Tim Ingold's "That's Enough About Ethnography"—Invitation to an informal seminar

Ethnography, we are taught, is the hallmark of cultural anthropology, the rite of passsage by which anthropologists are created. It is said to be, like a vision quest, a source of profound insights. To those outside the anthropological tribe, however "ethnography" has become synonymous with "qualitative research," part of the basic toolkit of designers and market researchers. What's an anthropologist to do?

This is the question addressed by Tim Ingold in "That's Enough About Ethnography" in Vol. 4, No. 1 of HAU [http://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau4.1.021]. Given that HAU describes itself as the "Journal of Ethnograpic Theory," this is a bold intervention, indeed. The abstract is as follows:

Ethnography has become a term so overused, both in anthropology and in contingent disciplines, that it has lost much of its meaning. I argue that to attribute “ethnographicness” to encounters with those among whom we carry on our research, or more generally to fieldwork, is to undermine both the ontological commitment and the educational purpose of anthropology as a discipline, and of its principal way of working—namely participant observation. It is also to reproduce a pernicious distinction between those with whom we study and learn, respectively within and beyond the academy. Anthropology’s obsession with ethnography, more than anything else, is curtailing its public voice. The way to regain it is through reasserting the value of anthropology as a forward-moving discipline dedicated to healing the rupture between imagination and real life.

This post is an invitation to participate in a seminar-style discussion of Ingold's article, to begin next Monday (March 23). If you are interested in participating, please reply to this message and read Ingold's article before Monday rolls around.

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Interesting, John.  I'm pro-Ingold.  Is  that bad?  I think it's time for ethnographology--studying the ethnograph and looking for predictable patterns of culture that can help us anticipate the rise or onset of anything.  After description is prescription.  Let's move on and solve problems  related to culture.  I'll share more when the seminar begins.

I will participate. In summary this article has been very influential for me as it outlines a certain approach that reaches way beyond anthropology in asking what the point of academia is and what does it means to 'know'. 

In terms of anthropology it has helped clarify the subject as an exercise in learning about the world, through a field-site and the ethnographic data collected during fieldwork. This enables one to reflect on questions that are relevant beyond the context of ones field-site but are grounded in it.

Will elaborate once this seminar begins. Thanks for starting it off John!

M., Abraham, glad to have you both on board. I will be very interested in seeing what you and Abraham see in the article and hearing more about how he influences your thinking. 

M., no, it is not bad to be pro-Ingold. Neither is it bad to be anti-Ingold. What I am hoping, however, is that as we begin this seminar we can avoid the usual academic trap of taking predefined, judgmental positions and hammering away at each other like Punch and Judy. One of my projects for today is to write a piece on preparing for the seminar that elaborates what I mean by that in a more positive vein [I can already see my academic habits creeping in in my use of "avoid" followed by a negative characterization "predefined, judgmental positions" and "hammering away.]

Stay tuned.

I'm in



    Sign me up.  You’re right that the concept-project of “ethnography” is fundamental to anthropology, and Ingold’s provocative article provides an excellent starting point for a thorough examination of it.  Regrettably, HAU, while a first-class journal, touts its “open access” format but does not have an “open reply” feature to accompany that access – so communication, as with almost all academic writing, is a one-way street.  Thank goodness we have OAC.  This should be interesting.  

I will participate.

I'm in.

Magda, thank you for joining us. The seminar is now underway. Please check this list of forums.


If you wish to participate in the seminar please use this link to get there.


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