of the fundamentals of anthropology and ethnography are the same:

"The story now calls for different information of a different sort, sometimes from different people, but the way you learn it still involves the paradox of professional distance and personal involvement....The 'funnel' metaphor is still apt, with its emphasis on openness, emergence, and the gradual narrowing of focus as the bigger picture turns more clear. The music has changed, and there's a couple of new ways to bend the notes, but the fundamentals remain the same. They have to. The fundamentals are part of being human".(p.7).

I really like what he says here. He has a true respect for some of the anthropological traditions as well as the fundamentals but still believes that anthropology and subsequently ethnography can grow and change with the genera; foundation remaining the same.
Agar talks about a few ways in which anthropological fieldwork should change and grow with the times if you will, to broaden the spectrum and see more: 1) is one that I have been discussing and that is the use of the NARRATIVE, rather than what he calls the ENCYCLOPEDIC. He says the encyclopedic is more definitions and factual writing and he wants to see more background and an explanantion of how the ethnographer arrives at these interpretations and conclusions. 2) he talks about how we need to see more participation in participant observation. He says that: "...participant excperiences lend themselves to story formats, narratives of what people said and did".(p.9). And again he says:

"'s about the practices of everyday life, the way those practices are built out of shared knowledge, plus all the other things that are relevant to the moment. Raw material comes from active participation in those moments, and "data" appear in the narrative form that naturally represents them. One's job as an ethnographer is to account for what goes on, on the ground, in living color".(p.9-10).

The narrative is about VARIATION and reading in between the lines. I think that one day when I am able to get into a field, I will love this.
Agar mentions that ethnographers in the past "strove for the shared".(p.10). I don't think that I knew this. I do see however, that given the colonial state of mind of past anthropological projects, that it would naturally be the trend to find out if the "other" was anything like us, instead of celebrating their difference. A bit culturally narcissistic, no? Agar says: "...I think of the basic data of ethnography as the DIFFERENCES that appear".(p.22). I also am starting to think that maybe ethnographic training in fieldwork was perhaps a little narrow, which meant that anthropologists lacked the "eye" to be able to see the bigger picture. But....anthropology is changing now and I think that it has become hard to define what proper fieldwork entails and just what are we really supposed to be looking at. I love this quote:

"But now, global and national histories blow through communities like a hurricane. In a line attributed to Roy D'Andrade(Carrithers, 1992:21), studying culture today is like studying snow in the middle of an avalanche. People show up for an interview with a mixed bag of selves whose source is everything from their grandparents to the Simpsons. You ride off to a traditional ceremony in a Ford Bronco with a Pearl Jam tape in the cassette deck. Your local key contact is off giving a shaman workshop in Palm Beach. What in the world are we studying anymore?"(p.11). !!!!!

Well said. Well said. Life with its people in it has changed and so should anthropological methods if we are still to agree that cultural anthropology is about the studying people.
This problem involving the bigger picture, thinking internationally and broadening the scope of interpretation is described in a term that Agar coined: "crisis of representation".(p.12).

Agar talks about method on page 14. Method has two parts. The first part is making the method "pubic" so that the information is open to interpretation by natives as well as scholars but he stresses the second part of method which is to bear in mind that it must be coming form "the point of view of the reader". In a few of the books that I have been reading, the authors say somewhat of the same thing but that to give the chance to the "non-anthropologists" to evaluate and make their own interpretation creates a bit of a sticky situation because then the question can be asked: What is this really about and who is really the true expert?
Agar mentions on page 15 the John Van Maanen books: "Tales of the Field" and "Representation in Ethnography". I read both a couple of years ago and yes they are interesting perspectives on the "process" and the "product" of ethnography and more importanty how these two tie together. Alot of these two books are on ethnographic styles that include more of the ethnographer in the writings which as I have said before seems to be becoming a new trend. This type of method also helps the reader with their scepticism on the subject matter and interpretations of it. Why should we believe this ethnographer? If they narrate more of the process then the reader can see more of how they arrived at these thoughts and they begin to trust the material and athropologist more.
Now, when the ethnographer begins to talk more honestly about methods, etc., Agar believes that we need to include and give credit to the informants and local people. I see this as being an important part of method as well. They are part of it all, obviously, and including them in the writing is something that can make the finished product more credible as well. We mustn't deny how big of a part of it they were and are. That would be a little backwards I think. Agar stresses the importance of the ethnographer not utilizing full power and control over the end product by excluding the ways in which the ethnographer was helped by the said culture and how much influence they had on the research itself.(p.16).

