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Week 14 Gupta

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Final Paper Elders

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Victoria Kline
April 27, 2005
Seminar in Ethnology
Dr. Pérez

Anthropological Locations Week 14

Chapter 1: Discipline and Practice by Akhil Gupta and James Fergusen

An extremely inspiring essay, as an introduction to the volume they edited. This piece goes back to the roots of anthropology and to those who so inspired those who were to follow through the passing on of knowledge and framework for future anthropologists to work through. Anthropology’s colonial past does hurt the discipline in the sense of disputing the foundation of it by scholars in postcolonial countries.

Mainly Gupta and Fergusen show that there is hegemony in academia, those whose work gets funded versus those who don’t, the theoretical framework which ethnography is hung on against those models that have been set aside and ignored. Much gets kicked aside that could be reinvented through further discourses on an ignored study’s merits. Some theories and methods should just simmer on the back burner for a time before coming to fruition.

In illustrating the history of anthropology Gupta and Fergusen show how the now prevalent ethnographic fieldwork gains more prestige and career building potential depending on the place of the fieldwork as a “proper” location, by whose models the researcher is utilizing, by the ethnic profile of the researcher, and the ability of the researcher to gain funding (depending on how his research will further the position of the state).

Anthropology has evolved from mere description and association with natural science, to a science of comparison and analysis, to a conscious effort to instigate change for the betterment of lives. The authors give various descriptions of field and fieldwork and how both manifest at different times in history.

In the recent past, through evolution of the discipline, the anthropologist had to prove his muster through fieldwork that was far from home and as much unlike home as possible (exotic). Only this sacrifice of his creature comforts, and immersion into the Other life could prove his command of anthropological theory through practice. Only he that accomplished fieldwork away from home was worthy of academic career, status, and funding, let alone notoriety. The white male was considered competent to research in Other’s land while those scholars that hailed from third world countries were deemed unable to be objective of those that they studied as they were too close to the story.

But these fellows say that it is necessary to be more inclusive in what is deemed a proper location of ethnography, and a proper way of conducting that fieldwork. Academics for the sake of scholarship or interest alone has to be supplemented by ethnography in order to make lives of people better. And the practice of ethnography cannot be limited to far away places, as some locations that need intervention and improvement are right in the very country, even the very neighborhood that the anthropologist resides.
This essay, chapter is so beautifully written as to inspire. They are critical of the way ethnography has been done in the past but allow that all culture is in a constant state of reinvention and redirection, and so it is with academic disciplines.

Discussion Question: Has the direction of ethnography changed since the time of this writing? It seems like the way I have been presented with appropriate ways of doing ethnography include the study of institutions and groups that are in my own town, and that any conceivable area of interest may be a potential area for ethnographic inquiry. Also, indigenous ethnographers are acceptable and even preferred. Writing styles mentioned in this chapter are of interest too. The mix of fiction writing methods for more interesting and descriptive writing thereby addressing a larger audience perhaps including the public is telling.

Loved this one! 

Chapter 2: After Ishmael by Henrika Kuklick

Kuklick finds the origin of anthropological inquiry to be that of natural history and its practitioners. Natural history also began as an amateur endeavor, the professionalization of which came later. Anthropology followed the direction of natural history in use of fieldwork. Although the early gentlemen anthropologists and naturalists relied on others to do their fieldwork for them, it has become imperative that the scientist collect his own data, and in the field of sociocultural anthropology, ethnographic fieldwork has become a major portion of the academic endeavor, whereas in the past, much information was gleaned from travel journals of other persons, by the then popular position of armchair anthropologist.

Discussion Question: Is there possibility of room for the armchair anthropologist? Cannot there be another way for the anthropologist to become initiated besides foreign fieldwork? Not necessarily so the practitioner can keep his hands clean, but because of the excessive data collection that has already been done, and the possibility of reinterpretation of data that was collected and analyzed long ago, or perhaps recently as a test to the hypotheses. Some of us are not cut out to do fieldwork as the last chapter alludes. Of course there is the possibility of fieldwork in one’s own back yard, with bazaar groups that live in the neighborhood. 

Chapter 3: Locating the Past by Mary Des Chene

“Anthropology has been a historical discipline for longer than it has been a field science” (66). This essay contends that there is a connection of anthropology and history as the last essay connected anthropology and natural history. One reason for the recent turn of anthropology to history is to get away from the idea that the personal experience of the ethnographer as fieldworker must be in an exotic state (66-67).

Roots of the turn away from history in anthropology reside in the Functionalist and the Structuralist models (67): both were ahistorical anthropology. Participation in fieldwork turned anthropology away from social evolutionism (the idea that all societies evolve through the same stages, and if elements of a study were missing the parts could be found within a society in the same stage of development).

