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Anthropology Ethnography
John L. Jackson


Ethnography is a term that often is employed to describe both a recognizable literary genre within the social sciences (writings that attempt to holistically capture people’s cultural beliefs/practices) and a brand of qualitative fieldwork that produces such social scientific accounts (the collecting of sociocultural data based on long-term, face-to-face interactions). Anthropology’s disciplinary emphasis on ethnography is still considered one of its most distinctive features. Even in an age when human genomics and statistical analyses of massive data sets are popularly considered, in some circles, as more compellingly “scientific” and “objective” techniques for analyzing social life, ethnographic research and writing have continued to occupy a central place in anthropology’s methodological toolkit, a means of constructing nuanced and detailed descriptions of people’s cultural worlds. Ethnography has a long and robust history in the discipline, but it is not a concept without controversy or conflicting characterizations. Moreover, anthropology is far from the only discipline with a stake in the definition and future of ethnography, and the term morphs (in big and small ways) as it travels across traditionally disciplinary dividing lines—and even well beyond the academy.


Ethnographic research is published in a number of peer-reviewed/refereed journals. Some of these journals are linked to specific intradisciplinary concerns/conversations, while others are more decidedly interdisciplinary. American Anthropologist includes research from every subfield in the discipline, and it highlights quite a bit of ethnographic work. American Ethnologist and Anthropological Quarterly publish ethnographic research on a variety of topics, but they do not consistently feature work from all of anthropology’s conventional subfields, mostly highlighting scholarship conducted by cultural anthropologists. As its title indicates, Cultural Anthropology also publishes ethnographic research produced by (and for) cultural anthropologists, though the journal emphasizes theory building and courts an interdisciplinary readership. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute has been publishing a wide variety of anthropological research for more than 150 years, and Transforming Anthropology is a relatively new journal that features ethnographic research on race, Diaspora, and globalization. The European Association of Social Anthropologists seeks to encourage anthropology in Europe in publishing the bilingual journal Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, and Current Anthropology promotes anthropology by showcasing a broad range of topics within the discipline and including a recurrent feature that allows scholars to publicly respond to articles published in the same issue, creating a critical and substantive dialogue around certain themes.


There is a long history of anthropological engagement with filmmaking as a mode of analysis, as a means of cultural representation, and as a cultural object of study. Ethnographers also use films as vehicles for circulating their research among wider audiences. Ethnographic films are sometimes incorporated into the classroom as a way to dramatize key anthropological concepts, and some ethnographers consider their academic identities to be constituted, at least in part, by their mobilization of film/video as a means of cross-cultural analysis and/or representation. Many foundational texts provide historical and conceptual links between anthropology and film. Some of the most canonical ethnographic films are conveniently listed in archives/bibliographies or sold by international distributors. Grimshaw 2001, Heider 2006, and Morris 1994 outline the history of anthropological/ethnographic links to films and filmmaking. Indeed, because of ethnography’s historical connections to film production, Ruby 2000 cautions ethnographic filmmakers against instinctively following the institutionalized mandates of the film industry. Among other scholarly interventions, Banks and Morphy 1997 and Rony 1996 situate ethnographic film/filmmaking into a larger context/history of visual studies and visual culture. MacDougall 1998 provides valuable insight into the links between documentary/nonfiction filmmaking and anthropological sensibilities. Stoller 1992 highlights the films and theories of Jean Rouch, arguably one of the most important ethnographic filmmakers to come out of Europe in the mid-20th century.

Canonical Ethnographic Films

Many ethnographic concepts have been demonstrated and popularized through film. Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (Flaherty 1922) is one of the earliest ethnographic films, and probably the most frequently referenced in anthropological circles, though it is often criticized for its purposefully fictionalized elements. Cannibal Tours (O’Rourke 1988) helps to highlight the political consequences of cultural tourism and works as a satire on contemporary civilization. Les Maîtres Fous (Rouch 1954) renders a portrait of “modern” life in West Africa that was quite controversial when it was released in 1954. In some ways, Rouch in Reverse (Diawara 1995) is a relatively contemporary response to that controversial 1954 film, turning the camera back on the ethnographic filmmaker. Reassemblage (Trinh 1982) is a meditation on ethnographic representation itself. While The Ax Fight (Asch, et al. 1975) is a classic example of ethnographic analysis through filmmaking, and Titicut Follies (Wiseman 1967) is a rigorous example of observational filmmaking. David and Judith MacDougall have collaborated on many important films, including The Wedding Camels (MacDougall and MacDougall 1980), which has won many international awards.

