What, When or How is Ethnography?

If you really want to know, read the following in this order:

  1. Introduction: Correspondences: Ethnography by Susan MacDougall
  2. Provocation: Ethnography: ProvocationWe Need More Ethnography, Not Less by Andrew Shryock
  3. Interview: Enough about Ethnography: An Interview with Tim Ingoldby Susan MacDougall
  4. Article: That’s enough about ethnography! Tim INGOLD This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Tim Ingold. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online)

PS. I really love what Cultural Anthropology is doing with Correspondences

PPS. Don’t comment here, join us on Cultural Anthropology

 

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20 thoughts on “What, When or How is Ethnography?

  1. All postings are interesting because it links to Ingold’s argument and discussion in regards to ethnography. Based on the interviews, I was able to understand Ingold further on his intentions. In Ingold’s article he pointed out that the term “ethnography,” was being overused within the anthropology and contingent disciplines, that it’s losing the true meaning behind the concept. Throughout Ingold’s essay, he proceed to argue his points in regards to what he considered “is” ethnography and what is “not” ethnography by comparing ethnography to other things such as field work and stating that each term is different. Many points that Ingold brought up were interesting, however those who reviewed his essay agreed and also disagreed with some of the things he stated. For example, Ingold suggested that anthropology, ethnography, and fieldwork are separate focuses, but Andrew Shryock who reviewed Ingold’s essay disagreed and commented that they are actually occurring at the same time. Also in the interview conducted by Susan MacDougall, Ingold expressed that ethnography and participant-observation are not the same, but their common identification brings up confusion, along with the fact that the over usage term of ethnography contributes to misapprehensions, making it difficult to explain what anthropologists and what its value might be to others in general.
    Ingold’s article along with the other postings extended my knowledge further with what I have acquired based on the teachings from Anthro 111. The Anthor 111 course is mainly about how to conduct ethnography successfully, along with doing field work, and to learn from Ingold that each focus has its own precise meaning along with approaches, will prepare me further with the type of knowledge that I need when I go out into the field to conduct my own studies. Ingold mentioned that ethnography is writing about the people, and I believe this is something valuable because as a human being we are always interacting with other individuals on a daily basis and getting to know people based on their culture and ethnicity. As I prepare myself into the profession of being an anthropologist, the important things that I’ve learned during the course of my study within Anthropology and Anthro 111 are all important factors, and I believe that those acquired skills will be a great utilization when I am out in the field conducting research.

  2. I had a good time reading the four articles. They were actually quite an interesting read and that it was very different for me to see many professionals with different opinions on the topic of what makes an ethnography. The main article by Tim Ingold talks about the consequences that have arisen from the term ethnography. He states that in his article that the word “ethnography” is “overused” and that it is ruining what makes an ethnography unique. Tim Ingold states very often that the he is not trying to eliminate the word ethnography. He makes that very clear to the readers. However, I find it very difficult to understand what point he is trying to make. Does he believe that the word ethnography is belittling the work of anthropologists and is holding them back? That is what I took from reading the Tim Ingold’s article. Tim Ingold then discusses what an ethnography really is. He says that an ethnography means to write about the people and that anthropologists should avoid race or color. The lens that people should try to look at is what is “not ethnographic” and that ethnography can not sum up the encounters that we have with humans. There are many different ideas that Tim Ingold makes about the ideas of an ethnography and these ideas have led to some people in the field to agree or disagree with the term ethnographies. Susan MacDougall agrees with idea that Tim Ingold makes about the overuse of the term “ethnography” and agrees that the word “ethnography” does not fully encompass everything that an anthropologists does. However, there are other people with differing opinions such as when we look at Andrew Shyrock. Andrew Shyrock disagrees and agrees with Tim Ingold. The techniques that are used for data gathering are portrayed negatively and that many of the older generation of anthropologists disagree with Ingold as well. The point that Shyrock makes is that, what Ingold wishes would come from anthropology has happened and that ethnographies had led to what anthropology is today. Shyrock is calling Ingold a hypocrite because he does not see the work ethnographies have had in shaping anthropology to the vision that Ingold has. Shyrock believes that there needs to be more ethnography in the field and not less because it makes their work more interesting and is similar to the view that Ingold holds. Even in the interview, Ingold talks again about the word ethnography and the damage it has caused within anthropology. From the two perspectives about the word of ethnography I found Shyrock’s to be more interesting. The idea that more ethnography is needed was different and I like different, but I also agreed with Ingold about how the word ethnography may not be helping with bringing. So I am on the same boat as Shyrock. I agree and disagree with Tim Ingold’s idea of ethnography. The course of Anthropology 111 was an excellent course to take for learning the fundamentals to fieldwork. By having firsthand experience with observation and interviewing, and then bashing them and criticizing where we could have improved is a great way for us to learn. We learned about ethics and even though we may have only read one ethnography, we were given the tools and information needed to go out make our own. So who knows where the field of anthropology will go, but only time will tell if Tim Ingold’s point on ethnographies is the right one.

