The notion, here, is that we're all anthropologists. Many of us are card-carrying anthropologists, very literally. So we may be a bit biased, here. But it'd still be interesting to discuss the relationships between anthropology and other ethnographic disciplines. Especially since there seems to be some confusion about these relationships, even among card-carrying anthropologists.

Several anthropologists act and talk as if ethnography belonged to them. Anyone doing ethnography without an official affiliation to anthropology is an usurper. Ethnography is an exclusive prerogative of (some) anthropologists. A prominent linguistic anthropologist went as far as to say that members of other disciplines are "borrowing" ethnography from anthropology. That comment, interestingly enough, attracted strong reactions from members of the audience who were pointing out long-standing ethnographic work in other disciplines, such as sociology.
To a card-carrying folklorist, would seem quite strange to restrict ethnography to anthropology. Some folklorists have been claiming that pioneers of their discipline invented ethnography. It might require a bit of library research but it does seem accurate to say that there were folklorists and philologists doing ethnographic fieldwork before cultural anthropologists started doing it. In fact, this same linguistic anthropologist had previously mentioned ethnographic work done by Lucjan Malinowski and others in Habsburg-era Europe. Apparently, Bronislaw's father was publishing books with "ethnography" in the title before the prominent LSE scholar was born.
This question might be of special interest to ethnomusicologists, who tend to have cyclical discussions about defining their discipline. The origins of ethnomusicology are partly found in comparative musicology, which has more to do with psychology and acoustics than with ethnographic disciplines. But ethnomusicology has also had some very direct connections with folkloristics and "ethnology." In a way, one might say that ethnomusicology is an ethnographic discipline dealing with music, with some special connections to other approaches to music. Ethnomusicology does relate to anthropology, especially to cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology. It doesn't tend to have much relation to archæology or biological anthropology. In this sense, the connection between ethnomusicology and anthropology has more to do with the ethnographic approach evident in both linguistic anthropology and cultural anthropology than with the four-fields anthropology departments which serve as a model in North America.

Do we own ethnography?

Views: 170

Replies to This Discussion

Alexandre Enkerli said:
I do want to hear it. But having to rewrite these things can be frustrating, so don't feel forced to do it.

Forced? Me? The original Mr. Logorrhea? Here's the story.

In 1969, when Ruth and I arrived in Puli, one of the first things we did was go to call on Fr. Clarence "Clancy" Engler, the Maryknoll missionary who was the priest of the local Catholic Church. Back then, several graduate students from Cornell had done fieldwork in central Taiwan, where the Maryknollers were based, and the relationship between the anthropologists and these relatively open-minded priests who were generous when it came to sharing their scotch and back copies of Time and Newsweek was, we were told, something we should make an effort to maintain. As it turned out, Ruth and I would use the Maryknoll textbooks to study Taiwanese; but that's another story.

I still remember the day, early on in the first year, when Fr. Clancy asked me what anthropologists, who typically came to Taiwan for stays of only one or two years, could teach someone like him who had been there for fifteen years (and, I must add, spoke Taiwanese fluently). When he asked the question, I was stumped for an answer. But a year or so later, I had one. "Have you ever noticed," I asked, "the special role that the mother's brother of the groom plays in Taiwanese weddings?" I wouldn't have noticed it myself if I hadn't been primed by reading Radcliffe-Brown's "The Mother's Brother in South Africa," where R-B predicts a special role for the mother's brother in patrilineal societies with virilocal marriage.

Then, of course, there was my dissertation project. Having been invited by a local Daoist Master to become his disciple, I had spent roughly two days in three traveling around Taiwan with him photographing and taking notes on the rituals he performed. Influenced by reading Lévi-Strauss, I was beginning to conceptualize what I was seeing as a set of transformations of a basic structure, with particular combinations of elements corresponding to the spirits being invoked in the rituals. As a student of Victor Turner, I was intrigued to discover that this basic structure inverted that of the rites of passage on which Turner, following Van Gennep, had focused his work on ritual symbols. Instead of a transition from one status to another via a liminal period betwixt-and-between, in which communication was supposed to flow primarily from the spirits to the initiand, what I was observing was the ritual dramatization of a transaction in which the spirit is invited to share food, affirming a relationship; a negotiation takes place, during which the primary flow of information is from the human to the spirit instead of vice-versa; followed by sending the spirit on its way, restoring the original categorical distance between human and spirit without altering the status of either. (There, in brief, is the guts of my Ph.D. dissertation.)

