Redefining ethnography «in the strict sense of the term»: Perspectives gained from non-standard, old-new fieldwork
This essay reflects on the consequences for ethnography of the reversal of the direction of the anthropological encounter – what exactly happens when anthropologists from the Global South undertake fieldwork among populations in the Global North? I will argue that this does not merely correct historical imbalances of anthropological knowledge production, thereby changing the substance of that knowledge itself, although of course that is a goal worth pursuing, as has cogently been pointed out by the “world anthropologies” critique of hegemonic disciplinary practices. Using insights drawn from my own research site in the US heartland, where I conducted fieldwork initially in 1989-91, and then again during a “focused revisit” in 2015, I suggest that lasting misunderstandings between the anthropologist and the research participants are themselves a rich source of data and human possibility. My contention is that non-standard and long-term fieldwork of this kind may help reveal dimensions of the practice of ethnography that would otherwise remain obscured.
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