  3. All the articles touch base on the overuse of the term ethnography in the form of data collection. People are mistaking quantitative data collecting and field notes as an acceptable use of the term ethnography. Instead, Ingold tries to clear up the misconceptions by defining what ethnography is. I took particular notice to his definition of anthropological inquiry, “long-term and open-ended commitment, generous attentiveness, relational depth, and sensitivity to context.” He then goes on to talk about the importance of participant observation and its role in education. I found his emphasis on the importance of paying attention, caring, and creating correspondence between himself and the people he works with. He does this by participating in as many face to face interactions as he possibly can in order to create kinships. His kinships lead him to the ability of being able to ask questions that will be answered in their entirety. To simply observe and never truly participate, question, or commit the time to who the subject is, is not real fieldwork.
    While reading these articles I could not help but to draw parallels to my recent trip to Fiji in the winter. The Professor Sarah Whitley of the sociology department even helped me uncover some of the minute cultural differences that I was missing. For instance, the way they hold their dishes or the way the table is set. In the more rural area we learned about the Fijian culture through participation. We participated in whatever we were asked to join and built relationships/ trust with the villagers. We participated in grog, a crushed up root diluted in water that men drink every single night. I was even able to observe the clinic in the neighboring village and see the differences in healthcare. As the opportunities and relationships grew, it was noticeable that any question we might have would be answered with all honesty. Then in return they would ask their questions, it was a give and take. This facilitated everyones learning because their was now a foundation of trust. We built upon the foundation by living as Fijian and submerging ourselves into their culture as much as they would allow us in the two short weeks we stayed. I wish I would have taken this class prior to my trip so that I would be open to using all that I have learned about the parallels between observation, participation, and qualitative data. I would have been able to map out more situations and draw conclusions faster to the questions posed.

  4. For this final exam I read 4 different articles which analyzes Tim Ingold’s opinionated article on the use of Ethnography among the world of Anthropology. According to Tim Ingold in the article “Correspondences: Ethnography by Susan MacDougall”, he believes that ethnography has become so cliché that it has lost its meaning in the Anthropology world. To him ethnography has become an enigma, professors claim to use it but rarely is it actually seen being done. The fact he views that anthropology has simply become just about gathering data that reflects no human aspects. That it is being simply taken to be made into factual knowledge while separating ourselves from the subject with objectivity. Although not everyone agrees with his views found in “We need more ethnography, not less” by Andrew Shryrock. In his article he views that Ingold’s anti-ethnography views have no basis because he lacks understanding the concepts behind using ethnography. The fact that Ingold speaks so negatively about data collection shows how out of touch he is with the concepts required in Anthropology. That fact data collection is one the most important basics required because it demands the person to observe and pay attention their surroundings and subjects. From talking with fellow ethnographers, they explain from gathering specific data gave them the ability to be in a world that would have considered them to be an outsider. In his interview with Susan MacDougall, I disagreed with Ingold’s idea in “Enough about ethnography” that data is simply collected for the sake of collecting to put into books or journals only to turn away from the world after collection. Many of the anthropologists keep in contact with their subjects, some become activists in the political/ environmental problems of the area, and some go so far to marry the natives. Although I do agree with Ingold on the fact not attending an interview or encounter is detrimental to establishing contact, there is still a wrong way to conduct an ethnographic interview. Just because you show up doesn’t mean you can get away with being culturally insensitive to your subject, you must use the correct methods to always conduct yourself correctly. One of the most important reasons to conduct yourself correctly is because you may be the establishing connection between a certain society to the anthropology world. By establishing good relationships with your connections, you can help pave the way for future researchers. In the last article “That’s enough about ethnography!” by Tim Ingold protests the idea of using ethnographic fieldwork because he finds the standards to list things like number of people involved, how we select them and time used to be unnecessary. Which I strongly disagree because when it comes to doing research it’s always necessary to ensure fair distribution in your research or else your results will be worthless.

