Tim Ingold's "That's Enough About Ethnography"--The Seminar is Underway

Officially, the seminar begins on Monday. But here, to get things started are our first assignments. 

(1) Several of us are already acquainted. Others may be meeting us for the first time. Please add a few words about yourself. For example,

I am, yes, an old white man, 70 years old, a U.S. citizen of Scots-Irish-German-Alsatian descent who has lived and worked in Japan since 1980. I have been married to the same woman, who is also my best friend and business partner, for 45 years. We have one highly accomplished daughter and two grandkids, a boy and a girl. I am an independent scholar who has neither a career nor a livelihood at stake in our debates. 
 
(2) Then, to get things started, the following exercise.

Early in this article, Ingold tells us that he "will not refrain from polemic." Then, as those writing polemics often do, he contrasts a nightmare with a vision of better things.

He describes the nightmare as follows,

How many research proposals have we read, coming from such fields as sociology, social policy, social psychology and education, in which the applicant explains that he or she will conduct “ethnographic interviews” with a sample of randomly selected informants, the data from which will then be processed by means of a recommended software package in order to yield “results”? 

He then describes his vision, 

Proper, rigorous anthropological inquiry—including long-term and open-ended commitment, generous attentiveness, relational depth, and sensitivity to context.

Please tell us what this nightmare and vision evoke for you. Describe any feelings, images, or thoughts that come to mind as you read these descriptions. Be as concrete as possible.

Remember, at this point, we are not evaluating these descriptions. We want to discover how they are interpreted by each of us here, and where what they evoke for each of us may overlap or conversely be very different.

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Huon, I really like this statement. I am curious how others will respond to it.

Can we go back to Ingold's main goal in his paper?

He complains about the misuse and overuse of ethnography in other fields/disciplines.  Can his ontological classification/definition of ethnography and treatment of anthropology as education reclaim ethnography and make it exclusive for anthropologists?   If not, how can it be reclaimed?  Is there even a need to reclaim it?

The reality today is that even a dance major can go to the field, learn a dance, and call her experience, training, and study ethnographic.  Even a creative writer can go to the field, stay there for days, observe an exotic culture, write a novel, and call it ethnographic non-fiction (ethnographic fiction, if the story is a fabrication). 

Another reality is that other disciplines in social sciences have their own exclusive methods other disciplines do not usually usurp/encroach--like econometrics for economists and counseling for psychologists.  

If everyone can be an ethnographer, even creative writers or culinary artists, what is left for anthropologists?

M, my reading was that part of Ingold's point was that "ethnography" is used so widely that for anthropologists to claim that's the main thing we do is diluting and misleading. No, we can't monopolize the term "ethnography", nor should we need to. The quality of our research and writing comes from the training that informs it, which includes reading ethnography, and our research experiences, in which we practice putting that training to the test.

In this I agree with Ingold that if we want to differentiate ourselves from others then we are better off emphasizing the anthropology. After all, realistically only anthropologists can claim to be anthropologists... that's kind of the point. And whereas ethnography is graphing cultures, anthropology is, as Huon says, the study of the human condition broadly defined. The fact that we try, as Huon says, to

enter into and then give conceptual form to the realm of meaning that constitutes these people's lives

is informed by our anthropology and in turn, if we do this well, we might be able to turn this into an ethnography or some other record that communicates both our perceptions from our fieldwork (often drawn from fieldnotes) and our analysis of what is taking place. You can have one without the other but they don't tend to convey nearly as much depth.

Thank you, Erin.  My reading of all paragraphs under "Explaining what we mean" is about redefining/revisiting ethnography and making it exclusive to anthropology.  In relation to the function of anthropology and the relevance of anthropologists, my reading is about job description and anthropological employment.

I find these two very insightful:

"For I believe that this overuse is doing great harm to anthropology, that it is holding it back while other fields of study are surging forward, and that it is actually preventing our discipline from having the kind of impact in the world that it deserves and that the world so desperately needs."