Switching now to fieldwork and the manifestation of fieldwork within the discipline Des Chene says, “fieldwork was originally a “radical innovation, replacing the natural history expeditionary model” (69). Then later on the same page: “my primary aim is to elucidate practical challenges of doing historical anthropology.”

So, this author is a historical ethnographer? She uses the archives for integral parts of her ethnographies, combining them with participant observation and interviews. I love the fact that she says that a study of archives in itself would be considered an anthropological ethnography or a field study. She says that historical ethnography could be done completely within the archives. And if the prejudice against the anthropologist for doing such a project could be overcome, this mode of research would be completely acceptable.

Des Chene gives different descriptions of the field starting with generic, then situated (most like our conception of the field), the historically situated field (which could require accounting for the movement of populations spatially), and finally archives as field sites. Her focus is on the historically situated field sites and the archives as field sites. And I am overjoyed that this anthropologist finds archival work integral to her studies, and allows that others may have the same opportunity to use them, that fieldwork need not be done outside or in a remote place, and that teetery old women could also engage in “fieldwork”.

Discussion Question: How plausible is it to construct research questions that utilize the archives exclusively to generate a master’s thesis?

Even though I liked parts of what this author had to say, I found her more difficult to follow in the telling.   

Chapter 4: News and Culture by Liisa H. Malkki

Malkki is interested in ethnography of transitory people and did her first field work in a refugee camp of 35,000 Hutus in Tanzania. Ethnography is thought of by academia as being a study of a bounded area that is somewhat stable, not the temporary living conditions offered in a refugee camp. But, Malkki thinks that worthy of recording are the transitory and accidental chance happenings that people must deal with in such living conditions as the refugee camp. How will people create a simulacrum of a stable environment while engaged daily in routine that could any day come to an end? Instead of recording the mundane, the refugee camp offered the study of the unexpected, with fortuitous or hazardous end and how that was dealt with.

Malkki was unable to return to the refugee camp as planned and was dependent on the media to keep her informed. The gleaning of daily news ended up being a study in itself, and it gave her cause to compare journalism and anthropology. There are exceptional journalists, but mainly journalism is there for the story, the unusual story, and it is done within a short time period. Journalists go in to where the action is, report on that action, and get out. This is different than the routine of the anthropologist, who is not looking for the unusual, action story, but the everyday routine of a group of people for comparison to other everyday routines of other groups of people. Lately too is the desire to better the lives of the people that are encountered through the analysis of those everyday lives (if it is so warranted).

Discussion Question: Even though the refugee camp situation was transitory in nature, I think that a refugee camp can be a long lasting situation in some cases. Also, to know the intricacies of the network connections between people in a refugee camp, so as to be helpful in setting them up and servicing them, could result in a more fulfilling stay at a refugee camp, especially since those who need to stay in refugee camps have not chosen but been forced to leave their homeland and are under great duress. And they are pretty well trapped there for at least a certain length of time. Persons seeking refuge would need to be able to insure the safety of their children first, then be able to feed their families second, then be able to do something with their time that was constructive (third), and that includes the whole family including children. Some type of activity that is enriching one would hope. I am taking a humanitarian outlook on choice of fieldwork locations for anthropologists. This is the wave of the future for anthropological fieldwork I believe.

This article was pretty interesting, it kind of lagged through the discussion of the different angles through which anthropology might be rendered: as witness or as investigator, and the metaphors of trial witness and police investigator that she used.

Chapter 5: African Studies as American Institution by Deborah Amory

This is a pretty revealing essay about the divisions in the racial makeup between those who pursue African Studies and those who pursue African American Studies. It is pretty interesting that there would be such a complete separation with those in African Studies being mainly white Euro American and those in African American Studies predominantly black Afro American. This is due to the history of the fields according to Amory. As a student of African Studies she noticed the trend and sought to get to the bottom of it through research into the histories of the two fields. She found those histories in the persons of Melville Jean Herskovits, a white Africanist scholar, and W.E.B. Du Bois, an African American Africanist scholar. The difference between the influences each of these men had in their time reflects the trend towards racism in the United States that manifested in academia. The work done by Du Bois paralleled that of Herskovits as well as predated it by a century, yet Herskovits is promoted through scholarly tradition as the father of African studies.

Discussion Question: As a white American it is hard for me to see these inconsistencies or to recognize institutional dogma as such. How can we know that we are not still fighting the same battle? There are always those that disagree with the system after all.


Gupta, Akhil, and James Fergusen eds.
1997  Anthropological Locations. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

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