Tag Archives: ethnographic method

Explaining Ethnography in the Field: A Conversation between Pasang Yangjee Sherpa and Carole McGranahan

What is ethnography? In anthropology, ethnography is both something to know and a way of knowing. It is an orientation or epistemology, a type of writing, and also a methodology. As a method, ethnography is an embodied, empirical, and experiential field-based way of knowing centered around participant-observation. This is obvious to anthropologists as it has been our central method for the last century. However, what ethnography is, how it works, and the unique specificity of ethnographic data is not always clear to outsiders, whether they are other researchers, officials, or members of the communities with whom we are working. Why is this, and how do we explain ethnography and its value when we are in the field? In April, we started a conversation about this in person at a conference at Cornell University, emailed back and forth over the summer, and concluded the conversation this month at a conference at the University of Colorado. We cover topics including the context of research, questions of technology, IRBs, being a native anthropologist, the usefulness of ethnography and stories, and ethnographic research as a unique sort of data.


Carole: What constitutes the field always differs by scholar. Who we are in dialogue with, where, and why depends on one’s research project. However, no matter where we are or who we are, explaining our research topic and method is critical. In your research, with whom are you discussing ethnography as method, and how do you explain it?

Pasang: In my research, I discuss ethnography as method with village residents, diaspora communities, government officials, NGO officials, scientists, youth leaders, students, policy makers, technocrats, and conservation practitioners. These categories often overlap. Continue reading

Groundings, or seeing-one’s-feet: An introduction

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Proshant Chakraborty]

Over the last year or so, I have found that nearly every academic essay I have written for my courses contains a section titled ‘Context & Positions,’ or some such variant.

The first reason for this is obvious – my undergraduate and graduate classes in anthropology focused on reflexivity to a very large extent. We were initiated into the discipline with an emphasis on the fact that our data is ‘co-produced’ with our informants; that there is no such thing as a ‘neutral’ observation, nor are there any ‘Universal Truths’ out there.

The purpose of anthropology – and critical social sciences – one of my professors in my undergraduate class explained, is to ‘problematize the obvious.’ In my MA program, my professor and thesis supervisor underscored that anthropology is a ‘particularistic’ discipline.

That is perhaps why I consciously decided to title this post as ‘Groundings’ – but there is a second reason for it, which is more personal and intuitive, arising from my own engagement with ethnography. It is what I describe as ‘seeing one’s feet’ (which is, of course, a nod to Scheper-Hughes’ idea of ‘anthropology with feet-on-the-ground,’ and ‘barefoot anthropology.’ I will return to this theme in the next few posts). Continue reading

An Anthropologist among Future Seekers

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Deepa S. Reddy]

For a few years now, I’ve been working in the space of future imagining—seeking out trends and rationales by which to extrapolate them or use them as jumping-off points as provocations to business, taking inspiration from start-up tech’s drive to search out uncommon solutions to common problems, setting sights on far-off horizons, and generally learning to ask “what if” and wish “if I could..” with impunity.

At first, I found all this quite strange. Wasn’t it more important to be grounded in the present, and to tease out the histories that had produced our presents—and, at most, could produce our foreseeable futures? This is what I had trained myself to do all these years anyway, and what I seemed still to be training my students to do. Contextualizing, explaining cultural forms or dynamics, tracking the social lives of things—this was work much more rooted in the present, with a strong sense of the past that informed and birthed it, than in any future-oriented approach. Of course, such approaches weren’t by themselves anything new. In some form or other, they have been mainstays of disciplines like economics, finance, design and planning, or the environmental sciences, not to speak of political, literary, and religious imaginings—but, far as I could tell, not anthropology. We might have looked to such imaginings as great research material, but only insofar as it led us right back into the configurations of the present. I thought back to the responses of a good many of my colleagues to the Future Studies program we’d once had at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, the first of its kind at the time: the future isn’t here, so how on earth could you study it? (For that and other reasons, the program folded eventually and moved in a fashion to UH’s main campus under the charge of Peter Bishop. It exists still as a graduate program in “Foresight”).

Past-ness mattered and was core to the sort of analysis we routinely undertook. It was, it still is, as Appadurai has said, in the closing essay to a collection of already-published papers entitled The future as cultural fact, that “[i]n one way or another, anthropology remains preoccupied with the logic of reproduction, the force of custom, the dynamics of memory, the persistence of habitus, the glacial movement of the everyday, and the cunning of tradition in the social life of even the most modern movements and communities, such as those of scientists, refugees, migrants, evangelists, and movie icons” (285). Continue reading