I realized that I had had what I mentioned in the previous message, the extraordinary privilege of two years in which to pursue my interests unimpeded by any other obligations. I had, in addition, been equipped by my graduate training in anthropology to ask questions and see things in ways that most people don't. In contrast, most of Fr. Clancy's fifteen years in Taiwan had been spent on priestly duties and, as a priest, he would never have the opportunity to do what I did, traveling around with my Daoist Master. And while his training as a priest might equip him to ask questions that I never would, my training as an anthropologist equipped me to ask questions that would never occur to him.

This wasn't, I reflected, true of only Fr. Clancy. Most of the "old hands" we met were in similar situations. Whether business or military people, diplomats or teachers, they all had day jobs that limited the time and energy available for exploring what was going on around them. And rarely were their questions framed in terms of the anthropological knowledge, theories and ethnographic comparisons, with which training in anthropology had equipped me. That extraordinary privilege and extraordinary training did, indeed, give the anthropologist a different perspective from which to contribute to all sorts of conversations.

It is that privilege and that training that to me remains to this day the core of what being an anthropologist is to me.
I liked the Japanese example very much also the guts of the dissertation. Thanks.

I am not commenting on what you wrote, this is just a link suggestion. I found Ingold's rereading of Radcliff-Brown interesting even if I am not sure about the other explanations.

Tim Ingold in his 2007 Radcliff-Brown lecture at British Academy had the following title: "Anthropology is not ethnography" It is downloadable. I think it was also posted at John Postill's blog.
John McCreery said:
Fr. Clancy asked me what anthropologists, who typically came to Taiwan for stays of only one or two years, could teach someone like him who had been there for fifteen years (and, I must add, spoke Taiwanese fluently).
Your narrative as a whole is fascinating but this specific issue is of special interest to me. It may also be one that we all share, at least since Owusu's comments on the "uselessness" of ethnography.
"Length of stay" is an important concept, to a number of people. Even people with little notion of what ethnographic research might entail ask questions about it as soon as I discuss my work in Mali. Anthropologists often use "extensive field trips" as part of their definition for ethnography, dismissing the kind of short ethnographic studies which are typically done outside of anthropology (for instance in folkloristics, health research, and consumer research).
But is "length of stay" that important in distinguishing ethnography from other approaches? Don't we run the risk of romanticizing the "year in the field" idea? And, if duration is so important, what is the general answer to Fr. Clancy?
Glad you could join us. Had noticed this on John's blog and kept thinking about it. It's one reason I thought it important to discuss the relationships between anthropology and ethnography. But, from what I remember of Ingold's text, his is mostly about defining anthropology outside of "ethnography as a method." It seems to me important to discuss broader issues related to ethnography.

Hülya Demirdirek said:
I liked the Japanese example very much also the guts of the dissertation. Thanks.

I am not commenting on what you wrote, this is just a link suggestion. I found Ingold's rereading of Radcliff-Brown interesting even if I am not sure about the other explanations.

Tim Ingold in his 2007 Radcliff-Brown lecture at British Academy had the following title: "Anthropology is not ethnography" It is downloadable. I think it was also posted at John Postill's blog.
I'm really enjoying this conversation. I'm a long time out of direct involvement with anthropology, but I'm currently being educated into human geography. I find the parts of the conversation about who has a 'right' to ethnography, and how to make knowledge production and distribution more open, particularly interesting.

The key question with the former seems to me to be: is ethnography an entire 'way of being' and perceiving in the field which is 'owned' by a specific discipline (anthropology), or is it a method to which different disciplines, epistemologies and methodologies bring their particular ways of being and perceiving?

