Reimagining the self and the field in contemporary ethnography: insights from living and researching within and through borders

Location 101a
Date and Start Time 16 May, 2014 at 13:30


Yuki Imoto (Keio University) email
Tomoko Tokunaga (International Christian University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel will discuss the meaning and process of self-reflexivity, through utilizing the concept of 'borders'. It brings together papers that explore approaches such as auto/native/team/feminist/multi-sited ethnography, to engage in the critiques and possible futures of postmodern methods.

Long Abstract

This panel discusses self-reflexivity both as method and as a topic of inquiry. It invites papers that explore approaches such as autoethnography, collaborative/team ethnography, multi-sited ethnography, feminist ethnography, and native ethnography to actively engage in the critiques and possible (or impossible?) futures of postmodern methods. We aim for refinement of concepts such as field, self, and ethnographic writing itself, and for dialogue with ideas from contexts other than the Western/postcolonial anthropological vernacular.

In discussing self-reflexivity, we employ the notion of 'border' as a conceptual tool. The border concept interrogates notions of 'here' or 'there', self or other, native or foreign, researcher or researched, and constructs terrains that go beyond these binaries. When assuming 'border' to be 'a psychic, social and cultural terrain that we inhabit, and that inhabits all of us' (Anzaldúa, 1987), self-reflexivity ceases to be mere politicized confession or navel-gazing. Rather, for those who inhabit borders, reflexivity becomes existence/identity/perception itself.

How do researchers understand multiple identity borders between self and other, and how do they navigate 'ambiguous insider/outsider positions' (Kondo, 1990)? How can we make sense of 'culture' through inhabiting borders? We invite papers that incorporate border concepts, whether of identity, language, the body, geographical or intellectual space, for a more nuanced understanding of self-reflexivity in postmodern research.

Chair: Prof. Gregory Poole, Prof. William Beeman (University of Michigan)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


When anthropologists collide: self-reflexive dialogues between a 'native' and a 'foreign' anthropologist

Authors: Sachiko Horiguchi (Temple University Japan Campus)  email
Ellen Rubinstein  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims at a more nuanced understanding of self-reflexivity in fieldwork by examining the dialogues between two anthropologists who inadvertently shared a field site. It highlights the influence of linguistic, academic, and ethnic backgrounds on ethnography as both practiced and written.

Long Abstract

This paper aims at a nuanced understanding of self-reflexivity in ethnography by examining the case of two anthropologists who unexpectedly found themselves sharing a field site. Sachiko Horiguchi has been conducting fieldwork on hikikomori (socially withdrawn youth) in Tokyo as a 'native' anthropologist on and off since July 2003. Ellen Rubinstein, an American anthropologist, started her doctoral fieldwork in Tokyo on the same theme in February 2010. We traveled in similar circles and were familiar with the same people, but it was not until October 2010 that we suddenly stumbled upon each other at the same field site. The encounter itself was perceived differently by each of us, and in the dialogues that followed there emerged a critical reflection on what it means to do ethnography - to construct for oneself a bounded field site, a fieldwork identity, and a role in a community.

Sharing observations and interpretations of the same people in the same place at the same time heightened our awareness of the varied ways of experiencing the field, as well as the biases and assumptions underlying them. This paper will draw from our field notes and dialogues in problematizing the categories of 'native' and 'foreign' anthropologists, while also acknowledging the divergences in ethnographic practices made necessary by those identities. It will shed light on the constructed nature of fieldwork and field sites, the politics of positionality, and the dynamic nature of relationships in the field.

Writing of and within the dilemma: an auto/feminist/native ethnography on researching and publishing in Japan

Author: Aya Kitamura (Tsuda College)  email

Short Abstract

Writing about Japanese women as a Japanese woman is a vulnerable endeavor. Through an autoethnographic account, this paper explores self-reflexivity vis-à-vis conflicting power relations endemic to researching, writing and publishing that further complicate the ethnographer’s dilemma.

Long Abstract

Feminist ethnographers and native ethnographers, those who study "one's own kind," face the oft-discussed predicaments of ethnographic representation, exploitation and appropriation most keenly. As a Japanese woman studying Japanese women, I often reflect on my situatedness and positionality, how I am a "vulnerable observer" (Behar 1996). Through an autoeghnographic account, this paper explores self-reflexivity vis-à-vis conflicting power relations endemic to researching, writing and publishing that further complicate the ethnographer's dilemma.

