Fieldwork Is Not What It Used to Be: Learning Anthropology's Method in a Time of Transition

Cornell University Press
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Over the past two decades anthropologists have been challenged to rethink the nature of ethnographic research, the meaning of fieldwork, and the role of ethnographers. Ethnographic fieldwork has cultural, social, and political ramifications that have been much discussed and acted upon, but the training of ethnographers still follows a very traditional pattern; this volume engages and takes its point of departure in the experiences of ethnographers-in-the-making that encourage alternative models for professional training in fieldwork and its intellectual contexts.

The work done by contributors to Fieldwork Is Not What It Used to Be articulates, at the strategic point of career-making research, features of this transformation in progress. Setting aside traditional anxieties about ethnographic authority, the authors revisit fieldwork with fresh initiative. In search of better understandings of the contemporary research process itself, they assess the current terms of the engagement of fieldworkers with their subjects, address the constructive, open-ended forms by which the conclusions of fieldwork might take shape, and offer an accurate and useful description of what it means to become—and to be—an anthropologist today.

Contributors: Lisa Breglia, George Mason University; Jae A. Chung, Aalen University; James D. Faubion, Rice University; Michael M. J. Fischer, MIT; Kim Fortun, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Jennifer A. Hamilton, Hampshire College; Christopher M. Kelty, UCLA; George E. Marcus, University of California, Irvine; Nahal Naficy, Rice University; Kristin Peterson, University of California, Irvine; Deepa S. Reddy, University of Houston-Clear Lake

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About the author

James D. Faubion is Professor of Anthropology at Rice University and the author of books including The Shadows and Lights of Waco. George E. Marcus is Chancellor's Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine; coauthor with Fernando Mascarenhas of Ocasião: The Marquis and the Anthropologist, a Collaboration; and the author of books including Ethnography through Thick and Thin.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Cornell University Press
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Published on
Oct 15, 2011
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Pages
248
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ISBN
9780801463587
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Anthropology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Social anthropology is, in the classic definition, dedicated to the study of distant civilizations in their traditional and contemporary forms. But there is a larger aspiration: the comparative study of all human societies in the light of those challengingly unfamiliar beliefs and customs that expose our own ethnocentric limitations and put us in our place within the wider gamut of the world's civilizations. Thematically guided by social setting and cultural expression of identity, Social and Cultural Anthropology in Perspective is a dynamic and highly acclaimed introduction to the field of social anthropology, which also examines its links with cultural anthropology. A challenging new introduction critically surveys the latest trends, pointing to weaknesses as well as strengths.Presented in a clear, lively, and entertaining fashion, this volume offers a comprehensive and up-to-date guide to social anthropology for use by teachers and students. Skillfully weaving together theory and ethnographic data, author Ioan M. Lewis advocates an eclectic approach to anthropology. He combines the strengths of British structural-functionalism with the leading ideas of Marx, Freud, and Levi-Strauss while utilizing the methods of historians, political scientists, and psychologists. One of Lewis' particular concerns is to reveal how insights from ""traditional"" cultures illuminate what we take for granted in contemporary industrial and post-industrial society. He also shows how, in the pluralist world in which we live, those who study ""other"" cultures ultimately learn about themselves. Social anthropology is thus shown to be as relevant today as it has been in the past.
In Anthropological Futures, Michael M. J. Fischer explores the uses of anthropology as a mode of philosophical inquiry, an evolving academic discipline, and a means for explicating the complex and shifting interweaving of human bonds and social interactions on a global level. Through linked essays, which are both speculative and experimental, Fischer seeks to break new ground for anthropology by illuminating the field’s broad analytical capacity and its attentiveness to emergent cultural systems.

