WRITING STILL CURRENTLY IN PROCESS
The following piece by Tim Ingold and his book Making: Anthropology, archaeology, art and, architecture engage the “overuse” of ethnography and how it becomes a scapegoat for rigidity in and outside the field as well as for why anthropological work lacks a public presence. It also becomes a fixed anthropological practice for the sake of its definition, delineation, and uniqueness: “A discipline confined to the theatre of its own operations has nowhere to go.”
As an anthropologist, of course practicing ethnography, I agree with Ingold’s sentiment and critique. However, I’m sure by the title of my website that you can tell I have not given up on ethnography. For me, the critique should not just be about ethnography itself, but how it has been formalized when in reality there is a plurality of ethnographic practices. The first part of that critique is what Ingold is digging into, which is why he goes on to propose opening up our methods and methodologies, not just how these are practiced but also how we think about them. Specifically, he posits the practice of correspondence.
Correspondence, as succinctly as I can be, is a constant practice of being attuned and responding to people and things in the world around you: “It is rather about answering to these happenings [going on around us] with interventions, questions and responses of our own—or in other words, about living attentionally with others…..Correspondence is neither given nor achieved but always in the making. ” This is what everyone does, not just anthropologists. Ingold discusses how ethnographic practices (i.e. participant observation, interviews, etc.) are forms of correspondence.
Ethnography should be rigorous; it should be a relationship, not just a practice; it should be a correspondence as Ingold suggest. This is what I learned in my training as an anthropologist. My work–anthropologic, ethnographic, personal, and professional–is part of a connected world, just as I am.
- Public, practical/applied, participatory action research.
In fact, there is major pushback on (and even just a flat out refusal against) these specific types of anthropological practices within the discipline because of (1) how applied anthro has been, and still is, used by governments, military forces, corporations; and (2) the idea that if one sets out with a particular goal in mind then the research and following conclusions are not as rigourous as those going in without any preconceived idea of what they want out of a project. (An example here is Paul Farmer). I definitely hear and know the history, and current realities, that do support these arguments, but that does not mean either of these paths should be completely foreclosed upon. Don’t either of them just push anthropologist, ethnographers, social scientists, etc. to be more attuned, careful, and rigorous?
On the first point…
- Didier Fassin, (public) anthropology, black box, conversation with Nancy Scheper-Hughes
On the second point…
- Angana Chatterji
“That’s enough about ethnography!” — Tim Ingold
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.