"Such a procedure, in which ethnographic appears to be a modish substitute for qualitative, offends every principle of proper, rigorous anthropological inquiry—including long-term and open-ended commitment, generous attentiveness, relational depth, and sensitivity to context—and we are right to protest against it."

Ingold's paper almost sounds cryptic because of its incompleteness; I want to hear straight from him whether the ethnography of non-anthropologists dilutes and devalues the ethnography of anthropologists.  How can anthropologists distinctly tell the public about the ethnography they are doing if it is not different compared to the ethnography of non-anthropologists?    

 

Sorry have to repost this Erin, just hit a big nail on head for me in terms of eloquently getting to the point:

In this I agree with Ingold that if we want to differentiate ourselves from others then we are better off emphasizing the anthropology. After all, realistically only anthropologists can claim to be anthropologists... that's kind of the point. And whereas ethnography is graphing cultures, anthropology is, as Huon says, the study of the human condition broadly defined. The fact that we try, as Huon says, to

enter into and then give conceptual form to the realm of meaning that constitutes these people's lives

is informed by our anthropology and in turn, if we do this well, we might be able to turn this into an ethnography or some other record that communicates both our perceptions from our fieldwork (often drawn from fieldnotes) and our analysis of what is taking place. You can have one without the other but they don't tend to convey nearly as much depth.

I would add in chorus with you and Izabel then that Ingold is simply stating that he expects

(a) anthropologists to think before they speak, and not simply use the word 'ethnographic' or 'ethnography' willy-nilly (ontology and anthropocene probably being other examples)

(b) that when we come across people (anthropologists or not) using the term willy-nilly then we question them as to whether they can walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

 and then what he suggests additionally

(c) is that as Erin put it anthropologists do anthropology, a task far more expansive than ethnography

Erin and Abraham,

"In this I agree with Ingold that if we want to differentiate ourselves from others then we are better off emphasizing the anthropology".

I agree, but we have to face the truth that funds are in ethnography.  We should not give it up easily to other disciplines. There are too many unemployed/underemployed anthropologists, and the rate of enrollment in anthropology departments anywhere in the world is declining.  Is it because of issues concerning relevance and employability?  

Ingold gives us this linear model: anthropology in the field, ethnography after the field.  With that,  can anthropologists redefine and reclaim ethnography by proclaiming to the public that a solid ethnography is the result of a solid anthropology?     

Izabel in contrast to popular opinion, and this does not mean I do nothing or believe nothing should done in the area you identify, i do not sign up to this need for anthropology to change in terms of getting better employment. I do not believe in an obsession with jobs and employment. I do not easily accept this role of anthropologist being subject to a money-master, despite my phd being almost that - though i resist. That does not mean I don't think anthropology does/has a pervasive role, just not in a world where anthropology has to cow tow to some employability scheme. I don't do anthropology to get populist sentiment to agree with me, if anything its to question and disagree with it. I am however with you, that it is something that needs addressing but not by simply merging with the status quo. Perhaps that seems like a priviledged or naive thing to say but i dont think it is.

Also I do not believe ethnography is somehow ours to give or take either, Ingold is not arguing to abandon ethnography or reclaim it or keep it, but simply not inflate and conflate it. I am surprised Keith hasn't jumped on this point, as I know he is not a fan of the fetishisation of and obsession with ethnography that Malinowskians have. 

Abraham, as I said, Ingold's paper is almost a puzzle to me, so I do close-reading.  If he is here, my first question will be: is your paper restrained because you have non-anthropologist friends who are ethnographers, and you don't want to offend them? 

What's the use of saying the following if it is not about the precise description/definition of ethnography as done by anthropologists?  With his usage of "currency" and "enterprise", whose business ethnography should be?