Based on this conversation, the view from anthropology would seem to be the first, and the view from other social research disciplines would seem to be the second. Is this simply an exercise in preservation of boundary and position by anthropology, or is what other disciplines do with ethnography sufficiently different for anthropology's claim to it to have merit?

On the latter area regarding knowledge, I thought some of the current work on public geographies might be of interest as comparison:

http://www.pygywg.org/

http://engaginggeography.wordpress.com/2-seminars/i-how-did-that-ha...

http://guerrillageography.blogspot.com/

http://urbanearth.ning.com/

Are there similar/related initiatives in anthropology?
Alexandre Enkerli said:
But is "length of stay" that important in distinguishing ethnography from other approaches? Don't we run the risk of romanticizing the "year in the field" idea? And, if duration is so important, what is the general answer to Fr. Clancy?

First of all, please note that I began by agreeing with Owen that "ethnography" has escaped the grasp of those who might wish to define it in a way that would claim that the only real ethnography is the research conducted during the traditional year or two in the field. As you have noted, ethnography means many things to many people; that cat is out of the bag and there is no going back. That is why I wrote in the previous message only that going away and hanging around might deserve closer attention. Closer might reveal why this mode of ethnography has particular advantages that other sorts, e.g., the quick and dirty, multi-sited, team-based approach described by Patricia Sutherland and Rita Denny in Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research, do not.

Second, the general answer to Fr. Clancy is a statement with two conditions: (1) a large amount of free time available to pursue whatever the ethnographer wants to learn more about AND (2) the sort of assumptions and questions that an ethnographer trained in anthropology brings to that enterprise. If duration alone were at issue, I would still be stumped by Fr. Clancy's question. But it isn't. This is a proposition with the form p AND q and both p and q must be true.

Third, my research was, in fact, a notable departure from the standard community-study approach adopted by previous anthropologists working in Taiwan. As a student of Victor Turner I believed that in the best-of-all-possible anthropological worlds I would have a lot of data about the social context in which a ritual was performed as well as native exegesis to inform my interpretation of what various symbols meant to participants in the ritual. The problem that I encountered as soon as we arrived in Puli is that, while Turner had worked with people who live in grass huts in villages with couple of dozen inhabitants, conduct much of their social life in public, and talk openly and endlessly about the parties to disputes going back generations, I was in a town of 35,000 people, who live behind brick walls, who do quarrel in public but keep much of their social life confidential, and do not begin to talk about quarrels going back generations until they have taken a considerable time to get to know you.

I found myself, in other words, having to focus my research. When the Daoist Master whose storefront temple I had fallen into the habit of visiting two or three times a week asked if I wanted to see him perform a ritual in a nearby village, I said yes. The following day I hopped in a taxi with him, was driven to the village, and watched him set up his alter and perform what were to me still utterly unintelligible gestures and chants. Then, when we broke for lunch, he called me aside and said that the Jade Emperor had appeared to him in a dream and told him that I should become his disciple. Remember that this was the 60s. I was a graduate student in need of a dissertation topic. I didn't turn him down.

Then, however, I found myself in a situation that inverted the usual assumptions about anthropological community studies. Day after day, I was being driven to places the length and breadth of Taiwan in which my Master would perform his rites. I could photograph them and make notes about them, even ask my Master about what he thought he was doing, but the clients for whom he performed them were and remained strangers. So instead of spending all my time in a single community or neighborhood where I would get to know everybody but only see the handful of rituals that happened to be performed during the year or two I spent there, instead I was collecting masses of data on variations in rituals addressed to different spirits and becoming familiar with my Master's repertoire. My accidental research design turned out to be much like that of the linguist who studies an alien language with the aid of a single collaborator. I could analyze with confidence the grammar of the ritual process and even understand a bit of its poetry. Could I say what any particular rite meant to any particular client for whom it was performed or what, if any, lasting effect it had on the client's health or social relations? No.

