Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology

By Roger Sanjek | Go to book overview

RENA LEDERMAN


Pretexts for Ethnography:
On Reading Fieldnotes

Anthropologists do many things in the field and out, and while writing is one of those things, it is surely not the distinguishing characteristic of our work. Writing sets us apart neither from people in other disciplines and lines of work nor, always, from the people we seek to understand. Nevertheless, a focus on anthropological forms of writing can reveal something about the strengths and limits of anthropological knowledge.

Recent analyses of the conventions of ethnographic writing (e.g., Clifford 1983; Clifford and Marcus 1986; Marcus and Cushman 1982; Sperber 1982) are just part of a sustained exploration of the largely tacit dimensions of our work. During the past twenty years anthropologists have published detailed descriptions of the personal experience of fieldwork. While such accounts have not always been self-critical or analytical, they have been reflexive in a particularly direct manner and have occasionally pursued epistemological and ethical or political issues merely named in manuals on research technique.

____________________
I thank Michael Merrill, Hilly Geertz, Roger Sanjek, and Julie Taylor for comments on an early version of this chapter, and also Jim Clifford, whose paper I read in 1986 as I was drafting this one and whose arguments helped to provoke mine. I do not take account of a number of important, recent works (e.g., Clifford 1988; Geertz 1988; Strathern 1987).

-71-

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