  • Asch, Timothy, Patsy Asch, and Napoleon Chagnon, dirs. 1975. The ax fight. DVD. 2004. Boston: Documentary Educational Resources.

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    A classic, if controversial, examination of violence in a village of the Yanomami people, who live on the border of Brazil and Venezuela.

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  • Diawara, Manthia, dir. 1995. Rouch in reverse. DVD. 2008. San Francisco: California Newsreel.

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    A West African academic’s attempt to turn the film camera back around on one of the most famous ethnographic filmmakers who has ever worked in Africa.

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  • Flaherty, Robert, dir. 1922. Nanook of the north. DVD. 1999. London: Criterion Studios.

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    An early ethnographic film (in the “savage ethnography” tradition) about an Inuit family making a life for itself in the Canadian Arctic, which is often criticized for its fictionalized restaging of the family’s exploits.

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  • MacDougall, David, and Judith MacDougall, dirs. The wedding camels. 1980. DVD. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Media.

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    An evocative examination of seminomadic pastoralists negotiating Kenya’s difficult and trying natural terrain.

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  • O’Rourke, Dennis, dir. Cannibal tours. 1988. DVD. Santa Monica, CA: Direct Cinema Ltd.

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    A powerful example of cultural tourism as an object of anthropological observation.

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  • Rouch, Jean, dir. Les maîtres fous. 1954. DVD. Paris: Les Films de la Pléiade.

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    A controversial film about West African attempts to cope with modern life by enacting rituals in which they are possessed by former European colonial officials.

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  • Trinh Minh-ha, dir. Reassemblage. 1982. Reassemblage: From the firelight to the screen. DVD. 2007. New York: Women Make Movies.

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    An evocative exploration of (and theoretical meditation on) ethnographic filmmaking and cultural representation more generally based on research in Senegal.

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  • Wiseman, Frederick, dir. Titicut follies. 1967. DVD. 2000. Bridgewater, MA: Bridgewater Film Co.

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    An observational portrait of a theatrical performance put on by patients in a mental institution, a powerful example of film’s evocative and critical salience though not produced with a specifically anthropological audience in mind.

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Bibliographies and Archives

Two bibliographic resources are dedicated to film. Husmann, et al. 1992 offers a comprehensive list, whereas Heider 1995 organizes its films around their curricular usefulness. The Smithsonian Institution houses the National Anthropological Archives & Human Studies Film Archive, and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies serves as a clearinghouse for films, audio recordings, and photographs about aboriginal Australian and Torres Straight cultures.


Several national and international distributors disseminate films that demonstrate rich cross-cultural insights. Some of these films are available online, while others can be purchased or rented on DVD. Third World Newsreel offers a decidedly global perspective in its film/video library. Women Make Movies emphasizes work produced by or about women. Ethnographic Video Online is a relatively new attempt to provide a variety of ethnographic films via the world wide web. California Newsreel is particularly strong on issues of racism, diversity, and academia. Bullfrog Films specializes in ecological offerings, and Documentary Educational Resources casts a wide net, geographically and thematically speaking, with respect to the kinds of films they advertise and distribute, and often splits rights on important ethnographic films with the Royal Anthropological Institute.


Several bibliographies and e-bibliographies are potentially important for anyone interested in ethnography. The Human Relations Area Files uses ethnographic research to ground cross-cultural analyses, whereas the Media Anthropology Working Group offers bibliographies of ethnographic research on mass mediation. Other bibliographies are linked to specific subjects and themes that are important domains of ethnographic research, including ethnographic work on food (World Food Habits), science (Selin 1992), film (Heider 1995 and Husmann, et al. 1992 both cited under Bibliographies and Archives), and even the history of anthropology itself (Kemper and Phinney 1977 and Erickson 1984).


Participant-observation is considered the bread and butter of ethnographic field techniques, and many outlets/offerings provide information on how best to deploy it. Experience Rich Anthropology is a wonderful teaching resource organized by the University of Kent’s Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing. DeWalt and DeWalt 2001 and Spradley 1980 offer useful introductions to the technique of participant-observation, which necessitates consistent interaction with subjects, the expectation being that such ongoing and substantive contact (over the course of many months or years) will produce valuable empirical data. Ethnographers often use notebooks to record their field notes, detailed accounts of what they said, heard, and experienced in the field. Practical and theoretical discussions of such note-taking can be gleaned from Van Maanen 1988 and Sanjek 1990. It is usually suggested that researchers take time to draft these notes on a daily basis. Ethnographers often conduct more formal interviews as well— sit-down discussions (recorded or not) about a particular cultural theme or informants’ overall life histories—recognizing that there may be slippage between what the ethnographer observes and what subjects claim to do. Madison 2005 also highlights the ethical implications of such data gathering. Stocking 1985 historically contextualizes the discussion of ethnographic fieldwork. Moreover, it is important to note that cultural anthropologists do not corner the market on ethnographic research within the discipline of anthropology. For example, David and Kramer 2001 provides an overview of ethnoarchaeology, showcasing how some archeologists use ethnographic research among contemporary communities to make claims about the distant past.