So, I could tell Fr. Clancy quite a bit about rites that he had never seen but in which he, as a priest who performed rites of his own, took a professional interest. If he asked "Did they work?" I could only say that I had no way of knowing. I was like a theater critic who may know his Shakespeare but have no idea how particular members of an audience might be affected by the the performance at which I had, only glancingly, noted their presence.

I do run on. More questions will yield more elaborate answers.
It is a good conversation and I don't want to be a pub bore banging on about something no-one else wants to listen to. But I wish to argue that "ethnography" has been reduced to a method, loosely "fieldwork", that has been appropriated by many disciplines. If we want to interrogate (a good postmodern expression) its relationship to "anthropology", Ingold is a start, I suppose, but what he shares with the vast bulk of the rest, including (it appears) the contributors to this conversation, is an exclusively academic definition of what either term is for. I mentioned key figures of the liberal Enlightenment because their pursuit of knowledge of human nature was part of a push to replace the arbitrary inequality of the Old Regime with democratic societies founded on what all human beings had in common.

Anthropology in the 19th century was less revolutionary in its aims, but it was guided by the need to explain how and why a few Europeans took over the world so easily. The result was the construction of humanity as an evolving racial hierarchy, using a combination of cultural and biological factors to explain why white people were on top. Even so, Lewis Henry Morgan was a radical democrat whose Ancient Society was immediately picked up by Marx and Engels as a powerful tool for revolutionary politics.

The imperialist model of anthropology was already in some disarray when ethnography emerged as a rival paradigm in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was politically motivated, both as a nationalist exercise in Central Europe and as a reaction against racist imperialism in the centres of Empire. Malinowski moved easily between both. This later became linked to a radical move within the universities to take the study of humanity out of the ivory tower and join the people where they live in order to find out what they do and think.

It takes an effort to recall the radically democratic tone adopted by those establishment stalwarts, Fortes and Evans-Pritchard, in their introduction to African Political Systems (1940). Political theory, they say has hitherto been the province of white men who never went anywhere. We need to break with the classrooms, libraries and laboratories of the academy and go out there to discover what people want and are really doing. Scientific ethnography will make the history of western philosophy redundant overnight.

This challenge to book learning did not go unheeded by the custodians of academic tradition, one of whom referred to the anthropologists' field of study as "the wild girations of savage tribes". At Cambridge, it took several decades and a strike organized by Fortes to force the colleges to appoint anthropologists as fellows. That's how Leach and Goody won college positions. The story of how the Manchester School of ethnographers fought racist imperialism in Southern Africa is well-known.

Now I don't want to force this historical relationship between anthropology, ethnography and the struggle for democracy down your throats. But I would suggest that its reinvention under contemporary circumstances might be one antidote to what most people acknowledge is academic malaise. Hence I advocate a new object for anthropology, the making of a world society fit for all humanity, and the search for appropriate theories and methods. This impetus ought to build on, not replace, the one serious political move that our profession has made in the last century or more, namely to insist on joining the people where they live rather than make up stories from within the ivory tower. But it will take more than that too.
Elinor,
Glad you're enjoying this. So am I! Thankfully, we can all contribute, regardless of the directness of our involvement in officially anthropological contexts.
To me, personally, ethnography is indeed a "way of being" but it's not one that is exclusive to anthropology. Aviva Rosenstein's work in user research can be truly ethnographic, regardless of her connection to anthropology. In fact, even the master narrative of anthropology's history is filled with people who were trained in other disciplines and still became ethnographers. That may be common for young disciplines, but it's still striking.

As for open dissemination of knowledge, it does seem that academic anthropology could learn something from other academic disciplines, including human geography. A question, though. What is the role of publishing houses in human geography? A set of arguments used by anthropologists against Open Access had to do with this notion that their livelihood depends on publishers. It seems highly disputable and Open Access can certainly cohabit with ("clueful") paid publishing. But the perceived role of publishers in academic anthropology may have an impact on how members of anthro departments react in discussions about Open Access.
John,

I may have been unclear. My questions about "length of stay" weren't directed at you. We clearly seem to be on the same "side" on this issue. But I was trying to use your post to launch something in that direction.