Agar talks about something in chapter one that I will discuss now but surely will come back to at some point as it is somehting I have thought a lot about, despite my being a novice, to say the least. My advisor had asled me what I thought I might like to do sometime down the line with anthropology. Before I even answered I listened to her tell me that now the trend for younger anthropologists was to do their own research but also to become active in these communities, instead of just watching. She took the words right out of my mouth. Since then, however, I have not changed my mind but it has made me think of the tendency of the younger anthropologist to become the political activist. This has then led me to think about crossing the "line" somewhere and having to be careful of what I thought needed to be "fixed". So, we have talked about ethnography leaning now more towards more interpretation, rather than just "encycopedic" ethnography, or stating of the facts. Agar has a vvery interesting paragraph on this very subject. I feel I must quote him as I could not have said this better:

"Underneath all different interpretations of the term CRITICAL lies a common thread-you look at local context and meaning, just like we aleays have, but then you ask, WHY are things this way? What power, what interests, wrap this local world so tight that it feels like the natural order of things to its inhabitants? Are those inhabitants even AWARE of those interests, aware that they have alternatives? And then-the critical move that blows the old scientific attitude right off the map-maybe I, the ethnographer, should SHOW them choices they don't even know they have. Maybe I should shift from researcher to political activist".(p.26).

Here lies the ultimate power that the ethnographer has but also the power of linking the local to the global, (or broadening the spectrum of why). When we create this link, or rather when we consider it in our ethnographies, we HAVE to be careful to not use this as a way of validating the "western" life as better. In other words, we have to be careful not to use this link between the "other" and the global as merely a comparison where the "other",(especially in a third world country), has no chance of even looking ok much less put together. A possibe example of ethnocentrism? So what do we do? We think about what Agar says here: " NO UNDERSTANDING OF A WORLD IS VALID WITHOUT REPRESENTATION OF THOSE MEMBERS' VOICES".(p.27). And: "Ethnography is populist to the core, in this sense-skeptical of the distant institutions that control local people's lives; certain of the fact that the best society is built from the participation of its members in decisions that affect them; aggravated by injustices caused by distant institutions that force people to live in worlds not of their own making".(p.27). We must understand each aspect of their culture as its own entity. CULTURAL RELATIVISM at its best!
However, there is also the opposite to think about and that is because the culture that the ethnographer is studying the "exotically unfamiliar", there is a tendency to think that because this culture is so "unfamiliar" that this "exoticness" justifies wrongdoings "in the name of cultural relativity".(p.25). We need to think or keep thinking along the lines that the people within the said culture should be active participants in their lives and future decisions.

Agar talks about applied and critical anthropology and although I keep reading this part....I am still not exactly sure what the difference between the two is....

He talks about one of the fundamentals of ethnography as having to do with a "rich point". I understood this as when a situation occurs in the field of a foreign culture, we realize that we do not understand this situation because our "assumptions about how the world works"(p.31) do not help us in anyway to understand this foreign and strange situation. He explains that a rich point is a gap in understanding for the ethnographer. His conclusion is that this is what the very essence of ethnographic research is all about. This makes the idea of ethnographic research that much more exciting to me. I think that this is a great way to simplify ethnography. The very fact that they are called "rich points" says a lot as well as to the fascinating nature of fieldwork itself. He then makes sure to mention that "rich points are OUR problem and certainly NOT a glitch in their culture. That one made me laugh! Yes. Yes. If only we all thought that way!

