George Orwell’s Ethnographies of Experience

The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London

in Volume 25 (2016): Issue 1 (Mar 2016): Literature and Anthropology. Guest Editors: Laurent Sebastian Fournier and Máiréad Nic Craith
Restricted access

George Orwell is most widely known as the teller of dystopian tales of oppression. A closer look at his oeuvre reveals a courageous truth seeker who frequently lived and worked with his literary subjects. In his fieldwork he used the methods of classic ethnography including participant observation, semi-structured interviews and field notes. This article argues that Orwell was an ethnographer in his research methods and that both Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier are ethnographic texts with valuable insights into marginal groups in the early to mid-twentieth century in Europe. The writer’s clear-sighted and humane depiction of ‘otherness’ shows his skill as an ethnographer. His personal investment with his subject matter, reflexivity and attention to broader social and political phenomena in his narratives mark Orwell as an autoethnographer.