I really like your description of that fieldwork. Like you say, it's quite far from the common pattern of the time. In fact, it reminds me of Asen Balikci's comments about doing fieldwork in Afghanistan. His background in "small-scale societies" (with "totipotent" culture: everybody perceived to have the same knowledge!) didn't prepare him properly to work in such a complex society as Afghanistan. His approach to ethnography was probably incompatible with the work you were able to do, even before his Afghan attempt.
What's interesting, though, is that the discipline has since turned to something quite similar to what you describe. I'm thinking about my own fieldwork in Mali (1998 and 2002) as well as about some textbooks I've been using in my teaching. The classic view of anthropological field stays is still prominent, but your own fieldwork practise is representative of what is done now.
In other words, it seems that you were a precursor!
Keith,

We seem to be in agreement about a number of those issues. Which may not be such a bad thing. Especially since our vantage points seem to be different. Mine is perhaps too restrictive, as I've been thinking about a specific set of issues because of what I've been trying to do in my podcast. So I read your posts with too constrained a "mindframe."

We're clearly agreed that ethnography can and should be defined outside of academic contexts. I still see it as an approach to intellectual endeavours more than as a basis for social activism, but I see your point.
We're also agreed about long-standing goals for anthropological work. In fact, in comparison to other ethnographers, anthropologists seem to be more on the "revolutionary" side than on the "reactionary" side. It seems to be a durable feature of anthropology, one which connects to both our intellectual past and our current involvement. It may sound like a pun but I think the "revolutionary" aspect of anthropology is the same in relation to Kuhn and to Robespierre. What I personally see as our current role as anthropologists is to provide necessary insight in the transition to post-nationalism and the end of Western hegemony.
At least, that's what I'd say if we were at a pub. Especially one serving real ale.

Yet, revolutions are typically planned at cafés.
As I review this conversation, I think about the multiple levels at which the conversation is proceeding.

Alexander Enkerli

Several anthropologists act and talk as if ethnography belonged to them. Anyone doing ethnography without an official affiliation to anthropology is an usurper. Ethnography is an exclusive prerogative of (some) anthropologists.

Elinor Predota

The key question... seems to me to be: is ethnography an entire 'way of being' and perceiving in the field which is 'owned' by a specific discipline (anthropology), or is it a method to which different disciplines, epistemologies and methodologies bring their particular ways of being and perceiving?

John McCreery

I realized that I had had ... the extraordinary privilege of two years in which to pursue my interests unimpeded by any other obligations. I had, in addition, been equipped by my graduate training in anthropology to ask questions and see things in ways that most people don't.

Keith Hart

It takes an effort to recall the radically democratic tone adopted by those establishment stalwarts, Fortes and Evans-Pritchard, in their introduction to African Political Systems (1940). Political theory, they say has hitherto been the province of white men who never went anywhere. We need to break with the classrooms, libraries and laboratories of the academy and go out there to discover what people want and are really doing. Scientific ethnography will make the history of western philosophy redundant overnight.

Alexander raises an issue that for many has become a hot topic because the relation of ethnography to anthropology touches on the definition not just of an academic discipline but also of academic departments for whom failure to brand themselves in a way that communicates value to those who control the funding they need may result in extinction and loss of livelihood. Predota pursues this direction, focusing on the question -- an intellectual property issue -- who owns ethnography. Anthropologists may want to claim it as a mark of distinction for brand anthropology, but to others it has simply become part of the methods toolkit. Next week I will be having lunch with Dominic Carter, the founder of Carter Associates, a market research firm that describes what it does as "Unmasking Japan." On the company's website, I find the following statement:

Carter Associates provides the gamut of research solutions necessary to become familiar with the Japanese market. These may include desk research, group discussions, depth interviews, ethnographic/observational exercises, or primary quantitative surveys.

Ethnography in this depiction has become "ethnographic/observational exercises," stuck between depth interviews and primary quantitative surveys: a technical competence but nothing earth-shaking.