  5. For this final exam I read 4 different articles which analyzes Tim Ingold’s opinionated article on the use of Ethnography among the world of Anthropology. According to Tim Ingold in the article “Correspondences: Ethnography by Susan MacDougall”, he believes that ethnography has become so cliché that it has lost its meaning in the Anthropology world. To him ethnography has become an enigma, professors claim to use it but rarely is it actually seen being done. The fact he views that anthropology has simply become just about gathering data that reflects no human aspects. That it is being simply taken to be made into factual knowledge while separating ourselves from the subject with objectivity. Although not everyone agrees with his views found in “We need more ethnography, not less” by Andrew Shryrock. In his article he views that Ingold’s anti-ethnography views have no basis because he lacks understanding the concepts behind using ethnography. The fact that Ingold speaks so negatively about data collection shows how out of touch he is with the concepts required in Anthropology. That fact data collection is one the most important basics required because it demands the person to observe and pay attention their surroundings and subjects. From talking with fellow ethnographers, they explain from gathering specific data gave them the ability to be in a world that would have considered them to be an outsider. In his interview with Susan MacDougall, I disagreed with Ingold’s idea in “Enough about ethnography” that data is simply collected for the sake of collecting to put into books or journals only to turn away from the world after collection. Many of the anthropologists keep in contact with their subjects, some become activists in the political/ environmental problems of the area, and some go so far to marry the natives. Although I do agree with Ingold on the fact not attending an interview or encounter is detrimental to establishing contact, there is still a wrong way to conduct an ethnographic interview. Just because you show up doesn’t mean you can get away with being culturally insensitive to your subject, you must use the correct methods to always conduct yourself correctly. One of the most important reasons to conduct yourself correctly is because you may be the establishing connection between a certain society to the anthropology world. By establishing good relationships with your connections, you can help pave the way for future researchers. In the last article “That’s enough about ethnography!” by Tim Ingold protests the idea of using ethnographic fieldwork because he finds the standards to list things like number of people involved, how we select them and the fine details to be unnecessary. Which I strongly disagree because when it comes to doing research it’s always necessary to ensure fair distribution in your research or else your results will be worthless.

  6. With Tom Ingold’s argument about ethnography causing Anthropology to lose its identity, he sounds very angry and fed up with incorporating ethnography with anthropology. I found Ingold’s argument and article a bit confusing to understand. He tries to differentiate between what is ethnography and participant observation, and tries to answer if both are even considered workable methods. He doesn’t believe that ethnography should play such a big part in anthropology. His interview with Susan MacDougall helped to clarify his stance a little. Although I agree with Ingold that ethnography is quite difficult to explain to others outside the field, specifically when trying to look for an exact definition of what it really is, I don’t think it should be a totally separate thing from the anthropology realm. As Andrew Shyrock mentions, a good mentor forces his or her student to go out into the field to do and commit to ethnography that makes the unexperienced student understand what ethnography really is. We can’t learn something if we don’t utilize the different methods that ethnography has to offer. To add to this, ethnography is not necessarily a method; it consists of a number of methods like observation, interview, mapping, etc. that an anthropologist, a sociologist, can use. For example, I had to no clue what ethnography was or how to explain it to a friend until I actually did the mapping and observation assignments. I was expecting my professor to just hand me the information like any other classes. Ethnography isn’t something that you can quite put a finger on, such as slapping on it a well-described definition that would make someone instantly understand what it does and the methods it consists of. Shyrock is also correct when he mentions that ethnography and anthropology are intertwined; you can’t have one without the other. Using the same methods under the big umbrella known as ethnography allows other social scientists to retest each other’s work in order to test its objectivity and facts.

