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36314Re: [existlist] Ethnography / was Re: And She Who Was Second Shall be First

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  • Aija Veldre Beldavs
    Sep 21, 2005
      On Sat, 17 Sep 2005, Exist List Moderator wrote in response to my Sep 14,
      2005, at 9:22 msg:

      >> at its best folk psychology and philosophy (often combined) also use
      >> knowledge from all three subtypes of the lifeworld. the latvian term
      >> for folklore and ethnography is "life knowledge" (dziiveszinja). the
      >> concept is dynamic and ongoing...obviously there is a richer folk
      >> psychology and philosophy if there is also a full range of social
      >> diversity with broader educational opportunities.

      between select lines:

      > My position is that much "ethnographic" and "memetic" scholarship is
      > weakly documented and often tainted by a social-epistemic motivation
      > that fails to properly disclose its biases.

      we're not referring the same social science, gender, and anthro lit and i
      did emphasize "at best." one would expect emerging development (esp. in
      the humanities and social sciences in contrast to the hard sciences) as
      opposed to fully matured in student papers submitted as evidence.

      > Shirely Brice Heath and other quantitative / qualitative ethnographers
      > have improved the field by admitting its shortcomings and asking
      > researchers to be more introspective. I think this is a valid request
      > of ethnographers but it is often overlooked.

      such fields as folklore, ethnography, anthropology have undergone a
      similar split into analytic/science-oriented and humanities/arts/language
      orientaton as described in the Rorty articles. the "ethnography of
      speaking" as a part of increasing emphasis on social context became a
      dominant paradigm along with the emergence of sociolinguistics in the last
      40 or so years.

      however, folkloristics with its turn to areas of communication, drama, and
      culture, ran into competition from other already established fields and
      has failed to assert a sufficiently original approach to attract required
      demand. at IU it has merged with ethnomusicology, a reflection of market
      forces. an old approach once unique to folkloristics, the
      historic-geographic approach with implied and emerging possibilities of
      creating atlases of human concepts moving vertically and horizontally, was
      dropped. in my opinion, unfortunately. as somewhat of a parallel, DNA
      mapping research is now a leading source of information of population
      movements in time and space.

      > You cannot be an unbiased observer and often the observer assumes an
      > activist role. Other sciences are not immune to activism, but such
      > activism in ethnography can have serious consequences. In a journal I
      > read last spring, the anthropologist involved explained that his
      > interactions with a culture might have resulted in some extreme
      > punishments for one influenced subject.

      from its inception as a handmaiden of colonial powers, which came up with
      the concept of backward savages vs progressive civilizations, to its flip
      as advocates for what were in the Rousseau etc. romantic period seen as
      "noble savages" ethnography has been open about its political uses and
      abuses. self-disclosure is now a mandatory (sometimes to the point of
      obsessive "me") part of research.

      as in the field of law, there is not so much a claim of objectivity, as of
      balance, fairness, evening the score, giving voice to the otherwise
      underrepresented or suppressed. the objective of law is allow both sides
      to speak. the ethnographer seeks to give voice to those whose voice is
      suppressed by the power elites. this, of course, does have
      socio-political implications and consequences. however, it seeks to
      violate the Prime Directive you write about, by giving power to the
      subject one is studying in a way that is open to scrutiny by anyone.
      giving cameras and teaching subjects how to do ethnography of their own
      cultures or subcultures is an important part of ethnography today.

      also, at best in contrast to say the spy, the ethnographer's prime concern
      is not the information for the sake of another group or oneself, but at
      least ideally, respect for the subject, and their integraty. in contrast
      to he ethics of a spy, it would be against the ethics of an ethnographer
      to betray or endanger his informants.

      in contrast to the mentality of the colonial ethnographer, who exploited
      the knowledge of subject peoples for the benefit of an imperial power, the
      ethographer today is oriented to benefit the underrepresented group. of
      course these are the ideals, not necessarily the effect or the practice.
      there indeed are "drive-by" in-and-out types who claim to be
      ethnographers. they cull what they can for their professional advancement,
      construct "friendships" only to drop them as soon as they are no longer
      useful. they're not my role models, nor those of the people i enjoy
      spending time with.

      obviously the wicca modifying clause to the Crowley-an do as thou wilt (an
      it do no one harm) doesn't really work in practice. anything anyone does
      (or fails to do) has potential for harming (some) while benefitting
      (others). one does what one does the best one knows how. if in
      reasonable doubt about passion, moderation!!!

      > In computer sciences or neurology, two of the many fields I consult,
      > the researchers choices can be ethically affective, but seldom does lab
      > work put other individuals at risk. (Sure, some risk might occur, but
      > it isn't quite like violating the "Prime Directive" among island
      > natives.)

      "revolutions" in concepts do violate the Prime Directive, but because of
      that i wouldn't argue against open source, meritocracy, and self-selected
      largely acephalous democracy or the wikipedia movement.:)

      > So, yes, I do judge ethnography differently. It must be done with care
      > and with a lot of documentation or it risks being something other than
      > "science."

      in sum, ethnography has never been a hard science. as in all forms of
      disciplined knowledge seeking there are those who are more scientists than
      others. ethnography is not a monolithic field, but has aspects of both
      science and art, and it evolves to be in accordance with those who
      practice ethnography.

      aija
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