Home 603Seminar in Ethnology


Week 1 Marcus

Week 2 Marcus

Week 3 Moore

Week 4 Moore

Week 5 Schneider

Week 6 Schneider Paper

Week 7 Spivak

Week 8 Spivak

Week 9 Parker

Week 10 Parker

Week 12 Lem

Week 13 Lem

Week 14 Gupta

Week 15 Gupta

Final Paper Elders

Resource Links

Victoria Kline
April 20, 2005
Seminar in Ethnology
Dr. Pérez

Anthropological Locations Week 15

Chapter 6: The Waxing and Waning of “Subfields” in North American Sociocultural Anthropology by Jane F. Collier

“…observations about the development, heyday, and decline of recognized subfield divisions within sociocultural anthropology in the United States” (117). Pretty straight forward about what she wants to communicate, Collier takes the reader through a history of subfields in anthropology. It clears up some of the fuzziness I have had for how and why the subfields came to be, and then lost favor or became passé. Right now I would say that forensic anthropology, as an offshoot of physical anthropology is popular. Possibly because of the interest such programs as CSI (Crime Scene Investigation: CBS) brings to the television viewing audience (a huge audience). It is one of my favorites too.

All of the authors of this volume have limited their discussions to field, fieldwork, ethnography, and academics. Fieldwork in anthropology and the meaning of field in anthropological ethnography is the theme that runs through all the chapters. Collier decided to talk about subfields of anthropology as a way of relating to fields and fieldwork in academia. The discussion is a sound one. She shows how three related factors influenced changes to the discipline of anthropology in what subfields came and went through specific time periods, with all the accompanying economic influences.

Collier starts with a discussion of the rise and fall of the anthropology of law. In the mid-1960s an academic, “Laura Nader proposed the anthropology of law as a subfield” (118). It was she who put forth the idea, formed the conferences around the idea thereby promoting the idea to other anthropologists. While explaining all that Nader did to establish credibility for the anthropology of law, Collier quotes Nader as lecturing about the original impetus that caused much branching out of the four base anthropological fields into many subfields: the end of World War II. This was a time of increased belief in science, and a push to use cultural studies as scientific areas of research.

Those scholars with great influence on anthropological trajectories are identified as Malinowski (individualistic functionalism), and Radcliffe-Brown (social structural functionalism and structural functionalism).

She also describes the hierarchy of fields and subfields within anthropology and relates this to how the funding dollars get dolled out: with hard sciences at the bottom that are aligned with psychology or economics, social science in the middle, and humanities at the top. Her analogy is of a layer cake, those on top (frosting) are not necessary, maybe interesting, but not as valued as those on the bottom -- those with real substance and aligned with older and more established academic fields.

Discussion Question: How might the taking up of a subdiscipline in anthropology hurt your future in academia? Or is it just a matter of studying up to engage in the new popularity of a subdiscipline? Isn’t that what we are doing here, learning how to learn?

Discussion Question: Is it better to specialize or generalize? There was a push towards specialization in the past that almost necessitates a tangent into a sub-field. It seems like anthropology has more trouble with specialization and defining subfields than other disciplines because there are no definite boundaries to the study of anthropology. Anthropology is by definition all-inclusive and therefore renders itself to invention and reinvention, or renegotiation in the way of subfield tangents. 

Chapter 7: Anthropology and the Cultural Study of Science by Emily Martin

The field of anthropology opens to the study of science as a field site or a field of study. And since science has been a part of the tradition of anthropology, this study is a study of itself. Martin describes the reasons she became interested in studying the culture of science. 

She divides the way people view science into three metaphors: the citadel, the rhizome, and the string figure. The view that science isolates itself from laymen or public is that of the citadel on the hill with high impenetrable walls, and little communication going on between those in the citadel and those outside the citadel. The rhizome model is that of a connected root between science and public. Also the root can be severed and the rhizome will continue to grow with the gap between tubers. The string figure is a metaphor likening the connection of science and public opinion to that of the game of cat’s cradle. In cat’s cradle, one person has the string looped through their fingers, a second person makes adjustments, and alterations to the string configuration to come up with a new form, then it can go back to the first person, or on to another person. There is never an obvious connection, but the form the cat’s cradle becomes has connections to those who had their hands in any of the transformations.