  7. I found the article about Ingold very amusing in that an anthropologist was questioning the state of anthropology. One of the most valuable lessons I learned this semester is that a person cannot ask enough questions (unless they scare away the interviewee.) Ingold’s interview was slightly convoluted. From what I gained from the interview, Ingold was frustrated with the over-usage of the term ethnography and that this over-usage was lessening the importance of the term. In addition, he believes that anthropology is losing the human touch, just like much of the world today. He believes that anthropology is more than just collecting data. Shyrock believes that Ingold’s controversial claims are due to a lack of knowledge of the subject. As a business major, I thought an ethnography was a fairly simple term that was used to describe a anthropologists work such as interviewing or observations. However, Ingold argues that the disciplines are different and should not be grouped into the term ethnography. I do not believe that the term ethnography should be tossed out of anthropological terminology. From what I concluded from the semester was that an ethnography was a sub-section of the broad industry and life-style of anthropology. There is a broad definition of ethnography but it sounds like even some famed anthropologist cannot agree on the correct definition. One of my favorite aspects of the articles was Susan MacDougall’s perspective on learning stating, “You learn by doing, and good advisors will leave you alone to do it.” This can not be more true especially from a student about to graduate from college. I have spent most of my life learning from the lectures and presentations of professionals in a given field. I completely agree with MacDougall’s idea of the best way to learn. That is why I enjoyed the projects during this semester because of the freedom to do our own work in our own way. I learned a tremendous about of valuable techniques for interviewing and observing in Anthro 111. Even though, this was an anthropology class, I took away an expense of knowledge I can use in my business career. I learned that I must acknowledge my bias instead of hide it. I learned the proper techniques when conducting an interview. In addition, I also learned how to be very detailed when observing a certain location or group of people. I will use this knowledge when I need to do a marketing test for a company to truly pinpoint how people react to the product, service or company as a whole. The information I gained from note slamming to questioning the idea of cultural tendencies to micro-aggression (which I will try to avoid during meetings) will not only prepare me for my business career but for life as well.

    • Well said, for a business major- just kidding. My favorite quote was: “an ethnography was a sub-section of the broad industry and life-style of anthropology” I think Ingold might say the opposite, “anthropology is a sub-section of the broad industry and life-style of ethnography” – but he might say it just to remind you of another point you said, “that a person cannot ask enough questions”.
      Thanks for joining us – you brought much to our class.

  8. Ethnography has become a conversation of “what” it is rather than how it can be used. In its essence ethnography is simply a research method that studies people, costumes, and traditions from “their” point of view, (Anthropology) but over time the term of ethnography has become neither here or there and this is the point Tom Ingold is trying to make. Although Ingold’s article does seem hard to comprehend his main claims are pointed out in the interview conducted by Susan Macdougall. Better yet ethnography is best explained by how filed work, ethnography, and anthropology all happen at the same time while having a correct understanding of what we are studying and why it is important. As stated by Andrew Shryock, ethnography creates kinships among observers and subjects while working with others to create new questions and come up with better answers. An important claim that Ingold makes in his interview that I really liked was that the element of unlearning is what frees us from our standpoints and perspectives and in turn makes us question our own world understanding. That is the essence of great fieldwork and the basses for good research methods.

  9. The first article, also known as the introduction was clear and simple: it is a response to ingold’s article. Ingold’s positions basically suggests that ethnography is too over-rated that it’s meaning has less value now more than ever. Ingold also believes that the elements of method, the analytical approach is required for it to be ethnographic. The provocation by Andrew Shryock argues the very opposite, that anthropology needs more ethnography and not less. He responds against Ingold’s article and basically explains that his problems is not with the method but the way Ingold practices ethnography. Shryock suggests that Ingold’s article is not clear enough and doesn’t explain fieldwork techniques and other anthropological concepts. He also conducts his own experiment and conducts interviews focusing on other anthropological scholars and their reaction to Ingold’s article. He found that personal travails are directly linked to data gathering. Shryock concludes that we need more ethnography and not less of it. The interview by Susan Macdougall conducted on Ingold is about fieldwork and Ingold’s article. The beginning of the interview focused on ethnography and how i is carried out. Ingold responds by stating that he doesn’t believe anthropologists are prepared well enough the first time one conducts fieldwork. He also believes that ethnographic experiences should be appropriately highly individualized and unique. Some times ethnographers could end up in some pretty dangerous situations and asserts that institutions should find ways and take precautions to protect themselves and colleagues from harm or litigation. Ingold also suggests that ethnographers practice an element of unlearning to rid themselves of assumptions. He argues that ethnographic method of participant observation is a commitment and not just a research method. The last article, also written by Ingold argues that the ethnographic term is over used. This over use is doing great harm by preventing the discipline from having an impact in the world. Ingold wants to eliminate the term ethnography and explains the term thoroughly in a detailed manner. He emphasizes how ethnography reflects individual experiences and induces that the relationship between ethnography and theory is in great disrepair.