"Rather, I am concerned to narrow ethnography down so that to those who ask us, in good faith, what it means, we can respond with precision and conviction. Only by doing so, I contend, can we protect it from the inflation that is otherwise threatening to devalue its currency to the extent of rendering the entire enterprise worthless."

I wonder what he means by the following statements.  What is "somewhere else"--outside of anthropology?

"In the settings of seminars, workshops and conferences, academic anthropologists talk a great deal about ethnography, but rarely if ever do they claim to be doing it. The ethnography, it seems, is always going on somewhere else."

Why talk about "right to describe" and "authority" if they are not about the job description of anthropologists?

"Quite reasonably, controversial questions have been asked about who has the right to describe, on what grounds any description may be taken to be more truthful or authoritative than any other, to what extent the presence of the author can or should be acknowledged within the text, and how the whole process of writing it might be made more collaborative." 

 

I am not against ethnography, although some think I am. The ethnographic revolution against evolutionary racism was by far our greatest achievement in the 20th century. In an earlier post on this thread, I claimed for ethnography (with literature, history, case law etc) the core humanistic practice of seeking general truths by going deeply into particular times, places and personalities. In fact the new human universal, unlike its predecessors like catholicism, colonial empire and bourgeois economics which suppressed cultural particulars, can only be realised through giving them full expression. Ethnography, because it gives priority to life over ideas, is an essential driver of that movement.

Any discipline worthy of the name has a coherent object, theory and method. Thus the object of the Malinowski school was the sociology of simple societies (which were thought  to offer a window on complex societies); the theory was functionalism (whatever they do makes sense to them); and the method was fieldwork (go and live with them to find out what they do and think). Object, theory and method were a coherent whole. The result was the classical monographs of the interwar period. Note that neither ethnography nor anthropology figured directly in the definition.

We have abandoned contemplating what the object and theory of anthropology might be. We have reduced  ethnography to an empty mantra, a mere method. How can we say that anthropology is what matters when noone has any idea what it is for as a theoretically constructed field? No wonder we are at sea. I think Tim Ingold does aspire to a coherent object, theory and method for our discipline. The present paper doesn't make much of a job of this. But that is because he has gone further elsewhere.

Keith, thank you. This statement is very clear and, at least on first reading, compelling. Let me offer a couple of thoughts.

In the first paragraph, you assert that, "The new human universal, unlike its predecessors like catholicism, colonial empire and bourgeoise economics which suppressed cultural particulars, can only be realised through giving them full expression." I totally agree.

Then, however, in the first sentence of your second paragraph you write, "Any discipline worthy of the name has a coherent object, theory and method." Inspired by the work of Zygmunt Bauman, I am thinking in particular of Liquid Modernity, I say to myself, isn't a discipline conceived in these terms as anachronistic as other forms of modernism, whose distinguishing feature was not only an attempt to dissolve old boundaries, but to create new, more sharply defined, and in principle eternal ones? Isn't a discipline conceived in these terms, a world of discrete domains of knowledge, an anachronism in a networked world where people study all sorts of things using all sorts of methods, with large overlaps in both theory and method a predictable consequence of the world in which we all work?

Suppose that instead of conceiving of anthropology as having a unique, clearly bounded space of its own, we conceived of anthropology instead as an intersection where a number of distinct lines of inquiry converge? Then, for example, we might note, using evidence from the USA in the 1960s, when I was trained, that an anthropologist was expected to have at least a basic knowledge of archeology, linquistics, and human biology, as well as sociology. Theory was an area where anthropology and sociology overlapped; students in both fields read Durkheim, Weber, and Marx; some of us even read Simmel. The major difference between an anthropologist and a sociologist was that the former new something about archeology, linquistics and human biology, while the sociologist was supposed to know more about quantitative methods. In many small colleges, graduates from Ph.D. programs in anthropology found themselves teaching in combined Sociology-Anthropology departments, where students learned rudiments of survey design and quantitative analysis from the sociologists and, if their focus was cultural anthropology, read ethnography and ethnology with the anthropology faculty.

