EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006

(W008)

The self as ethnographic resource

Location Dept. Arch Anth LT2
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 17:00

Convenors

Anselma Gallinat (Newcastle University) email
Peter Collins (Durham University) email
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Short Abstract

The workshop is concerned with the question of the anthropologist's experience as a source of ethnographic data. It asks how we may engage our own memories explicitly and systematically in the doing and writing of ethnography.

Long Abstract

The workshop is concerned with the question of the anthropologist's experience as a source of ethnographic data. It is widely recognised that we call on our personal experiences in doing and writing ethnography. Self-reflexivity requires us to engage with the impact our own self may have on what we do and how we interpret what we observe. Yet, personal experience and memory, as resources, are involved further in ethnography. Ethnographers arrive in the field with memories of their own, they have experiences which produce further memories which they go on to deploy, more or less self-consciously, when writing ethnography. The workshop will move beyond discussions of self-reflexivity to ask how we may engage our own experience and memories more explicitly and systematically in the doing and writing of ethnography. We start with the premise that the inclusion of the personal experience of the anthropologist as one voice among others can be of great benefit to the ethnographic endeavour. However, to conceive of the ethnographer as a potential informant raises important methodological and theoretical questions about both ethnography and anthropology which we intend to address. The papers presented during the workshop will explore important issues directly relating to the construction of what we might call integrative ethnography, including authenticity and representation, memory, ethics and honesty, revelation, the emotions and writing.

Chair: Peter Collins and Anselma Gallinat
Discussant: Vered Amit

Papers

The idea of a Quaker anthropology

Author: Peter Collins (Durham University)  email
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Long Abstract

Although I have written more than a dozen academic papers on British Quakers and Quakerism I have not, until now, made clear my own position vis-à-vis the group. There have been two reasons (I tell myself) for this: first, it has not seemed necessary. Second, I was concerned that such an exercise might plunge me into a kind of half-baked self-analysis which would become not simply a means (of writing better ethnography) but an end in itself. If one takes the standard, objectivist view of anthropology these concerns make perfect sense. The 'greats' of the British School of Anthropology (Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard, Douglas, Richards and so forth) thought it neither necessary nor worthwhile to spill the ink of reflexivity in their academic work. Nevertheless, I will argue here that reflexivity is the first precondition for an anthropology in which the anthropologist's self can be considered a resource. A second, necessary condition is an appreciation of the self as multiple. A third is the commitment to a dialogic methodology. After mapping out these preconditions I will go on to show that the use of oneself as an ethnographic resource becomes not only possible but necessary.

The role of serendipity and memory in experiencing fields and designing texts

Author: Tamara Kohn (University of Melbourne)  email
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Long Abstract

Drawing from research on intercultural experience in three different 'fields' (incomer identity in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, intermarriage in East Nepal, and the practice of Japanese martial arts in Europe and the US), this paper suggests that accidents are more often than not sites of meaningful discovery in anthropological theory and practice. Skills including openness and flexibility allow these moments to reveal themselves as significant and redirect the gaze of inquiry at any time during the research process. Accidents which happen on a micro-scale (cultural faux pas, for instance, spoken or acted in the company of informants) as well as those which happen on a larger scale (life events and memories which choose fields and shape foci for the researcher), direct the path of research from field process to analysis. This is more than a quest for honest reflexivity, but it is an attempt to challenge scientistic and linear models of research design and process with ones which more closely match the realities of our trade and revel in the serendipitous and often surprising nature of human interaction.

Auto-ethnic ethnography, or 'one is not born an Ashkenazi'

Author: Tamar El-Or (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)  email
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Long Abstract

During my work with women from the Gur Hasidic community (Ultra orthodox Jewish sect, El-Or 1994), my Ashkenazi (Jews of Europian origin) ethnicity was something I shared with them, connecting my family history with those of the women I studied. I was not religious, but I was an Ashkenazi woman with a family tree that included some Hasidim. When I worked with Zionist religious women (El-Or 2000), my ethnicity was unimportant, because, in that group, nationalism trumps ethnicity. Unlike them, I was not religious, nor was I right-wing in my politics, but both my subjects and I were Israelis.

Studying Mizrachi (Jews of Arab countries origin), orthodox women (El-Or 2006) leaves me with very few assets. Economics, culture, family history, and current politics place innumerable barriers between me and my subjects. Any sociological parameter I might choose will place me and them on opposite sides and define the interaction between us as principally a relationship of power.

Therefore, to understand the Mizrachi women of my study, I must comprehend the systems of relations that made me an Ashkenazi woman. Such relationships are much more significant influences on my ethnic identity than that overly simplistic definition, "country of father’s birth,"? that demographers use to categorize Israelis. To answer the question "How did I become an Ashkenazi woman?"?, I must describe my Ashkenazi biography with reference to Mizrachiyut’s fixed presence within it. I will accomplish this by using my own professional tool — ethnography. In this case, it is auto-ethnography — an ethnic autobiography.

