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Ethnography's Blind Spot

Intimacy, Violence, and Fieldwork Relations in South Africa

Erik Bähre

It is conventional to point out the disintegrative and dysfunctional effects of violence and relegate it to processes outside the social realm. Yet this study argues that a reflexive approach to ethnography can reveal the integrative potential of violence. It examines the theoretical importance of the ethnographer's anxieties about (a) violence, (b) the precarious dependencies during fieldwork in a violent setting, and (c) concerns about representing violence in academic work. Such a reflexive approach shows why these anxieties can both conceal and reveal the sociality of violence. The study draws on personal fieldwork experiences to show how violence became central to the relationships the author developed with his assistants during research in South Africa.

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A gendered ethnography of elites

Women, inequality, and social reproduction

Luna Glucksberg

This article offers a critical ethnography of the reproduction of elites and inequalities through the lenses of class and gender. The successful transfer of wealth from one generation to the next is increasingly a central concern for the very wealthy. This article shows how the labor of women from elite and non-elite backgrounds enables and facilitates the accumulation of wealth by elite men. From covering “the home front” to investing heavily in their children’s future, and engaging non-elite women’s labor to help them, the elite women featured here reproduced not just their families, but their families as elites. Meanwhile, the aff ective and emotional labor of non-elite women is essential for maintaining the position of wealth elites while also locking those same women into the increasing inequality they help to reproduce.

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An Ethnography of Change in Northeastern Siberia

Whither an Interdisciplinary Role?

Susan A. Crate

Using longitudinal ethnographic material, anthropologists are skilled to discern how change, in its many forms, interacts with the livelihoods of affected communities. Furthermore, multi-sited ethnography can show how local change is both a result of global to local phenomena and of origins affecting similar local contexts. Ethnographic material is therefore critical to interdisciplinary understandings of change. Through case study in native villages in north-eastern Siberia, Russia, this article argues for ethnography's unique capacity to understand change. In addition, it argues for ethnography's much-needed contribution in interdisciplinary efforts to account for attributes of global change both highly local and human.

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George Orwell’s Ethnographies of Experience

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

Michael Amundsen

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.

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Abigail Baim-Lance and Cecilia Vindrola-Padros

Academic funding bodies are increasingly measuring research impact using accountability and reward assessments. Scholars have argued that frameworks attempting to measure the use-value of knowledge production could end up influencing the selection of research topics, limiting research agendas, and privileging linear over complex research designs. Our article responds to these concerns by calling upon insights from anthropology to reconceptualise impact. We argue that, to conduct socially beneficial studies, impact needs to be turned from a product to an inclusive process of engagement. Anthropology's epistemologically and methodologically rich tradition of ethnography offers a particularly apposite set of tools to achieve this goal. We present three concrete examples of how we have used ethnography to impact on the work we carry out, particularly in shaping multidisciplinary team-based research approaches.

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Ethnographic Evidence of an Emerging Transnational Arts Practice?

Perspectives on U.K. and Mexican Participatory Artists' Processes for Catalysing Change, and Facilitating Health and Flourishing

Anni Raw

This article reports new ethnographic research exploring community-based, participatory arts practice in Northern England and Mexico City. Noting the value of an ethnographic approach, the study investigated whether commonalities discovered in practitioners' approaches are significant enough to constitute a generalisable participatory arts methodology, transcending significant contextual differences, and recognisable across national boundaries.

Shared characteristics emerged in practitioners' modes of engagement with groups, and strategies for catalysing change; clear convergences from which a core methodology in community-based participatory arts for change is distilled. It suggests the opening of liminal spaces in which participants can reflect, rehearsing fresh ways of engaging in transformative dialogues in relation to the world in which they live. This article presents the study findings as a grounded characterisation of 'participatory arts practice': a complex but potentially powerful mechanism, in use within numerous community health projects, and evident in diverse settings, despite little or no exchange of ideas between practitioners.

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Jonathan Ventura

The definition of 'applied anthropology' varies from period to period and from culture to culture. However, anthropology's centrality is, in my eyes, unquestionable. With that in mind, a significant part of the discipline's basic principles remained unchanged, despite recent socio-cultural, economic and technological changes sweeping the world in recent years. In this article I wish to present two case studies in which the inherent connection between anthropology, as a discipline, and other professions, is challenged. Through teaching anthropological theories and methodologies to industrial designers and architects I will present a somewhat different approach from those practiced by anthropologists. As a result I will redefine the role of the applied anthropologist as an essential member of the design team.

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Ethnographic Humanism

Migrant Experiences in the Quest for Well-Being

Anne Sigfrid Grønseth and Robin Oakley

The articles in this volume reinforce the power of ethnographic humanism, of anthropology in action. The focus is on the relationship between macro political forces and their influence on the varied experiences of health in advanced industrial capitalist contexts. Our approach views migrants as capable agents negotiating new lives for themselves and confronting the challenges they face. We strongly advocate socially informed policy that offers at minimum recognition to migrants as full fledged members of the new society that they have voluntarily or involuntarily migrated to.

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Archaeology and Ethnographic Collections

Disentangling Provenance, Provenience, and Context in Vanuatu Assemblages

James L. Flexner

The archaeological value of museum collections is not limited to collections labelled “archaeology.” “Ethnology” or “ethnography” collections can provide useful information for evaluating broadly relevant theoretical and methodological discussions in the discipline. The concepts of provenience (where something was found), provenance (where the materials for an object originated), and context (the ways an object is and was interpreted and used within a cultural milieu) are central to much archaeological interpretation. Archaeologists have often looked to living societies as analogues for better understanding these issues. Museum ethnographic collections from Vanuatu provide a case study offering a complementary approach, in which assemblages of ethnographic objects and associated information allow us to reconstruct complex networks of movement, exchange, and entanglement.

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The ethnographic negative

Capturing the impress of boredom and inactivity

Bruce O'Neill

Outside the main railway station in Bucharest, Romania, otherwise unemployed day laborers hustle for small change as informal parking lot attendants (parcagii). While their efforts yield numerous ethnographic observations of entrepreneurial activity, these attendants report “doing nothing” day in and day out. This article explores the tension between etic observations and emic feelings in order to ask a methodological question: how can “not doing” and “absent activity” be captured within an ethnographic method primed to observe activity constantly? In response, this article takes inspiration from photography to develop “the negative” as a technique for bringing the impress of absent activity on social worlds into ethnographic view. The intent of this methodological intervention is to open new theoretical lines of flight into the politics of inactivity.