It is important in reading McCreery to know that being young and foolish at a time when US academia was beginning its long implosion following the end of the baby boom, he busted out of academia, failed to get tenure, and had to find other ways to make a living. As a self-supporting independent scholar he has no livelihood stake in departmental or disciplinary definitions. As someone approaching 65 and reminiscing about a an unexpected life, his major concern is self-definition. What was that all about? And where do we go from here? His concerns are more personal and less constrained by disciplinary boundaries.

Hart's involvement touches on both institutional and personal concerns, but here I see a call to raise our sights, to reconsider our roots and how, by returning to those roots, anthropology might once again become a strong voice in what (borrowing a term from philosopher Stanley Cavell) I will call the "conversation of justice." From this perspective, ethnography's relation to anthropology is of literally world historical importance.

As I read the paragraph quoted above, I recall that African Political Systems was one of the first books I read when Marc Swartz (of Swartz, Turner and Tuden, Political Anthropology) was inspiring me to become an anthropologist. But what I recall is reading it through the eyes of a philosophy major whose focus had been on logic and philosophy of science and whose grasp of the history of philosophy skipped abruptly from the British Empiricists to the Logical Positivists. So the reading was dry, uninformed by any awareness of the political passions that Hart now informs me were in play.

I smack my forehead and say, "Of course, just look at the date," African Political Systems (1940). WWII is beginning. The great totalitarians have millions of armed followers. The question of whether human beings could get along if "the withering away of the state" actually occurred is a hot one. So is the way in which rulers manipulate symbol and ritual to claim quasi- or real divinity! With the Nuremberg rallies recent news and the Japanese empire stirring in the East, there was more at stake here than succession to the Shilluk kingship or the right to occupy an Azande chiefly stool, considered as curious customs whose function ought to be understood in dry, social scientific terms.

This is a discussion I would like to continue.

But so is another that I have tentatively labeled "Alternative Ethnographies," thinking of work like Sutherland and Denny's Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research, Tom Boelstroff's Coming of Age in Second Life , Chris Kelty's Two Bits about the free and open software movement, my own Japanese Consumer Behavior: From Worker Bees to Wary Shoppers and my current project: "Winners' Circles: SNA-Driven ethnography of award-winning creative teams in Japan." Here the common thread is the authors' grappling with how to adapt ethnography to the opportunities and challenges of a world very different from that in which Malinowski or Boas defined our primordial model.

Should I start a new discussion? Or is this asking too much of people with other, to them, more pressing concerns?
As has often been the case,on mailing-lists, McCreery does a good job at synthesizing important points in this discussion.

In fact, it might be time to put this thread on the back-burner and expand this group's discussion base. Let's hope that
Predota, Demirdirek, Wiltshire, Hart, McCreery, and Enkerli can all keep the ball rolling and get more people involved.

"Alternative ethnographies" would be an interesting topic, and one which might bring in more OAC members. The obvious question is: "alternative to what?" It can work as a way to define ethnography more broadly, even if the focus is still on academic anthropology.

Speaking of which... McCreery and Enkerli have a few things in common. While Enkerli has maintained connections with academic departments, he isn't directly part of the tenure system. In fact, Enkerli has been going through a (partial) professional reorientation which involves work in the private sector, in which context he has read Sunderland and Denny upon McCreery's suggestion. McCreery and Enkerli may have followed different paths, but there are some crossing points between their distinct paths.

I'm personally appreciative of everyone's participation in this thread. It does sound like there's a lot to be said about ethnography in a broad frame.

John McCreery said:
As I review this conversation, I think about the multiple levels at which the conversation is proceeding.

Alexander Enkerli

Several anthropologists act and talk as if ethnography belonged to them. Anyone doing ethnography without an official affiliation to anthropology is an usurper. Ethnography is an exclusive prerogative of (some) anthropologists.

Elinor Predota

The key question... seems to me to be: is ethnography an entire 'way of being' and perceiving in the field which is 'owned' by a specific discipline (anthropology), or is it a method to which different disciplines, epistemologies and methodologies bring their particular ways of being and perceiving?