Being 'part of the story' in Macedonia

Author: Violeta Schubert (University of Melbourne)  email
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Long Abstract

The need to delve more deeply into one's own complex and interwoven relationships with a past predating the ethnographic project is particularly critical for 'home' anthropologists concerned with drawing on memories and experiences in a more systematic or explicit manner. This paper will explore the potentialities of being more critically attuned to shifts in modalities and temporalities and the place of intuitive grasps of meaning that occur unintentionally, in the 'side view mirror' so to speak, of ethnography and authorship. Drawing on experiences of fieldwork in Macedonia, it will focus on the challenges faced by the ethnographer in simulatneously doing justice to storytelling whilst being part of the story.

Gardening in time: memory and moral community in American horticulture

Author: Jane Nadel-Klein (Trinity College)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper takes an ethnographic look at how memory inflects culture and communication among American gardeners. It argues that gardeners participate in moral communities based upon shared understandings of what gardens are supposed to be and mean. Gardeners' memories are critical to these shared understandings. My investigation is based upon ongoing fieldwork as both anthropologist and as indigenous practitioner. I ask the question, "why do you garden?" and almost invariably hear stories of parents and grandparents in the garden. These ancestral memories are then juxtaposed to the demands and dissatisfactions of contemporary life, providing Edenic scenarios of beauty, hard work, safetly, and, most importantly, of virtue leading to reward.

Dualing memories: twinship and the disembodiment of identity

Author: Dona Davis (University of South Dakota)  email
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Long Abstract

Twins, because of their juxtaposed lives in infancy, childhood and adolescence, are assumed both to have earlier memories and to have more shared memories than singletons. Yet, the memory literature on twins treats memory only as a measurable ‘capacity,’ and shows no concern for the ‘content’ or negotiation of memory. Using auto- and co-biographical memory narratives from case studies, we offer a microanalysis of twin’s(s’) individual and paired memories of formative moments in their twinship. As twins reflect on their lives together, a common theme that emerges in their life stories is a self defining moment or episode; we term as a ‘dualing’ of identities. It is a point of realization that, despite their embodied likeness and shared environment, they are different and these differences will become more and more meaningful in later life. As anthropologists and identical twins, we use our own experience and memories as an ethnographic resource to reflect on the development of our own self- determination narratives. Thus, the very process of writing this piece becomes an action of self-making that enacts the very dynamic we seek to analyze. Comparing and contrasting our own experiences to those of other sets of twins, we conclude that, as twins, our shared experiences of being anomalies in our own culture shows not only how memory acts as the presenting of the past but also how the process and content of memory is shaped in a family context. The study contributes to the memory literature at four of its weakest links by characterizing memory as 1) material and embodied; 2) social action and interaction; 3) shaped by social and cultural process; 4) and as dyadic, as well as, self contained.

Remembrance and the ethnography of children's sports

Author: Noel Dyck (Simon Fraser University)  email
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Long Abstract

Situated at the analytical intersection between childhood as a realm of socialization and sport as a medium of physical and cultural expression, the ethnographic study of children's sport further reveals this to be a space of rampant and robust remembrance. Of course, every adult ethnographer of childhood can expect to confront more or less fulsome or intense memories and personal adjudications of his or her own childhood. Was it a "good", "bad", or unremarkably "normal" childhood that an individual anthropologist brings to his or her investigations of childhood? To what extent and how can fleeting memories or more finished "accounts" of one's own childhood shape the anthropologist's examination or avoidance of the social terrain occupied by infants, children, and youth, not to mention parents and care-givers? In similar manner, ethnographers of sport typically embark upon their chosen fields of study equipped with personal experience of having played one or many games and sports during and possibly since childhood. Indeed, the embodied memory of trained physical movements and the incorporated aesthetics of particular styles of play and performance may be fundamental to framing the specific questions posed and analyses undertaken by ethnographers of sport.

Various forms and processes of remembrance have featured significantly in my ongoing study of sport and the cultural politics of childhood in Canada. In this chapter I shall consider the implications and analytical challenges of opting to enlist memories of one's childhood and athletic experiences as an explicit part of the ethnographic study of contemporary children's sports. The chapter will also assess the manner in which a participant observer's engagement as a parent of child athletes and as a volunteer coach serves to augment the range, complexity, and impact of personal memories within the context of ethnographic fieldwork and analysis. Finally, the chapter will explore the ways in which children's sport may be employed as an instrument for memorializing the self and family as a transitory domestic project and some of the hazards that this may entail.