Historical Background

Cross-cultural curiosity and interpretation clearly predate the institutionalization of academic anthropology. As a form of qualitative and empirical data-gathering and analysis, conventional ethnography aspired to holistic and detailed representations of cultural difference. Early ethnographies provided guidelines for approaching anthropological field research and helped to construct early theoretical and conceptual categories within the field, including foundational distinctions between emic and etic ways of understanding cultural worlds.

Early Ethnography

Even before anthropology became an institutionalized academic discipline, many adventurers, explorers, and missionaries were conducting “ethnographic” research on foreign peoples, crafting descriptions of exotic and “primitive” communities in faraway lands while scholars and academicians referenced and analyzed these accounts from the comfort of their homes and offices. Historians of anthropology have written useful overviews of early ethnographic practices and practitioners (e.g., Hogden 1998, Stocking 1991. For example, even though Jesuits in the 17th century, such as Jacques Marquette, were spending extended periods of time in the Americas, preparing and publishing detailed narratives about their own personal experiences with “the natives,” as documented in Mead and Bunzel 1960, some two hundred years later, Sir James Frazer, one of the first scholars in Britain to formally hold an academic appointment as “Professor of Anthropology,” was still writing about aboriginal myths, magic, and religion based on other people’s portrayals of cross-cultural contact (see Frazer 2009). These early academics recognized themselves as supplying a more rigorous and objective analytical framework for the sometimes haphazardly acquired raw materials of others’ cultural observations, a rationalization that included Garson and Read 1971 marks an attempt to systematize approaches to cultural knowledge-gathering and social analysis begun in the 19th century. Both a field handbook (in the late 19th century) and a consistently updated series, upon close examination Garson and Read 1971 provides a historical reflection of ethnography’s changing conceptualization and operationalization.

  • Frazer, James. 2009. The golden bough. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This classic text uses magic as a framework for providing an overview of the anthropological project and its ability to distinguish between “primitive” cultures and modern ones. Originally published in 1890 (London: Macmillan).

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  • Garson, John George, and Charles Hercules Read, eds. 1971. Notes and queries on anthropology. 6th ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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    Represents an early (and consistently updated) attempt to standardize ethnographic research techniques, questions, and observational assumptions, especially when missionaries and explorers (as opposed to scientists and academics) were the ones going out and conducting the research. Originally published in 1892 (London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland).

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  • Hogden, Margaret. 1998. Early anthropology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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    The book proffers a very helpful description of proto-ethnographers and the earliest times before ethnography’s more formal academic institutionalization. Originally published in 1964 (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press).

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  • Mead, Margaret, and Rugh L. Bunzel, eds. 1960. The golden age of American anthropology. New York: George Braziller.

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    This is a useful and ambitious mid-20th-century compendium of writings by and about early ethnographic explorers, stretching from the 15th century to the early 20th.

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  • Stocking, George W. 1991. Victorian anthropology. New York: Free Press.

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    Chronicles some of the ways in which ethnographic/anthropological writing during the Victorian era influenced social policy and English society more generally.

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Emic versus Etic

Malinowski 1922 is generally considered a classic early model of ethnography, the version of ethnographic representation most responsible for institutionalizing a nascent academic discipline’s commitments to long-term immersion-based research with a single cultural community (even if the publication of Malinowski 1989 de-romanticized conventional takes on the “father of ethnography”). Such a method placed a premium on the expectation that anthropologists become competent in local language/s (though this did not always happen) and access an “emic” understanding of communities under study (i.e., demonstrating a version of the native’s own point of view), which was set up in contradistinction to the equally important “etic” theories that were considered to be more scientific and objective lenses for understanding and synthesizing folk beliefs. Pike 1967 provides a foundational and influential formulation of this emic versus etic distinction. Headland, et al. 1990 and Harris 1976 reframe the emic/etic discussion for subsequent theoretical terrain. Stocking 1992 places the ethnographic method in historical context.