Fischer is particularly concerned with cultural anthropology’s interactions with science studies, and throughout the book he investigates how emerging knowledge formations in molecular biology, environmental studies, computer science, and bioengineering are transforming some of anthropology’s key concepts including nature, culture, personhood, and the body. In an essay on culture, he uses the science studies paradigm of “experimental systems” to consider how the social scientific notion of culture has evolved as an analytical tool since the nineteenth century. Charting anthropology’s role in understanding and analyzing the production of knowledge within the sciences since the 1990s, he highlights anthropology’s aptitude for tracing the transnational collaborations and multisited networks that constitute contemporary scientific practice. Fischer investigates changing ideas about cultural inscription on the human body in a world where genetic engineering, robotics, and cybernetics are constantly redefining our understanding of biology. In the final essay, Fischer turns to Kant’s philosophical anthropology to reassess the object of study for contemporary anthropology and to reassert the field’s primacy for answering the largest questions about human beings, societies, culture, and our interactions with the world around us. In Anthropological Futures, Fischer continues to advance what Clifford Geertz, in reviewing Fischer’s earlier book Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice, called “a broad new agenda for cultural description and political critique.”

Within anthropology, as elsewhere in the human sciences, there is a tendency to divide knowledge making into two separate poles: conceptual (theory) vs. empirical (ethnography). In Theory Can Be More than It Used to Be, Dominic Boyer, James D. Faubion, and George E. Marcus argue that we need to take a step back from the assumption that we know what theory is to investigate how theory—a matter of concepts, of analytic practice, of medium of value, of professional ideology—operates in anthropology and related fields today. They have assembled a distinguished group of scholars to diagnose the state of the theory-ethnography divide in anthropology today and to explore alternative modes of analytical and pedagogical practice.Continuing the methodological insights provided in Fieldwork Is Not What It Used to Be, the contributors to this volume find that now is an optimal time to reflect on the status of theory in relation to ethnographic research in anthropology and kindred disciplines. Together they engage with questions such as, What passes for theory in anthropology and the human sciences today and why? What is theory's relation to ethnography? How are students trained to identify and respect anthropological theorization and how do they practice theoretical work in their later career stages? What theoretical experiments, languages, and institutions are available to the human sciences? Throughout, the editors and authors consider theory in practical terms, rather than as an amorphous set of ideas, an esoteric discourse of power, a norm of intellectual life, or an infinitely contestable canon of texts. A short editorial afterword explores alternative ethics and institutions of pedagogy and training in theory.Contributors: Andrea Ballestero, Rice University; Dominic Boyer, Rice University; Lisa Breglia, George Mason University; Jessica Marie Falcone, Kansas State University; James D. Faubion, Rice University; Kim Fortun, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Andreas Glaeser, University of Chicago; Cymene Howe, Rice University; Jamer Hunt, Parsons The New School for Design and the Institute of Design in Umea, Sweden; George E. Marcus, University of California, Irvine; Townsend Middleton, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Deepa S. Reddy, University of Houston–Clear Lake; Kaushik Sunder Rajan, University of Chicago
In this compact volume two of anthropology’s most influential theorists, Paul Rabinow and George E. Marcus, engage in a series of conversations about the past, present, and future of anthropological knowledge, pedagogy, and practice. James D. Faubion joins in several exchanges to facilitate and elaborate the dialogue, and Tobias Rees moderates the discussions and contributes an introduction and an afterword to the volume. Most of the conversations are focused on contemporary challenges to how anthropology understands its subject and how ethnographic research projects are designed and carried out. Rabinow and Marcus reflect on what remains distinctly anthropological about the study of contemporary events and processes, and they contemplate productive new directions for the field. The two converge in Marcus’s emphasis on the need to redesign pedagogical practices for training anthropological researchers and in Rabinow’s proposal of collaborative initiatives in which ethnographic research designs could be analyzed, experimented with, and transformed.

Both Rabinow and Marcus participated in the milestone collection Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Published in 1986, Writing Culture catalyzed a reassessment of how ethnographers encountered, studied, and wrote about their subjects. In the opening conversations of Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary, Rabinow and Marcus take stock of anthropology’s recent past by discussing the intellectual scene in which Writing Culture intervened, the book’s contributions, and its conceptual limitations. Considering how the field has developed since the publication of that volume, they address topics including ethnography’s self-reflexive turn, scholars’ increased focus on questions of identity, the Public Culture project, science and technology studies, and the changing interests and goals of students. Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary allows readers to eavesdrop on lively conversations between anthropologists who have helped to shape their field’s recent past and are deeply invested in its future.

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