Where Ethnographers Fear to Tread

The Counter-Influence of Ethnography on Christopher Kremmer's The Carpet Wars (2002) and Christina Lamb's The Sewing Circles of Herat (2002)

in Volume 4 (2003): Issue 1 (Jun 2003): Travel Writing and Cultural Terra Incognitae: Ongoing Ethical and Theoretical Dilemmas. Guest Editors: Corinne Fowler and Ludmilla Kostova

Since travel writing predates ethnography, much research has centred on the influence of travel writing on ethnography (rather than the other way around). Ongoing debates over the crisis in anthropology mean that scholarly investigations of ethnography’s indebtedness to travel writing tend to be valued for their contribution to the crisis debate. Less attention has been paid to the question of counter-influence: the presence of ethnography in contemporary travel narratives about Afghanistan. My comparison of ethnographers’ and travellers’ accounts of Afghan games reveals that recent travel writing about Afghanistan relies heavily upon the long-established (and much maligned) textual practices, varieties of ethnography that have long since become outmoded and discredited. I hereby refer to pre-crisis modes of ethnography as ‘classical ethnographies’.1 Attending to the intertwining of travel writing and ethnography reveals the crucial relationship between travel writing about Afghanistan and the establishment of narrative authority to define and explain, in the words of Sir Alfred Lyall, ‘the unruly Afghan’ (quoted in Azoy 2003: 21), or to perpetuate what I shall describe as the ‘warlike Afghan’ thesis.