Ethnographic research is always linked to some explicit or implicit theory of culture and society. Many of these theories are formed as critiques of competing theoretical premises. Ethnographers debate not just the validity of certain theoretical formulations but also the degree to which explicit forms of cultural theorizing should occupy a certain stage in ethnographic research. Evolutionism, structuralism, and poststructuralism are among the many theoretical frameworks that have informed anthropological approaches to interpreting ethnographic data.

Evolutionism and Its Critics

Much early anthropological theory, including Morgan 2000, Steward 1972, and White 2007, deployed a cultural theory to organize ethnographic practice that was based on various notions of “evolutionism,” the idea that research on “primitive” cultural groups might supply valuable information about the distant past of “modern” Europeans. “Diffusionists” (e.g., Rivers 1922, Kroeber 1948, Boas 1948) rejected such hypothetical historicizations, eschewing its posited pasts for an analytical model that talked about cultural contact in the contemporary moment. The “functionalism” of Radcliffe-Brown 1952 and Malinowski framed an ethnographic approach around what cultures “do” for individuals and societies in the present—as opposed to projecting back into an inaccessible past or focusing exclusively on the extrinsic dynamics of social contact. Barnard 2000 provides a quick overview of anthropology’s various theoretical eras and debates.

From Structuralism to Post-structuralism

Ethnographers have historically debated the extent to which cultural beliefs and practices are undergirded by foundational organizing principles and structures. They also disagree about what those foundational structural underpinnings entail. Benedict 2006 (originally published in 1946) represents a version of the Culture and Personality school, one early rendition of psychological anthropology that linked cultural differences to discrepancies between individual psyches. Japanese culture differs from American culture, for instance, to the degree that the Japanese psyche diverges from its American counterpart. Lévi-Strauss 1992 offered a “structuralism” that posited cultural expressions (myths, rituals, etc.) as manifestations of a kind of universal binary logic, no matter how ostensibly different the cultural practices of groups look on the surface. Harris 1989 used cultural materialism to describe specific cultural mandates as responses to the realities of material life. Cultural practices and beliefs were seen as structured by nature, simply retrospective justifications for decisions imposed on social groups by their natural surroundings. Sahlins 1978 attempts to critique such materialist readings of culture (maintaining that culture’s deep-seated logics are not simply reducible to the predeterminations of material realities), while Geertz 1973 spearheads an analytical and theoretical turn that read culture’s foundational logic/structure as “textual” (something to be interpreted), which helped to initiate so-called postmodern forms of ethnographic writing and analysis, forms of cultural analysis that challenge earlier assumptions about culture’s supposed structural logic.


During the 1980s, anthropologists (and historians of anthropology) began to challenge some of the implicit and explicit epistemological assumptions upon which traditional ethnographic research and writing were based. Clifford and Marcus 1986, Marcus and Fischer 1986, and Sangren 1988 argue that conventional ethnographies used rhetorical and literary devices to create their textual authority and called for careful analyses of these tropes. Fabian 1983 and Clifford 1988 also demand that anthropologists look more closely at the very construction of ethnographic accounts (as opposed to assuming their discursive transparency), claiming that ethnography constructed both the researcher and the research subject in potentially problematic ways. Anthropologists continue to interrogate/debate the place of objectivity and self-reflexivity in ethnographic texts.

Role of Objectivity

Spiro 1996, Polier and Roseberry 1986, and Ulin 1991 consider the impulse to imagine ethnography as a form of literary analysis (and not just as a positivist social science with objectivist ambitions) to be unproductive and self-defeating, a way to further marginalize scholars in a field in which self-consciousness and meta-ethnographic analyses (i.e., a focus on the ethnographer’s subjectivity and on the existential dilemmas of the intersubjective ethnographic encounter) are sometimes dismissed and lampooned as gratuitous navel-gawking, as an intellectual solipsism/sophistry that elides real questions of power and inequality. Moreover, Sidky 2003 and Jarvie 1988 are critical of the possibility that some of their colleagues might be willing to throw out the objectivist baby with the deconstructionist bathwater, arguing that critiques of anthropological shortcomings vis-à-vis claims of objectivity need not necessitate an embrace of antiscientific subjectivism and the aestheticization of ethnography as mere literary conceit. Even if all ethnographies are fictional in some sense, they ask: Are not some of these fictions, in fact, better than others, more accurate and compelling as renditions of actual social life? Indeed, Hartsock 1990 is suspicious of the fact that scholarly pretense to scientific rigor, objective validity, and intellectual authority are being soundly challenged and deconstructed just as more women and scholars of color (those erstwhile primitives) have begun to offer their own cultural accounts. If anthropology is critiqued by Asad 1988 for being a “handmaiden to colonialism,” any attempt at “decolonizing anthropology” (as argued for in Harrison 1991) may not be able to completely jettison all scientific ambitions.