John McCreery

I realized that I had had ... the extraordinary privilege of two years in which to pursue my interests unimpeded by any other obligations. I had, in addition, been equipped by my graduate training in anthropology to ask questions and see things in ways that most people don't.

Keith Hart

It takes an effort to recall the radically democratic tone adopted by those establishment stalwarts, Fortes and Evans-Pritchard, in their introduction to African Political Systems (1940). Political theory, they say has hitherto been the province of white men who never went anywhere. We need to break with the classrooms, libraries and laboratories of the academy and go out there to discover what people want and are really doing. Scientific ethnography will make the history of western philosophy redundant overnight.

Alexander raises an issue that for many has become a hot topic because the relation of ethnography to anthropology touches on the definition not just of an academic discipline but also of academic departments for whom failure to brand themselves in a way that communicates value to those who control the funding they need may result in extinction and loss of livelihood. Predota pursues this direction, focusing on the question -- an intellectual property issue -- who owns ethnography. Anthropologists may want to claim it as a mark of distinction for brand anthropology, but to others it has simply become part of the methods toolkit. Next week I will be having lunch with Dominic Carter, the founder of Carter Associates, a market research firm that describes what it does as "Unmasking Japan." On the company's website, I find the following statement:

Carter Associates provides the gamut of research solutions necessary to become familiar with the Japanese market. These may include desk research, group discussions, depth interviews, ethnographic/observational exercises, or primary quantitative surveys.

Ethnography in this depiction has become "ethnographic/observational exercises," stuck between depth interviews and primary quantitative surveys: a technical competence but nothing earth-shaking.

It is important in reading McCreery to know that being young and foolish at a time when US academia was beginning its long implosion following the end of the baby boom, he busted out of academia, failed to get tenure, and had to find other ways to make a living. As a self-supporting independent scholar he has no livelihood stake in departmental or disciplinary definitions. As someone approaching 65 and reminiscing about a an unexpected life, his major concern is self-definition. What was that all about? And where do we go from here? His concerns are more personal and less constrained by disciplinary boundaries.

Hart's involvement touches on both institutional and personal concerns, but here I see a call to raise our sights, to reconsider our roots and how, by returning to those roots, anthropology might once again become a strong voice in what (borrowing a term from philosopher Stanley Cavell) I will call the "conversation of justice." From this perspective, ethnography's relation to anthropology is of literally world historical importance.

As I read the paragraph quoted above, I recall that African Political Systems was one of the first books I read when Marc Swartz (of Swartz, Turner and Tuden, Political Anthropology) was inspiring me to become an anthropologist. But what I recall is reading it through the eyes of a philosophy major whose focus had been on logic and philosophy of science and whose grasp of the history of philosophy skipped abruptly from the British Empiricists to the Logical Positivists. So the reading was dry, uninformed by any awareness of the political passions that Hart now informs me were in play.

I smack my forehead and say, "Of course, just look at the date," African Political Systems (1940). WWII is beginning. The great totalitarians have millions of armed followers. The question of whether human beings could get along if "the withering away of the state" actually occurred is a hot one. So is the way in which rulers manipulate symbol and ritual to claim quasi- or real divinity! With the Nuremberg rallies recent news and the Japanese empire stirring in the East, there was more at stake here than succession to the Shilluk kingship or the right to occupy an Azande chiefly stool, considered as curious customs whose function ought to be understood in dry, social scientific terms.

This is a discussion I would like to continue.

But so is another that I have tentatively labeled "Alternative Ethnographies," thinking of work like Sutherland and Denny's Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research, Tom Boelstroff's Coming of Age in Second Life , Chris Kelty's Two Bits about the free and open software movement, my own Japanese Consumer Behavior: From Worker Bees to Wary Shoppers and my current project: "Winners' Circles: SNA-Driven ethnography of award-winning creative teams in Japan." Here the common thread is the authors' grappling with how to adapt ethnography to the opportunities and challenges of a world very different from that in which Malinowski or Boas defined our primordial model.

Should I start a new discussion? Or is this asking too much of people with other, to them, more pressing concerns?

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