From here we find out about a “string figure” training that Martin and a colleague went through that was intended to train employees at a fortune 500 company to learn to cope with challenges, to facilitate personal change at a rapid rate, and to overcoming fears. Martin makes the connection between the study of the science of culture and the employee training through the metaphor of the immune system, that the training company utilizes as the ideal model of constantly changing and adapting system, like that of the worker that must constantly adjust to the changing environment of the workplace and morph into a new worker to keep pace and secure a place in that work force. 

Discussion Question: The obvious question would be: Are we too close to the science of anthropology to be objective about its study? I think we have gone around and around on this enough to say yes, maybe, and no, depending on the experience and expertise of the researcher. The examples that Martin gives of studies in this vein are two that study the scientific laboratory from the inside and the outside, and then two more that notice the connections from the laboratory (castle) and the landscape surrounding it more readily.

Chapter 8: “You Can’t Take the Subway from the Field!” by Joanne Passaro

This author did her fieldwork at “home” yet the field that she entered on a daily basis was definitely not her home. Passaro studied homeless people in New York. She describes the process of thesis formation and applying for funding. The nature of her field and field study was one that required some manipulation to be able to get funding. The first year she was on her own, using student loans, until she could define an area of study that was bounded enough to be acceptable as near enough to traditional field and fieldwork.

Her first research area as a graduate student had been Paris. There were problems with this location and a point was made of the redefinition she had to give to her subject/project area as Mediterranean rather that the actual location of Paris.

In the Paris study, there were gender issues as well, as she is a self-proclaimed lesbian, and her subjects of study were lesbian. The problem of being native studying native came up. As she finished her homeless in New York study, she realized she felt far more foreign when with lesbians in Paris than she did with homeless people in New York.

Far from what one might assume, she did not seem to have any problems out on the streets or wherever she ended up interviewing homeless people. I think she had a good idea here, went through a lot of trouble to identify a practical or possible boundary to her study area, as she was moving outside of academically acceptable bounded and exotic subject/location parameters for her dissertation.

There is the problem of being too “radical” in interpretation of “field”, and “fieldwork”. Before I read these essays I had no idea that the boundaries were so strict. Since what I know about field and fieldwork have come from graduate seminars here at SDSU, I was under the impression that the field was a wide open place, that having the field thus open, and open to indigenous scholars equally if not with more weight, was the direction anthropological fieldwork was headed, and that this trajectory was not new but well established. If I do any fieldwork that is similar to ethnography it will be in the area of applied anthropology. I have no thoughts of going into academic anthropology; I am not cut out for it. That does not mean I cannot learn anything from the discussion. Maybe I am just being naïve to think that the world is getting more equal, when last week it was pointed out that there is privilege in being white and a woman. Who knew? When you are a woman all you can see is the marginalization of your gender. But we (white women) do take many things for granted. One of them is where we can go. It is one of the things we have learned in my generation – that we should be allowed to go wherever we damn well please. We do not want to be limited like our mother’s were as to place, employment, or adventure.

Discussion Question: Was this author/researcher blinded by closeness to her research subjects? This seems to be part of what came up between Anthony and Keith last week. Who has more objectivity in doing research: the native or the outsider? The answer seems to be both and neither, it depends on the experiences of the researcher before and during research. Readers will be swayed by what the expectation is from the reading of the ethnography, and those who are privileged to read and respond to the research project will be the determiners of whether it is considered scholarly or not. Tradition has a lot to do with designation of professional acumen, and in this it cannot be ignored if one is aspiring to academia.