On Reflexivity

Ethnographers have always struggled with the place of the ethnographic researcher in accounts of cultural others. Briggs 1970 marks an early ethnographic attempt to argue for the value and centrality of sustained reflexivity. Ruby 1982 provides a serious (and varied) treatment of reflexivity in ethnographic practice. According to Ruby 2000, commitment to reflexivity should be mobilized in service to scientific mandates about controlling for researcher bias. For Behar 1997, reflexivity seems decidedly not about attaining scientific neutrality at all. Some versions of self-reflexivity posit the researcher as more than just a minor character in a larger ethnographic narrative. These attempts at “rigorous reflexivity” ask that researchers occupy a narratological space closer to center stage in ethnographic accounts, arguing that true reflexivity means never underthematizing the pivotal and defining role played by the ethnographer as gatherer, organizer, and decipherer of data. Naples 2003 examines some of these issues from a decidedly feminist perspective. Salzman 2002 proffers a brief overview of anthropological commitments to reflexivity in the latter half of the 20th century. Segal 1990 argues for reflexivity as a useful rubric/framework for teaching anthropology at the undergraduate level, and Perry 1998 demonstrates an archeologist’s attempt to think through the implications of reflexivity.

Ethnographic Writing

Ethnographers have very different approaches to writing. Assumptions about the structure of ethnographic monographs have changed markedly over time, as have expectations about the representation of the ethnographer’s exploits and biases within the text. Ethnographers can conduct very similar fieldwork and still construct quite different ethnographic narratives (in terms of tone, style, structure, and argumentation). Whether ethnographers label their offerings examples of realism or surrealism, autoethnography or ethnographic fiction, many of them are trying to find new ways of representing cultural similarities and differences.

Realism and Surrealism

Marcus 1998 sets up a distinction between realist and modernist writerly modes, and Pool 1991 redefines so-called postmodern ethnographic writing as a form of “high-modernism.” Overall, “realist” ethnographies tend to presume a kind of transparency to the text and are relatively unself-conscious about omniscient narrative stances and disembodied third-person accounts, classic examples of which include Evans-Pritchard 1969, Malinowski 1922, and Chagnon 1977. (Tierney 2000 provides a critique of Chagnon’s research in making accusations about the negative impact of his ethnographic research on the communities he studied.) Surrealist or performative ethnographic writing (experiments often linked to the “writing culture” moment of the 1980s) attempts to draw our attention to the craftsmanship of the writing itself and the political implications of its poetic strategies. Compelling examples of this approach include Tedlock 1983 and Dwyer 1982.

Autoethnography and Ethnographic Fiction

Ethnographers have become quite self-conscious about the ethnographic process and its final product. Rabinow 1978 and Faubion, et al. 2009 provide useful bookends for the contemporary era of such disciplinary self-consciousness. The term autoethnography is gaining currency in certain circles as a way of thinking critically about the central place of the ethnographer’s individual subjectivity in ethnographic representations. Autoethnography is an attempt to systematically and self-consciously write oneself into cultural analyses, situating one’s perspectives and experiences within larger cultural and social frameworks. Medicine 2001 and Varzi 2006 represent very differently pitched versions of this. Ethnographic fiction (or ficto-criticism) uses ethnographic research to ground attempts at innovative and counterintuitive renditions of cultural reality, from the pastiche of Taussig 1991 to the critical meditations of Tyler 1987 and Stewart 1996. Much overlap exists between many of these categories, making categorical distinctions difficult if not impossible.