Commonalities and connections between my research participants and myself, advantageous as they seem, at times turn out to be imaginary. I have had some of my interview requests rejected, and one research participant decided to withdraw all together after reading my book manuscript—as if to resist my ethnographic authority, to refuse to be represented as I intended. Powerful and powerless at once, where do I stand and how do I write?

Upon publishing, despite my wish to write self-reflexively, exposing myself in sociological texts, my editors apparently had different agendas. One asked me to edit out "subjective" descriptions so that the book looks authentically academic, while the other, aiming at a more popular readership, wanted far more of such "accessible" accounts. My intention to write on the borders of the "subject/object" and "academic/general" dichotomies was, in either case, unfeasible.

Simultaneously, presenting my autoethnography in an anthropological conference—only inside a safe house—exemplifies the compartmentalization of self-reflexive analysis, commonly observed in both anthropology and sociology. The borders are yet to be disrupted, and the dilemma is left unresolved.

Autoethnography from the borders of anthropology and Japan: co-constructing narratives of borderland experience among two 'native' female academics

Authors: Yuki Imoto (Keio University)  email
Tomoko Tokunaga (International Christian University)  email

Short Abstract

As an autoethnographic exploration among two ‘native’ Japanese female academics trained in the US and the UK, this paper delineates the constraints and possibilities of intellectual border crossings, and the place of ‘hybrid’ scholars within the contexts of local anthropologies and Japanese higher education.

Long Abstract

Using autoethnography as a method, this paper explores the possibilities and constraints of intellectual border crossings among two Japanese female scholars trained in academic institutions in the US and the UK. Our narrative focuses on the experience of 'return' to Japanese academic contexts and on both the constructions of 'homes' (ibasho) and identities as we navigate across borderlands.

The story begins with our encounter in Tokyo in early 2013, and our subsequent accumulation of dialogue in both academic and non-academic contexts. Finding many commonalities as well as subtle differences in our experiences, interests, and struggles as early-career female returnee academics, we wondered whether such personally therapeutic 'chats' could in fact be expressed as anthropological ethnography. We thus explore the meanings of academic homes and identities through the process of collaborative autoethnography itself. Through dialogic and reflexive writing, we reveal the ways boundaries of language (dilemmas of writing in one or the other language and the problem of readership), academia (entering various academic institutions and acquiring their particular cultural codes), and gender roles, among others, are negotiated.

By reflecting, comparing, narrating, and writing our experiences, we attempt to delineate the constraints and possibilities of the globalizing Japanese higher education context and the place of 'hybrid' scholars within it. At the same time, through the process of 'writing in-between', we explore the potential of collaborative autoethnography, both as liberating and therapeutic workings on the structured self, and as fluid and interactive creations of 'selves' within and through the text.

Conceptualizing and negotiating glocalized borders of identity in ELT in Japan: a "native speaker's" ongoing journey of self-reflective practice

Author: Nathanael Rudolph (Mukogawa Women's University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the presenter’s negotiation of transcultural and translinguistic identity, and concomitant conceptualization and challenging of glocalized borders of “inside” and “outside,” and “us” and “them” in English language teaching in Japan.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the presenter's lived experiences as a teacher and researcher conceptualizing and challenging glocalized (Lin et al., 2002) borders of "inside" and "outside," and "us" and "them" in the field of English language teaching (ELT) in Japan. The presenter will touch upon his negotiation of translinguistic and transcultural identity (Motha, Jain and Tecle, 2012) and concomitant deconstruction of dominant discourses of identity seeking to establish and perpetuate borders of being and becoming in terms of English learning, use and instruction in the Japanese context. In doing so, the presenter will detail the essential role self-reflexivity has served in his approach to borders, borderlands and border crossing in ELT both within and beyond Japan.

Imagined "ethnic authenticity": revisiting the construction of a research context by researcher and researched

Author: Satoko Shao-Kobayashi (Chiba University)  email

Short Abstract

This study revisits two of my previous ethnographic studies on ethnic identity, language learning and social relationships. Focusing on a concept, “authenticity,” I closely reanalyse the way in which I engaged in the construction, interpretation and representation of the research contexts and data.

Long Abstract

Product of research is tied to research process -- data collection and analysis. Thus it is crucial to critically shape and reshape the type of methodological approach that a researcher employs, under what kind of assumptions, the ways she or he has an impact on the research contexts and process, and what the consequences could be.