  10. Tim Ingold argues that the term ethnography is overused in the anthropology world. It does more harm than helping anthropology expand. He claims how the term is used is preventing anthropologists’ work from having an impact in the world that it deserves. Ingold suggests to narrow the term ethnography so that when we explain it to others, they will understand it. It should hold its own definition apart from field work or participation observation. He challenges to use the word ethnography to describe the knowledge that grows from engagements with the people anthropologists work with. Most of the comments before mines thought his article was confusing and the interview explained his main points better. I actually understood his article more than MacDougall’s interview with Ingold. If anything, the interview got me more confused. MaDougall tries to see Ingold’s points while Andrew Shryock completely disagrees with Ingold. Shryock claims Ingold fails to to actually go in depth of what ethnography actually is all about as its intertwines with field work and participation observation. I think what Ingold challenges is helpful in that ethnography should be its own standing term. Its more helpful to me to describe to other people what ethnography just to say its learning and writing about people. But like Shryock argues, it should also have the components of field work, participation observation, and education. Its not necessarily dependent on which method is used, as Ingold claims, but it should be all the above intertwined.

  11. All posts listed above take a look into the article written by Tim Ingold and his assessment of the current state of Anthropology, in regards to ethnography, and where the focus should lie going forward. It is clear that he believes that ethnography has become such a defining part of Anthropology that this need to conduct research in this manner has ruined the potential of what Anthropology can accomplish and should accomplish. The need to collect information and essentially regurgitate it back out in an academic sense has cause Anthropology to loose an important trait about it. It gives the impression that those who do these ethnographies care little about the people involved with the study. Relationships are not formed in the way that an anthropologist should be working to form them. When an anthropologist conducts an ethnography, he believes that this can potentially exclude the public because of the lack of attention and care that may not be there. The response to Ingold though is convincing. Shryock believes that the data gathering and the attention to detail is what helps form that commitment. Ethnography is not separate from all other factors of what it means to be a anthropologist but rather it is continuously at work. Data gathering is important to make sense of what may be going on or just add another dimension to what has been observed.

  12. Tim Ingold reminds me of a crying toddler, screaming at the top of his lungs, “those are my toys!” In this case the “toys” would be ethnography. Ingold raises valid points about Anthropology being more than simply data collecting, but his assertion that “ethnography” is over used is weak. Yes, many non-anthropology disciplines are using ethnography, but that does not warrant it being labeled overused. Overused implies being used improperly and simultaneously in excess. To challenge Ingold, I would argue that ethnography can be, and is applied to other disciplines; and secondly, it does not make sense to separate ethnography from anthropology or narrow down its definition. Ethnography is molded, not by discipline, but by every individual attempting to tell the story of another person/people. Andrew Shryock, also challenges the article written by Ingold. Shryock basically argues that Ingold is creating to narrow of a definition for the term ethnography, and also argues that it can not be separated from anthropology. Shyrock, in my opinion, has the correct mindset, ethnography should be the recipient of more encouragement not less.

