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Dmitry V. Arzyutov and Sergei A. Kan

The conceptualization of the “field” in early Soviet ethnography had its own dynamics and elaborations within the discursive arenas of the Leningrad ethnographic school. Beginning with the prehistory of the idea of the field among the Enlightenment naturalists and travelers, we turn toward a description of long-term expeditions of the first generation of Soviet ethnographers of the North. Comparing field diaries, photographs, questionnaires, lectures, and textbooks, we consider the patterns and flexibility in the concept of the field in the first half of the twentieth century. We conclude with a discussion of how post–World War II Soviet anthropologists departed from the ideas of participant observation and long-term fieldworking prominent in earlier conceptualizations of fieldwork in Soviet ethnography.

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Cognitive Disability

Towards an Ethics of Possibility

Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp

This afterword to this special issue of The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, entitled ‘For an Anthropology of Cognitive Disability’, explores the intersections of disability studies and ethnographic research on cognitive difference. We offer a brief scholarly genealogy, discuss how these articles provide recognition for ‘the disarticulate’, and consider how anthropologists working on this subject might contribute to an ethics of possibility.

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Introduction

Ethnographic engagements with global elites

Paul Robert Gilbert and Jessica Sklair

Anthropological interest in critical studies of class, system, and inequality has recently been revitalized. Most ethnographers have done this from “below,” while studies of financial, political, and other professional elites have tended to avoid the language of class, capital, and inequality. This themed section draws together ethnographies of family wealth transfers, philanthropy, and private sector development to reflect on the place of critique in the anthropology of elites. While disciplinary norms and ethics usually promote deferral to our research participants, the uncritical translation of these norms “upward” to studies of elites raises concerns. We argue for a critical approach that does not seek political purity or attempt to “get the goods” on elites, but that makes explicit the politics involved in doing ethnography with elites.

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Introduction

What Is Happening to Epistemology?

Christina Toren and João de Pina-Cabral

Anthropologists debate the primacy of epistemology over ontology, and vice versa, or whether the one is bound always to implicate the other. Our collective and personal history, however, makes the lived world what it is for us, and not all explicit knowledge is constituted in the same way, with the same purposes in mind and within the same sets of binding parameters. Thus, the task of ethnography is to inquire into the different nature of the different forms and modes of constituting knowledge, even while we strive to understand what our own histories make us take for granted as self-evident. This article argues that as a profoundly radical endeavor after knowledge, ethnography goes to the very roots of inquiry into what it is to be human and thus provides for anthropology as a continuing comparative project of fundamental importance to the human sciences.

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Ambivalent Atheist Identities

Power and Non-religious Culture in Contemporary Britain

Lois Lee

In Britain, most non-theists and atheists do not identify themselves as such in explicit terms, yet non-theistic cultural threads are interwoven through everyday discourses. This article calls for more extensive ethnographic engagement with these more diffuse—and therefore less visible and less commonly researched—forms of non-religious culture. Based on exploratory fieldwork conducted in South East England, it draws attention to one set of these indistinct non-religious forms: 'authentic' and 'inauthentic' ambivalent atheist and non-religious self-understandings and self-representations. It demonstrates how these identities may be subjectively meaningful and culturally significant and how they may be simultaneously empowering and disempowering. Scrutiny of ambivalent atheist identities points to complicated dynamics between non-religion and power and the value of attending to poorly or unmarked non-religious cultures through ethnographic work.

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Marcelo González Gálvez, Piergiorgio Di Giminiani and Giovanna Bacchiddu

Once conceptualized as self-evident connections between discrete social units systematized through ethnographic fieldwork, relations are being increasingly treated as instantiations of local ontological theories. The ethnography of indigenous South America has provided a source of inspiration for this analytical shift. As manifested in the contributions to this special issue, at the core of indigenous practices and discourses on relations lies a tension between ‘dependence on otherness’ and an ‘ethics of autonomy’. In this introduction, we revisit this tension by focusing on the ‘taming of relations’, a process through which subjects attempt to maintain the autonomy of each being vis-à-vis their relational constitution dependent on others. We argue that rather than being a necessary condition, autonomy is always a partial outcome of relations linking human and non-human others.

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Jeffrey A. Sluka

The ethnography of state terror is “high risk” research and there are real personal dangers for anyone who conducts fieldwork on this issue. Managing such dangers has particularly become an issue for those conducting primary research with perpetrators of state terror—the “rank and file” who apply the electric cattle prods and pull the triggers—and all of the researchers I know who have taken this path have been threatened in one form or another. Th is article reviews the core literature and latest developments in managing the physical dangers inherent in the ethnography of political violence and state terror, particularly fieldwork or primary research with the actual perpetrators themselves, makes practical recommendations for managing such dangers, and presents some ideas for developing risk management plans or protocols for researcher survival in perilous field sites.

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Erika Friedl

Ideas about childhood and children’s experiences in a tribal area in southwest Iran have been changing along with major local sociopolitical relations over the past century quite in accordance with the functionalist model of education and socialization. However, in the most recent stage – a globalizing, consumer-driven society in a closed, totalitarian political system – child-rearing prepares children to have great aspirations and be dedicated consumers without furnishing opportunities and habits to attain the one and sustain the other. The ethnographic details about this development described in this article in the format of three stages are based on longitudinal anthropological fieldwork in Boir Ahmad over 50 years.

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Introduction

Ethnographic Engagement with Bureaucratic Violence

Erin R. Eldridge and Amanda J. Reinke

Bureaucracies are dynamic and interactive sociocultural worlds that drive knowledge production, power inequalities and subsequent social struggle, and violence. The authors featured in this special section mobilize their ethnographic data to examine bureaucracies as animated spaces where violence, whether physical, structural, or symbolic, manifests in everyday bureaucratic practices and relationships. The articles span geographic contexts (e.g., United States, Canada, Chile, Eritrea) and topics (e.g., migration, extractive economies, law and sociolegal change, and settler colonialism) but are bound together in their investigation of the violence of the administration of decisions, care, and control through bureaucratic means.

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Methods Applied

Political Transformation and Recent Ethnographic Fieldwork in Iran

Mary Elaine Hegland and Erika Friedl

In the 1970s social cultural anthropology in Iran was beginning to flourish. However, with the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent Islamic Republic of Iran, fieldwork in Iran became extremely problematic. Foreign anthropologists faced formidable obstacles to obtaining visas and permits. Anthropologists working inside Iran were also discouraged from anthropological participant observation. As a result, during the post revolutionary period, few anthropologists have been conducting fieldwork in Iran. Recently, some hopeful signs for a possible reestablishment of anthropology can be noted, among them the return of young Iranian anthropologists, from countries where they have grown up and gained an education, to their homeland for dissertation research. This article discusses the influences on fieldwork of politics—international, national and local—and projects, problems and strategies of some anthropologists who have conducted recent ethnographic fieldwork in Iran.