In this paper, I revisit two of my previous ethnographic studies on ethnic identity, language learning and social relationships, which I conducted as a first-generation Japanese scholar in the United States. One of the studies is series of ethnographic interviews on ethnic identity between an inter-ethnic couple, a fourth generation Japanese American woman and a 1.5 generation Korean American man. The other study is multi-site two-year ethnography about transnational Japanese high school students in English Language Development programs in California. I reanalyse the data of the two studies by utilizing in-depth discourse analysis of participants' conversation and interviews. One of the focal concepts in this study is "authenticity" -- a belief that there is an authentic and inauthentic member and language of an ethnic group. An important aspect of this concept is that it is believed and practiced by both researcher and researched. By focusing on how ethnic authenticity was interactionally imagined and practiced by participants and myself, this study critically and reflexively reveals a possible way a researcher engages in the construction, interpretation and representation of a research context and data.

'Multiple presences of infinite layers': defining insider/outsider participation in ethnography

Author: Ditte Strunge Sass (Mahidol University International College)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the role of movement across boundaries between communities of practices in conducting ethnographic fieldwork. In doing so, it will focus on understandings of the insider/outsider roles, suggesting that these are both highly situational, fluid and complex forms of membership.

Long Abstract

Fredrik Barth (1969) has suggested that it is at the boundaries of any cultural group that one can truly obtain an understanding of the group itself. In my research concerning the 'being and becoming of Danish welfare citizens in the Danish School', this observation was pertinent along many avenues. Initially because it was often at the boundaries of 'Danishness' that Danishness itself became visible, but also in view of how I, as an expatriate-Dane, inhabited a liminal membership-role between that of an insider and an outsider.

This paper elaborates on how postmodern ethnomethodology - where subject-object dualism is dissolved in favour of a view in which the field researcher inevitably influences, and in turn is influenced by his or her settings - influenced my fieldwork.

The starting point for this discussion will be my findings from my PhD research in a Danish school setting, in which I found that we as ethnographers are much like learners ourselves. When approaching a community of practice, we have to learn both legitimate forms of participation (Lave and Wenger 1991) and how to seamlessly move across the boundaries between various sub-modes of participation within the community of practice.

Having to consistently move between the students' and teachers' already narrowly defined social categories, I found that my insider/outsider roles reached far beyond that of my ethnic heritage. This in turn beckons the question of how, and along whose lines, we should define the insider/outsider role, and to what extent 'ethnicity' is a key component in this definition.

The researcher as participant: how adopting a dual role can enrich the efficacy of fieldwork

Author: Natalie Close (Sophia University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at how boundaries between the researcher and the participant in fieldwork can be affected by the role of the researcher, and what can be gained by including the self in research on abstract notions such as identity and hierarchy.

Long Abstract

When conducting fieldwork it is often difficult to differentiate clear boundaries between the subject and the researcher, especially when using participant observation methodology. In fact, it can be argued that is advantageous for these boundaries to be blurred in order to gain further, more in-depth insights. Often, however, the presence of a researcher can affect what is being researched, or can distract many subjects who may not understand the role of the researcher, especially when participating in group events that are usually inaccessible to outsiders. In these circumstances, having a distinct participatory role can help give the researcher a clear identity which can be easily related to by the subjects.

This paper will focus on fieldwork conducted on hierarchy in a community festival in Tokyo. As part of the fieldwork, the researcher was engaged in not only investigating the nature of hierarchy, but also in filming the events that constituted the festival, and therefore was viewed as performing a task within the group. As such, the researcher had two distinct roles; one as the researcher and the other, fulfilling a more readily easily understandable function, as participant. In addition, due to the presence of other members of the media, this role was further solidified and therefore offered a unique opportunity to investigate hierarchy from both an insider's perspective as a film-maker, and externally, as an outsider or researcher. In this way, having an additional role within the group allowed further insight to be gained on the abstract concept of hierarchy.

Ethnography of tourism and participant observation: the intimate experience of being one traveller among the others

Author: Clothilde Sabre (Hokkaido University)  email

Short Abstract

When conducting the multi-sited ethnography of tourism, the intimate connection between imaginary and reality that occurs during the trip for the tourists is an experience that needs to be share and lived by the researcher. The self narrative experience is then included as an ethnographic tool.

Long Abstract

Investigating the tourist experience from the travellers' perspective needs to reconsider the ethnographic method: as a globalized phenomenon, tourism is multi-sited and, to comprehend the concrete experience of the stay, the ethnographer performs a deep immersion in different spaces and times. The participant observation can't be reduced to the effective moment of the trip but it has roots before the stay and it continues after it too. The notion of imaginary is at the core of this experience: before visiting their destination, travellers are picturing it, from images and information they have integrated. Once on the tourist site, they are confronting previous imaginary with concrete experience, and, without being familiar with these images, the ethnographer wouldn't be able to reach and share the feelings that give meaning to this moment. Imaginary and emotions are then one of the sites for ethnography.