  13. By viewing ethnography as an overdone and broad term, Ingold’s statement of how preparation for anthropology is preparation for life, and it lies in the cultivation of a readiness to both listen to others and question ourselves and the element of unlearning is key, is basically a definition for what ethnographers do. As his critique relies on the broadness of a subject, he himself could not narrow it down, let alone set a focus on how anthropologists could preserve the term.
    In which ethnography is not something done after the fact; anthropology, ethnography, and fieldwork are not separate in the way Ingold suggests. They are all happening at the same time, across the discipline and into the world (Shryock). For anthropology is a reflection of the people and it is also a reflection of the observer. When conducting ethnographic work, an anthropologist investigates themselves and then the Other. Accordingly, Ingold’s inability to observe himself has solely nourished his preconceptions of the Other and in this case the Other is ethnography.
    Although there is not a singular way to do ethnography, as a collective, collecting ethnographic data allows anthropologists to learn moral lessons and have a greater understanding of themselves. All in all, the contributions that an anthropologist can add to the term ethnography is to show the many ways that one can conduct ethnographic work and the ways in which anthropology is intertwined with ethnography.

    • wow, taking on Tim Inglod; very well done!
      I really like you claim that, “ethnographic data allows anthropologists to learn moral lessons and have a greater understanding of themselves.”

  14. Tim Ingold argues that ethnography is being over used. In his essay, he touches base on ethnography and the different approaches used and categorized it in. He also mentions the two ways to do ethnography. One, being an observer and the other is interacting with the people you are suppose to observe. If I remember correctly, Dr. Mullooly saying something along the line of “once an Anthropologist becomes part of the environment, as in practicing in their belief and way of life instead of observing and keeping a professional distance, he or she is no longer doing ethnography.” From what I understood, Ingold mentions something similar in his “Observing from the inside” section. Not word for word, just something we learned from class during the semester. He also he goes on explaining his argument he compares ethnography to life in a simpler form to understand. His conclusion was most interesting because he talks of a hyperbola and how the light is casted on the outside while darkness is cast in between the mind and world. If you switch both to focus on the inside then the darkness is on the outside and light is shined inside. Leaving whatever on the outside to be ignored because it is not important. Shyrock on the other hand believes Ingold’s argument is too vague and it doesn’t describe the technicality of Anthropology. I half agree with Shyrock. His explanation of ethnography made more sense.

  15. Tim Ingold argues that the word ethnography is being overused and that within the social sciences arena various discipline apply and understand ethnography differently. Making the term itself very vague and unsure of what it means to the audience and the public and new students coming to the social sciences. His argument that we need to give attention to this word and its terminologies and how we understand it because if within different disciplines of a field there are various understanding of what ethnography means to them, then perhaps it should be given attention. But Shryock argues against Ingold, and states the ethnography is composed of observation, participation, and education and they very much are entwined with each other and cannot be separated. Ingold’s arguments that we should give attention to ethnography is correct, but his arguments are weak, in his essay, “That enough about ethnography” he only states what ethnography is not, yet does not give a clear guide of what is ethnography. Anthropology and Ethnography cannot be separate from each other because ethnography is composed of an observer writing about people and anthropology presents both observer and the participants reflections.

  16. As many of my peers have summed up, Ingold states that ethnography is devaluing Anthropology. So many people claim to be doing ethnography by claiming they are doing “ethnographic interviews” in which they randomly select informants, where they process the data by means of software packages. He states this should be an offense to the Anthropology that is being done right, according to rigorous anthropological inquiry including long-term and open-ended commitment, and generous attentiveness to relational depth and context. Ingold focuses a lot on what is not ethnography, to him ethnographic data is “a judgment that is cast upon them through a retrospective conversion of the learning, remembering and note-taking which they call forth into pretexts for something else altogether” (Ingold). Another main point of Ingold is how as anthropologists, we have to unlearn what we know of ethnography and treat ethnography as education.
    On the side of Andrew Shryock, he makes a really good point, I myself came to the conclusion of before reading “Ethnography:Provocation.” “Glistening array of attitudes, doctrinal stances, and metaphoric imagery. Boats are launched into the unknown. Melodies are coupled. Subjects and objects become verbs. Hyperbolic arcs are reversed to form an ellipse. It’s heady stuff. One wonders what a budding anthropologist who has not yet done fieldwork could rightly make of it.” (Shryock). For an undergrad anthropology student, Ingold’s anti-ethnography manifesto is very abstract and almost incomprehensible. Like Shryrock states, nothing in Ingold’s article tells us how to do ethnography or about practicality at all.

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