Tagged: Ethnography

13. Reading: Works and Lives

This has been fun! Clifford Geertz is one of those anthropologists whose writing has inspired generations of anthropologists and scholars from other disciplines, as well. I have to admit, however, that I find his theoretical works much more interesting than his fieldwork-based writings. While the latter once are beautifully written stylistically, for my taste they often lack the theoretical vision of his other works. In Works and Lives. The Anthropologist as Author (Stanford University Press, 1988), he dissects the writings styles and construction of a verisimilar perspective on the Other in the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard, Bronislaw Malinowski and Ruth Benedict, some of the discipline’s big names.

In six short essays, he shows how these four authors partly owe their place in the discipline to a particular style of writing, each relating to specific aspects of their actual field research, and in alingment with their theoretical proyects. While overall balanced and sensitive to racism and sexism (especially in the cases of the latter three of utmost importance, given their ways into their fields), I found it disappointing to see that only in the essay about the only female anthropologist analyzed in his collection, he found it necessary to speak about her pressumed mental health. While he did judge the other author’s personality traits, only in her case did he go as far as to insinuate “issues”, which was furthermore innecessary to understand her writing.

How did I come across the book?

It was recommended to me by my second supervisor after I presented a chapter on writing affective ethnography at the grad school’s colloquium.

When and where did I read it?

Over the weekend in Konstanz/Zurich. It’s entertaining, insightful and at times very funny. Especially Geertz’s non-fieldwork-based texts have always struck me as beautiful in both scientific and aesthetic aspects, and I am especially thankful for this programmatic advice:

The most direct way to bring field work as personal encounter and ethnography as reliable account together is to make the diary form […] something for the world to read. (p. 84)


18. Reading: Doing Sensory Ethnography

In my search for methodological entries to researching affect, I came across Sarah Pink’s Doing Sensory Ethnography (2009, SAGE Publications) as one of the core texts on sensory ethnographic approaches. And even though the connection of affects and senses is not as obvious as it may look, given that a five-sense-sensorium is a cultural construct, and considering the debate of whether affects are or are not pre-social, the volume does offer a very broad overview about the research done in relation to these five senses (and place-making). In general, it is easy to read, not too theory-ladden, and full of good examples. I really enjoyed the scope of research (and art, architecture and everyday-practice inputs), which allow for a very nice entry into the world of sensory ethnography.

The book centers on three mayor steps in the sensory research process, which are the theoretical baselines and ethic considerations for research on and with the senses, the practices in the field, and the interpretation and representation of (sensory) findings. The last part could have been a lot more experimental for my taste, especially considering the author’s argument for ways of writing that appeal to the senses, and overall the text became somewhat repetitive toward the end. But in genera, it is a good starting point to explore anthropological perspectives on the senses and how to research them.

How did I come across the book?

I think I first heard about Sarah Pink when I was still writing my M.A. thesis. I spend a few days at the Grimm Zentrum with two colleagues, who were both working on papers related to alternative (read: feminist, decolonial) research methodologies. Over lunch, I listened attentively to their talk and made a ‘head-note’ on reading Pink someday.

When and where did I read it?

It’s been in my office for quite a while, and it’s really not a big book. However, it took me a bit to get started, and towards the end I actually fell asleep on several occassions. But I think I made it in less than a week, reading a chapter every once in a while.