This presentation is an attempt to outline this model of intimate ethnography. The case study of French fans of manga and anime travelling in Japan will be taken to illustrate the many questions raised by the fieldwork. For fans the trip to Japan was a key moment in their personal life and the ethnographer had to share this feeling, using its own emotion as a tool to perceive and decipher the other tourists' reaction, from a different perspective than just being fan. The self experience of the researcher is then an important ethnographic tool, which can help to understand the role of intimacy and personal feelings into contemporary phenomenon.

Le Verfügbar aux enfers - Germaine Tillion's operetta. From the 'ethnographic inside-outside' to the staged derision as strategies for an auto (and hetero) existence and resistance in Ravensbrück

Author: Ana Brinca (New University of Lisbon (UNL))  email

Short Abstract

This paper’s objective is to give an interpretative analysis of Germaine Tillion’s operetta written in Ravensbrück, simultaneously discussing the personal experience as a study case and reflection and the ‘ethnographic’ writing as or with the purpose of action (existential or of resistance).

Long Abstract

An ethnologist, Germaine Tillion (1907-2008) was a prisoner at Ravensbrück (1943-1945). A former student of Marcel Mauss and a field researcher on the Chaouias (1936-1940), Tillion would use the theoretical and methodological knowledge she had acquired for her detention in Ravensbrück to 'become' a 'field' experience. Observing from the inside, and giving the imposed proximity the possible detachment "as if she were outside (the 'camp'/'field')" she 'represents' the other female prisoners and herself in the camp's (in)humane environment, she scrutinized concentration camp issues and procedures, and turns them into known 'objects' (Todorov 2009), making use, for that, of a particular medium, non-monographic, written in an auto and hetero-scornful tone, done in situ,- an operetta with which Tillion (2005) wanted to fulfill two objectives: she wanted it to be pleasant to her listeners and that these would add information to the auto-knowledge and the 'camp'/'field' and would reinforce the consciousness of their existential condition and of resistance possibilities (Andrieu 2007). Without evoking reflexivity as a method or a problematized object, but with it and its relation with boundaries (bodily, identitary, symbolic mingling together) this operetta is worth rethinking and debating. With the results of an interpretative analysis of this operetta, this paper focuses on issues such as the introduction of personal experience (either direct or indirect) as a study case and knowledge and the interconnection of information this collected and (auto-) reflected with the writing in the or in context as or with the purpose of action (either existential or resistance).

Anthropology, infra-reflexivity, and postdramatic theatre

Author: Aäron Moszowski Van Loon (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)  email

Short Abstract

By juxtaposing the development of reflexive anthropology and postdramatic theatre, the paper intends to shed a new light on a crucial episode in the history of contemporary anthropology. It will be made clear that anthropology and art are converging worlds.

Long Abstract

By juxtaposing the development of reflexive anthropology and postdramatic theatre, the paper intends to shed a new light on a crucial episode in the history of contemporary anthropology. At some moment in the twentieth century drama and theatre began to drift apart in the West. Drawing on the legacy of Antonin Artaud, Gertrude Stein and Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, one of Bronislaw Malinowski's childhood friends, theatre makers like Jan Fabre, Tadeusz Kantor and Robert Wilson rejected Aristotelian dramatic theatre and moved towards what the German critic Hans-Thies Lehmann proposed to call "postdramatic theatre". Their works are scenic poems that don't try to double anything and whose critical force doesn't depend on the direct thematisation of the political but on their mode of representation. With regard to anthropology, its recent history is marked by the advent of reflexive anthropology, whose evolution can be divided into three phases: the pre-postmodernist moment of the seventies that gave birth to a kind of benign introspection that was inable to challenge the traditional ideology of representation; the postmodernist moment of the eighties, dominated by the "Writing Culture" debate; and the post-postmodernist moment of the nineties, during which the focus was readjusted from narrative to experience and meta-reflexivity was displaced by what the French actor-network theorist Bruno Latour proposed to call "infra-reflexivity". By discussing some of the recent works of the Anglo-Saxon anthropologist Michael Taussig and the French choreographer Jérôme Bel, it will be made clear that anthropology and art are converging worlds.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.