Getting feminised: doing fieldwork among rural women in Croatia

Author: Lynette Sikic-Micanovic (Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences)  email
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Long Abstract

Acknowledging that research is produced by situated and embodied researchers, this paper draws on my personal experiences (and memories) as an anthropologist interested in constructions of femininity among rural women in Slavonia, Croatia. Through a discussion of my own fieldwork, I address how my femininity was critiqued and scrutinised and how in turn I closely monitored my behaviour, appearance/clothing, body's postures, positions and movements to facilitate deeper cultural immersions. I adopt an auto-ethnographical approach to illuminate the culture under study by drawing data from field diaries supplemented with interviews with the intention of "displaying the multiple layers of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural" (Ellis and Bochner 2000). In this paper, it is argued that using the self as an ethnographic resource does not distort the authenticity of the work but rather gives it more clarity because it more convincingly illustrates the diverse and contested ways in which femaleness is socially constructed and understood in different contexts.

Whose story is this? Some reflections on the 'enchantments' of village life

Author: Anne Kathrine Larsen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)  email
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Long Abstract

This presentation will give some retrospective thoughts on my own field-research, and how my personal adventures gave me hunches that directly lead to my theoretical findings. As a young novice in the field, I was met with cross-pressures on how I should behave from various quarters; what type of information I should acquire, how I should go about with my work, and who I should mingle with. This has of course been experienced by many anthropologists, and has been an important gateway to understanding social life in communities. But a greater challenge was the pressure to inform villagers on what was going on in each others households. Although sharing the same overall national background as the villagers, I was not aware of the subtleties of how to handle information and got occasionally caught in the trap of not knowing what to say and not to say. Eventually such difficult and occasionally disturbing incidents sensitized me on seemingly elusive aspects of village conduct. This came to constitute the main theme of my thesis; namely how the villagers' idiosyncratic behaviour and manners of speaking could be seen as ways to administer their own cross-pressures. Years later, however, I questioned whether the main paradigm of my theories in fact was more a reflection of my own position as an outsider and newcomer to the community, as well as other of my personal characteristics, than how people themselves experienced their lives in the village. These were questions I carried with me on later field-works, and made me ponder on the process of how cognitive patterns emerge and crystallize into anthropological theories.

'Playing the native card?' The anthropologist as informant in eastern Germany

Author: Anselma Gallinat (Newcastle University)  email
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Long Abstract

Some decades have passed since Jackson's volume (1987) but 'anthropology at home' continues to be under scrutiny. Early criticism about the lack of objective distance when considering one's own culture have been challenged. Authors argue that nobody ever fully knows their own culture, and that the ethnographic position creates further distance. However, those working 'at home' might also be perceived as threatening by the wider discipline due to their seemingly privileged access to sites, informants and knowledge. They might even be able to claim the authority of informants on questions of culture. Jacobs-Huey calls this 'playing the native card' (2002).

According to Appadurai, we ascribe a status of authenticity to our informants by virtue of their being indigenous (1988). If now the professional is merged with the informant in the 'native ethnographer', the writing stemming from this symbiosis may appear nearly incontestable to the non-native, professional readership.

The paper will argue that experiences of the anthropologist, including memories that may reach beyond the professional training, can be highly relevant data, which should be included in the ethnography. Moreover, it will argue that such memories ought to be included explicitly in order to open them to analytical scrutiny. It will show how this can be done through two examples from my own experience of working and living in Saxony-Anhalt, eastern Germany. The paper will discuss the implications for ethnography which each example creates.

Ethnographic amnesia and the archaeology of memory: on remembering and forgetting in writing and fieldwork

Author: Simon Coleman (University of Toronto)  email
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Long Abstract

Past ethnographies have often been framed by images of landscape: we learn about the geographical position of the people we are about to be introduced to before moving swiftly on to learn about the specificities of their lives. More recently, ethnographies have frequently added another element to the framing of the text: reflexive passages -- sometimes incorporating elements of personal memory -- introduce the reader to the ideological positions and preconceptions of the writer. Both of these ways of locating ethnography are useful but tend to fade into the background once we enter the main body of the work.

In this piece I wish to explore the importance of memory (and therefore, also the importance of forgetting) in writing ethnography and practising fieldwork. By definition, therefore, I am exploring the role of recall within but also beyond the field. Rather than claiming that ‘memory’ constitutes a single subject in its own right, however, I want to explore some of varied ways in which it has had an impact on my own work, with particular focus on those occasions where I have subsequently discovered my memory of events to have been incorrect, where I have failed to make obvious connections between pieces of writing separated in time, or where I have only subsequently realised the connections between fieldwork interests and personal experience. Some of these comments themselves build on previous work I have done exploring the connections between fieldwork experiences, discussed in a paper I called ‘The Multi-Sited Ethnographer’.

How can one interpret such lapses of memory? And how can we use scholarly work on memory to examine them? In exploring these issues, I move from considering the usefulness of a Malinowskian notion of charters for the present, to reflecting on more embodied theories of learning and memory, to evaluating some of the more recent cognitive approaches in the field.