Textual Ethnography

download Textual Ethnography

of 13

  • date post

  • Category


  • view

  • download


Embed Size (px)

Transcript of Textual Ethnography

  • 7/27/2019 Textual Ethnography


    The Ethnographer's Textual Presence: On Three Forms of Anthropological AuthorshipAuthor(s): Haim HazanReviewed work(s):Source: Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Aug., 1995), pp. 395-406Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/656343 .

    Accessed: 05/03/2013 13:40

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

    .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of

    content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms

    of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.


    Wiley andAmerican Anthropological Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and

    extend access to Cultural Anthropology.


    This content downloaded on Tue, 5 Mar 2013 13:40:27 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • 7/27/2019 Textual Ethnography


    The Ethnographer's Textual Presence:On Three Forms of AnthropologicalAuthorshipHaim Hazan

    Department of Sociology and AnthropologyTel-AvivUniversity

    Ethnographic CuesLet the informantbe the vicarious ethnographer.The threefollowing anec-dotal fieldwork accounts may attest to the rationaleunderpinning his article.1The first case concerns elderly women attendingan adult education course for

    the illiterate,held as partof an Israeli urban-renewalproject.The women, whoparticipatedin these classes principally in order to improve communicationwith their grandchildren,took a great interest in one children's story told tothem. It related the intricateescapade of an egg who wished to become some-thing else and,having attemptedto disguise itself as various round and ellipticobjects,returnedeventually to its original state and even hatched. The students,most of whom were of Moroccanorigin, construed this cyclical transformationas analogousto their own life cycle: thus,despitetheexperienceof immigration,culturalassimilation,andsocial change, theirprimordialethnic identity reignedsupremeover any alternativeguise of personhood. By referringto a given text,the women used the story as a templatefor the construction of their own text ofidentity, thereby implying that an identification between authorship the abilityto formulateone's life narrative)andauthority thelicense to do so) must be ac-complished.The second case concerns a rabbi, a resident of an Israeli old-age home,who enacted his life story in an uncompromising adaptivemanner.Systemati-cally andmeticulously, he eliminatedfromhis narrative hose life events and at-tributes that could have associated him with the much disdained group of thesynagoguecongregants. Irrespectiveof his pastecclesiastical career,he empha-sized only those elements in his past that could contributeto bolsteringhis po-sition in the old-age home-drawing on the Zionist-Socialist ideology of the in-stitution's administration.Hence, contextual constraints of survival overrode

    CulturalAnthropology 10(3):395-406. Copyright? 1995, AmericanAnthropologicalAssociation.


    This content downloaded on Tue, 5 Mar 2013 13:40:27 PMAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • 7/27/2019 Textual Ethnography



    other sources of identity.The authorshipof the rabbiwho rewrote his biographywas no longer furnishedby the authorityof masteringa coherentreality. Infact,the former was divorced from the latter.The third case is derived from the verbal discourses articulatedwithin agroupof old-age pensioners who constituted a study class at the University oftheThirdAge in Cambridge,England.This voluntaryself-help organizationen-abled its members to form various settings for mutual-aidlearningand to con-ductfree-floating, unstructureddiscussions. Thegeneraloutlookpropounded nthose meetings was thatalthough one should view the world "with a third-ageeye," that "eye" sees the underlying fundamentals upon which all humanthoughtand action are edified. This atemporaluniversalcode is beyond culture,language, society, and subjectivity and thus embraces all humans and is re-vealed in theirbasic presocialized natureof humanness.Here, both authorshipandauthorityaredismissed. The rules governing behavior and ideas are irrele-vant to either context or text.Each of these researchexamples is based on ethnographieswhose inform-ants regardedthemselves as authentic,genuine, and faithful representativesof"the natives' point of view" concerningthe "true" abricof their existence. Theanthropologistwho presumesto fathomthe essence of his researchsubject's ex-perience through the ambivalent practice of participant-observation s alsoforced to grapplewith the dilemmaof authorshipandauthority.One mustgrap-ple, thatis, with his or her constructionof the anthropologicalnarrative,on theone hand,and thecredibility andvalidity of thepresenteddata as a reflection ofthe studied arena,on the other. The three cases suggest three anthropologicalmodes whose distinctive propertyis the relationshipbetween author-that is,the anthropologist-and the sourceof theauthority hatendows the monographwith a sense of acknowledged ethnographicauthenticity.Thethree models drawon differentsystems of anthropologicalaccountability,whose explorationcon-stitutes the main objective of the following.

    The ProblemThe anthropologist's point of view as an issue in its own right within an-thropologicaldiscourse has gained increasedrecognition with the discovery ofthe autobiographicalmark at its core.2Thus, self-searching inquiriesalongsidemethodological considerations constitute the two main pathways into the per-sonal origins of ethnography.However, if personalinvolvement is to be ascer-tained and understood neither as an idiosyncraticeffect nor as a researchim-

    perative, focusing on the anthropologistas an individual must be suspended.That is, the fieldworker's propensities and preferences, the sociocultural sys-tems of accountability to which the fieldworkeris subjected,and the natureofthe researcharenaall have to be kept atbayas relevant factors shapingthe con-toursof the autobiographicalpresence in the composition of the ethnographictext. In short, our perspective on the issue at hand endeavors to unravel themetalanguageof incorporatingpersonalinterjections nto the endproductof theanthropological process.

    This content downloaded on Tue, 5 Mar 2013 13:40:27 PMAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • 7/27/2019 Textual Ethnography



    Evidently, one would invoke theoretical commitments to explain away themetalinguistic propertiesunderlying an academic text. However, be they im-plicit or explicit, such considerations should be regardedmerely as conceptualstatementsframedby a modality concerning the interplay among ideas, field,andtext as orchestratedby the anthropologist.Indeed, it is this organizationoflinkages between these threeconstituentsthat sets the scene for ourapproach othe problem of understanding he presence or the absence of autobiographicalattributes n anthropologicalmonographs.3

    The PropositionSince the anthropologicalmonograph s both the targetand the database orour discussion, detection of autobiographicalsuggestions must not exceed theconfines of the texts in question. That is, the indications for the mode of inter-play amongideas, field, and the writtenpresentationshould be soughtand ascer-tainedby meansof textualanalysis alone. Thus, the self-presentationof a mono-graphis regardedas an exclusive testimony to the particularmode of interplayamong ideas, field, andtext embedded in it.Thereare threeways of arranging heorderof priorities amongideas, field,and text. The monographcould present itself as an ideas-orientedtext, a field-

    orientedtext, ora text-oriented ext.Thefirst modegives prominenceto an apri-ori conceptualmodel whichin turndetermines andshapestheethnographic on-cerns and the presentation of the field. By way of deduction, the text isconstructed to corroboratea theoretical truism whose validity rests within itsown innerconviction. This mode suggests a temporal conception of a prefield-work paradigm.Since such a paradigmdisregardsparticularcontext and is culturallynon-relativistic, it invariablyconsists of arguments purportingto establish rules ofinterconnectedness between elements. Thus, form governs content, and struc-tureoverridesprocess. It is thedictateof thesyntaxof explanationthat underliesthis type of text, in which substance andparticularsaresu