Chapter 9: The Virtual Anthropologist by Kath Weston

Kath Weston decided to study gender issues as in gay, lesbian, homosexual, where she is the anthropologist and the native. Weston says that she was discouraged from doing this type of fieldwork but would not be dissuaded. But in retrospect, she sees that it is hard for people to see her as the scholar rather than the native. Opinion is that an insider cannot be distanced enough to do a proper ethnographic study. The study will not carry as much weight as one in which the anthropologist studies Others in a distant locale. This theme is repeated among the essays in the book. The necessity, if one is going in to academia career wise, to follow the precedents set by those who have gone before you, and that is in the initiation process of fieldwork where the field is defined in area, and is away from “home” for the field researcher. 

This author seems to have more issues about the way in which academic anthropology is not choosing her to be a leader in the field. There are similarities in the way in which she chose and inhabited her research space to the previous author who also chose to do study as a “native” in a foreign country first, then to do research in her own city of residence. Both avenues that seem to be no-nos when choosing dissertation or thesis work if one is planning on going into academia.

Near the end of this chapter, Weston describes her essay as a parody. On the first reading, I was not so aware of the humor woven throughout the reading. On second reading I found myself laughing at her amusing way of seeing things. This article shows her immense creativity, and her ability to write descriptively. A very fine piece of writing: I like it.

Discussion Question: The way people respond to situations is reflected in academic positions of power. If the native ethnographer can never be thought of as legitimate, why would she post herself as such in the ethnography? I realize that that is part of the self-reflexivity in the writing of ethnography that has come to be required since objectivity is dead. How can the ethnographer put the “I” in her work without committing “academic suicide”? Or should we even be worried about that now. Will the native ethnographer come to be accepted as authority in the future?

Chapter 10: Spatial Practices by James Clifford

This is sure a long and drawn out chapter. The focus again is field, and fieldwork, how it has been in the past, especially since its inception at the end of the nineteenth century when anthropological fieldwork was “invented.” He divides his discussion into three areas of interest, all pertaining to the changing field of field and fieldwork in anthropology: recent developments in sociocultural research practices, the instability of the cultural boundary in classic anthropological fieldwork, and the relationship between the European travel journal and anthropologic ethnography and how that link is being contested (186).

In his first topic, Clifford tells about two different research projects that do not reflect the old view of how fieldwork should be done. The first is a woman that focuses on one Haitian immigrant, a “voodoo priestess” who lives but a mile from the author’s home in Manhattan (188). The second is about a research study that contains several discrete domains from which the ethnographer gains his information. This fracturing of the ethnographic field seems to pose little problem for the ethnographer who pulls his disparate sources into a united whole in his write up.

Clifford does discuss the differences between travel writing and ethnography, and how ethnography must have stricter behavioral restrictions that travelers do. The fraternizing with the natives is not allowed in ethnographic study, even though it seems to be the high point and the draw for travel writers adding excitement and exoticism to their logs.

Reading this book makes me glad I am not in any form planning to go into academia, where there are constant battles over what constitutes research, fieldwork, and scholarship. The battle seems to be over money and prestige, and education must bend to these forces. Why not just not recognize those forces and focus on what is right?

And I did like this book, the best of all of the books we read this semester. Even though there is quibbling about definitions, argument about funding priorities, and what is required in academia, this book is also full of hope and is truly positive in that way.

Discussion Question: Why is it necessary for research to be standardized when standardization is exclusive and Eurocentric anyway? The same themes about traditional field and fieldwork came up repeatedly throughout these chapters. The same issues pointing to academic dogma and how the institution maintains its integrity through funding of certain projects and not funding others also came up repeatedly within the chapters.

When one is in the middle of it, it is hard to know there are forces beyond those that exist in the classroom that tend to control the flow and acceptability of knowledge. We have all been told to study what interests us, but just stay away from this or that that does not fit into the status quo (if funding or respect is one of your goals). Choosing an offbeat topic to research is likely to end in infamy rather than fame and recognition. 


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

Copyright © 2010 all rights reserved Victoria Kline victoriakline.com
last updated on June 13, 2011