Cornell University Press just published Fieldwork is Not What it used to Be edited by James Faubion and George Marcus. If I might be so bold (since I have an essay in the volume), this is a fascinating little book. It’s full of essays by students from Rice University’s anthropology program, all of whom entered in the late 1990s or early 2000s. It’s really rare to see a publication like this these days, not least because of the difficulties of getting anything at all published in an edited volume. Though it might seem either indulgent or aggrandizing (“The Rice School of…”), this is actually a snapshot of the state of socio-cultural anthropology today. All of the issues raised both by the Writing Culture critiques of the 1980s and the critiques of those critiques are present in these essays. It’s rare that a book gives one a peek into recent graduate work in this way.
I think the book will make a great pro-seminar object for a couple of reasons. One is that it has a mix of valuable stuff: the core of the book is a set of diverse essays derived from dissertations, which can be compared and contrasted by graduate students entering the field (Kris Peterson, Jae Chung, Jennifer Hamilton, Deepa Reddy, Nahal Naficy, Lisa Breglia); reflections on pedagogy in anthropology (in the articles by me, Kim Fortun and George Marcus); and an erudite and no-holds barred attempt at theorizing the nature of ethnographic fieldwork as a topology of connectivity (Faubion’s article). The other, I hope, is that it should be read as a spirited defense of the method (ethnographic fieldwork) and the core concept of culture–one that shows in several ways how new objects and new problems are created and explored through this research methodology.
A couple words about the book and website: Cornell University Press was willing to go halfway towards open access. I won’t hide the fact that I was disappointed that they wouldn’t make the volume fully open access, but I do think they deserve credit for willing to take the first step. It helps that I agreed to create a website for the book, since they didn’t really know how to do that… and I hope anyone here interested in using the book in class will let me know, and I would be happy to try to help use the website to facilitate discussion (e.g. if students want to post reactions, I consider that fair game, and would happily add them to the site).