Virtual Ethnography

One of the big issues facing anthropology today has to do with its link to mass media, such as radio, television, film, and the Internet. In many ways, ethnography was not devised to study such technologically advanced cultural products or the deterritorialized processes they facilitate. The authors of Ginsburg and Larkin 2002, Mankekar 1999, Caton 1999, and Spitulnik 1993 write on radio, TV, and film in ways that ground their work in specific social locales, looking at these media products within particular geographic and cultural contexts. According to some ethnographers, the Internet has made that move much more complicated. For example, Hine 2000 calls for a completely revamped definition and discussion of ethnography, institutionalizing the call for a “virtual ethnography” without recourse to face-to-face interactions as its defining characteristic. Boellstorff 2008 crafts an ethnography wholly and unabashedly situated within a virtual environment, without any offline research on the gamers themselves or the organizational and institutional structures that produce such games and gaming cultures. Miller and Slater 2001 argues against what they consider to be a kind of fetishization of virtuality and its purported newness, emphasizing a model of ethnographic practice that treats the Internet (and other new media technologies) the same way that anthropologists deal with all other cultural processes and products, namely, by continuing to embed them in specific locales—without any assumption about the unprecedented nature of new technologies. Fabian 2008 argues that the immediacy and democratic potential of the web may make conventional ethnographic monographs increasingly obsolete (at least as canonical and uncontested takes on cultural practices).

Native Ethnography

What do we make of anthropologists such as the authors of Gwaltney 1993 and Medicine 2001, who ostensibly study their “own” cultural group instead of cultural “others”? Kuper 1988 critiques the anthropological “invention” of primitivity (as the discipline’s quintessential subject matter of analytical engagement), a critique that is often elaborated upon with contemporary challenges to the very dichotomy between primitive and modern, native and foreigner, insider and outsider, colonizer and colonized. Taussig 1991 and Stoler 2002 demonstrate the complicatedly violent interdependence between colonizers and the colonized. Comaroff and Weller 2001 complicate the assumed temporal rupture that grounds claims about modernity’s difference. Indeed, some anthropologists (e.g., Nayaran 1993) have called for a conceptualization of all ethnographers as bicultural in terms of their relationship to communities under study. Ethnographers are asked to embrace the fact that we are all, to a certain extent, natives and foreigners at the same time, though often quite differently located along that continuum. As Jacobs-Huey 2002 points out, however, this particular argument, however compelling, can be critiqued for potentially sidestepping the issue of power differentials that make certain embraceable identities more or less valid, more or less native, and more or less authorial. If the category of the “native” isn’t simplistically distinct from that of the modern anthropological subject, it is also neither more naively biased nor essentially “authentic,” even as local communities continue to create their own “indigenous” cultural portraits that revise previous anthropological renderings.


Anthropologists are asked today to widen their ethnographic gaze so as to include international contexts that link local communities to global flows of culture, capital, and citizens. Anthropologists (e.g., Hannerz 1996; Sassen 2001; Appadurai 1996; Tsing 2004; Clarke and Thomas 2006; Basch, et al. 1994) are opening up ethnographic research by linking the traditional anthropological “village” to larger conceptualizations of space and territoriality, to questions of national, transnational, and Diasporic collectivity. For Piot 1999, the local is recast as already global (no matter how seemingly isolated and “primitive” the group under examination). For Marcus 1998, this push to expand the purview of ethnography also means embracing the possibilities of mult-sitedness, replacing the methodological emphasis on a single ethnographic field site with an attempt to follow the ethnographic story across social and spatial boundaries.

The Future

Anthropologists do not entirely corner the market on ethnographic research/writing. Sociologists, political scientists, and scholars from other disciplines use participant-observation and ethnographic sensibilities to ground their claims about contemporary social life. Of course, all of these studies help to answer an important question: How must ethnography be recalibrated for a contemporary moment driven by the study of complex cultural phenomena such as globalization and mass mediation, processes and practices that ethnography was traditionally not created to study? Nelson 2009 offers an evocative reading of reflexivity as recognition of an intrinsic (and almost inescapable) duplicity on the part of ethnographers and ethnographic subjects. Rabinow, et al. 2008 debates the degree to which contemporary anthropology must completely re-imagine the conventional ethnographic posture and perspective, revisiting some of the basic assumptions about how we recognize and perceive ethnographic subjects/topics. Pink 2006 explicitly attempts to theorize the future of anthropological practice, and Cerwonka and Malkki 2007 demonstrates the collaborative and cross-disciplinary demands of the current ethnographic moment. Allison 2006 represents one of many attempts to model a form of ethnographic research that is as deterritorialized and global as its object of study. Anthropology Blog Newspaper provides an international list of blogs that offer anthropological insights and a window into ethnographic sensibilities. Indeed, Wesch 2007 has taken ethnography viral with an attempt at “digital ethnographic” research and pedagogy. For most anthropologists, even those who disagree on specifics about what ethnography should look like in the 21st century, a general consensus still exists that “the ethnographic project” is not irrelevant or superfluous to serious questions about our contemporary social world.

LAST MODIFIED: 01/11/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0001

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