He defines Ethnography as containing 3 major themes:
1) Participant Observation
2) Rich Points (which he describes as being the actual "data")
3) Coherence, which is the "guiding assumption" that begins with the rich point to initiate a proper understanding and interpretation of the situation or observation within the context of the said culture.
There are some more steps and concepts as well such as "frame". I understand the "frame" to be the script or a series of happenings and events that later have to be linked together or separated as intepretations of their own. The next step will be validation and modification: "As you use the frame, you not only work to validate it, but you also work to modify it through use".(p.32). He says the validation and modification are the ways in which you understand the rich points. Although I have previously read other books on methodology, keeping this simplified outline on methodology is a good starting point. I treasure this book as the entire thing is written in a very clear manner for a novice to read and will be my reference as a staring point in my final project. We then move on from validation and modification to begin to understand situations and happenings as if we were part of that culture. We have to begin to see life from their point of view. I think that without this step, the ethnography is rendered useless. He does admit that this is an oversimplification but that the existence of frames and the constant search for the connection between them from a native's point of view is the goal. He has these diagrams that are supposed to show the supposed train of thought as well as how the frames eventually match up. I have looked at them over and over again but I am afraid that I still find them confusing. Perhaps this is because I am no good at math/statistics or perhaps it is just a matter of them not being my ilustrations of frames. Time will tell I guess. One theme that I have seen in just about all these books is a mention of how once these frames are looked at and interptreted time and time again, many aspects of the said culture's life as well as unexpected interpretations of this culture come to light. The ethnographer constantly modifies the frames again and again, untilo there is what Erving Goffman, Charles Frake and Michael Agar call STRIPS.(p.33). It makes sense to me as the frames being small parts of a larger interpretation called a strip which is only formed after frequent modifications are made. Agar calls this "frame resolution", which is defined as: "...the so-called holistic point of view, the part of the analysis where larger frames are constructed that show the more general patterns that characterize the ethnographer's emergent understanding of group life".(p.35). This sounds really exciting to me. It is not that I think that I will uncover all expected realizations and interpretations but it does sound to me almost as if ethnographic research and writing will be a bit like going on a treasure hunt!
Agar, as well as some of the other authors of these books, talk about the use of statistics. I am extremely intimidated by statistics. Could be due to the fact that I took a horrible class in it a few years back. Nevertheless, I am intimidated by the subject and woe the day when I have to put it to use. I am not trying to learn statistics from these books, but will use them as a guide for my fieldwork projects in the future I am sure. In the meantime, I think I will try another class that is not taught online. One thing regarding the use of statistics that I find interesting is that some stress the use of it in fieldwork analyzation more than others. I was thinking that maybe it had to do with whether the anthropologist was influenced sociologically or not. I do know that sociologists rely directly upon statistics but that there are surely some anthropologists that disagree on whether, or how much to use.
Again, I love the way in which he describes certain aspects of anthropology that are either constantly up for debate or seem to be always open for endless interpretation. On page 36, he goes into further discussion of rich point, frames and strips. It is just that he is so matter-of-fact in his writing. I really enjoyed what he says here about the interpretation and writing of ethnographies:
6) "The representation you build is neither "theirs" nor is it "yours". Instead, it is built to fill the initial space where rich points occurred between you. It is a representation of the spaces between, built in collaboration by ethnographer and locals". That is one that I will always remember.
7) "Culture is constructed, created and built up in the spaces that the rich points define. However, it relies on universal human similarities to make any connection possible at all".
8) "The representation is not fixed; it can change and grow, either in the course of a single period of time or over repeated periods of research".

What he says for number 7 is so interesting to me. In the past, when I have given thought to the inspiration behind the concept of ethnography, I have immediately thought of it existing as a celebration of the cultural differences of human life, rather than having anything at all to do with similarities. But he is right. Again. We all have similarities in us which is how we are included at all in the human race. In order to recognize difference, we have to recognize, consciously or subconsciously, our similarities. How's that for the world's simplest statements?! true though. I guess that we can just celebrate both. He really believes in some humility on the part of the ethnographer in the sense that the locals are a large part of the process and that the final draft of the ethnography is not the absolute truth.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fieldwork as autobiography

An interesting theme that i encountered in my readings is fieldwork acting as not just fieldwork but as an autobiography. In chapter 4, Knowles says that: "the process of revealing the other also brings the self clearly into view as not the other; and it so can be argued that fieldwork , in its outcome if not its intent, is as much about the autobiography of the researcher as it is an investigation of the other". (p. 61). "It (fieldwork) negotiates, in no predictable way, the researcher's account of self". (p. 62). In other words, we need to recognize one thing as it is in order to recognize the next thing as different from the first thing. I realize that that is putting it rather simply, however, I think that what she is trying to say is that we can recognize and interpret the "other" only by initially understanding ourselves first or even simultaneously in order to be able to recognize difference and thus creating the capability to interpret and analyze. So creating fieldnotes/ethnographies is a simultaneously autobiographical experience. In some ways, thinking about it like this makes ethnographic research perhaps a little daunting?
In chapter 5 Rapport discusses the use of the narrative as a way to establish a "form of human consciousness" in ethnographic writing. Narratives are ways in which to contextualize the self-realization in the autobiographical sense and the interpretation of the other in a story that has a more humanistc approach. This way, the ethnographer can be more open and honest about his/her interpretations that can enable the reader to trust the writing more. The ethnographer then exhibits a sense of self-realization that shows a more humble approach to the interpretation of the other instead of attempting to claim "true objectivity". About the use of the narrative Rapport says: "One of the most important stories to emerge is that of the individual's own self. The self comes to know itself through its own narrational acts."(p.76).He also says: "Furthermore, narratives represented a 'privileged medium for understanding human experience', because there appears to be a human 'readiness or predisposition to organize experience into a narrative form'."(p.75).
I like the idea of narratives from the humanistic point. The concept of hearing the other interpreted as a story from the aspect of =