I know that this has changed. I recall a trenchant remark by Andeanist John Murtha following a colloquium. I had said that the two speakers had been talking past each other. Murtha replied that they had never gotten around to the real issues. I raised an eyebrow, and he said, "Office space and whose students get grants." Battles over those real issues in a time of declining resources have hardened boundaries and made claiming one label instead of another a life-defining event. But should it be?

Perhaps instead of arguing where the boundaries of anthropology lie or indulging in the logically equivalent debate over the essence of what is assumed to be a discrete field of inquiry, we should be asking ourselves what students in anthropology programs need to know to cooperate effectively with people whose disciplinary training equips them with different expertise. [This happens to be the focus of my own current research where teams composed of people assembled because they bring different skills to the table have emerged as a topic of central concern. But enough of that for the moment.]

Let's hear what others have to say.

On Anthro-L, Thomas Riley has just written the following, which strikes me as possibly relevant to our discussion here.

Education isn’t an institution, and shouldn’t be considered as such.  Education occurs at the edges of institutions, finds and emphasizes those cracks and fissures and edge boundaries, and finally, education creates sheer planes and perhaps a new crystallization of the matrix… with the application of heat and pressure.

We show the cracks, hopefully, and students follow them out and determine how to implement change.  I hope we facilitate that, but often we cannot do that effectively.  It is the students who carry us along in this generation, and they in the next…..

I would also like to draw your attention to this interview with Sherry Ortner on Anthropology of This Century. Ortner, perhaps best known  for her work on feminist anthropology, has had a long and distinguished career, starting with classic, Malinowski-style fieldwork among the Sherpa in Nepal but evolving to include a study of the life trajectories of the members of the class with whom she graduated from a public high school in New Jersey, and most recently, fieldwork among independent film makers. I draw your attention, in particular, to her explanation of this most recent turn in her work. She wanted, she says, to restudy the Hollywood film industry in the spirit of Hortense Powdermaker's classic Hollywood The Dream Factory (1950) but found the PR walls now surrounding the industry impenetrable. So she turned to the independents instead. In this respect, her work deserves close comparison with that of Lee Drummond. 

Keith said:  

           "I think Tim Ingold does aspire to a coherent object, theory and method for our discipline."

 

That's the sense I get from the paper too.  One of his clear concerns is the public image of anthropology that is related to its relevance and what anthropologists should be doing.  

 

Even without the following as his introduction, I can sense that his paper is questioning the excesses of ethnography outside of anthropology:

 

"How many research proposals have we read, coming from such fields as sociology, social policy, social psychology and education, in which the applicant explains that he or she will conduct “ethnographic interviews” with a sample of randomly selected informants, the data from which will then be processed by means of a recommended software package in order to yield “results”?"

 

I checked around;  "Anthropological Methods" has not been replaced with "Ethnographic Methods".  "Anthropological fieldwork" is still used.  The anthropological in Anthropological Theories has not been redefined as ethnographic. Who are the culprits then?  I think those ethnographers from other disciplines.  

 

I also checked three ethnographic method books on Amazon.  They were written by linguists and sociologists.  Why couldn't they call it participant observation if that was really the method being detailed in their books?  Is that academic/professional encroachment?  When I checked the history of ethnography, what I read was all about anthropological fieldwork and participant observation.  Why can’t anthropologists make ethnography one of the anthropological methods that is exclusively their own?

   

I like it when anthropologists use "ethnography" only in the titles of their dissertations or books--example, "The Making of a Waterfront Suburb: An Ethnography of Coastal Gentrification in New Jersey."  I think that is the right usage of ethnography, if I understand Ingold correctly.  It is in writing, structuring, connecting, graphing, relating, or making sense of the data collected from the field where ethnography is really being done.  "Graphos", after all, is literally related to drawing or writing.

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