Mirrored Images: American Anthropology and American Culture, 1960-1980

By Susan R. Trencher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
Reflections on Fieldworker Ethnographies

One of the aims of fieldworker ethnographies as stated by their authors was to reveal the "cultural self"--the publicly and socially constructed aspect of self. As written by individuals these works were unique. As symbolic works, taken together, their sum was greater than their parts. Embedded in and permeated by the upheavals in American culture, the works reflected the times from which they emerged and in which they were written. As fieldworkers struggled to make sense of their fieldwork experience in its immediacy and years later, at home, they did, as claimed, reveal aspects of the cultural self. But what they "say" is less available from the analysis in them than the analysis of them. What emerged in these works were not reflections on the cultural self, but reflections of it. Fieldworkers and the sense they made of their experiences were, in salient terms, cultural constructions.


THE CULTURAL CONSTRUCTION OF ETHNOGRAPHY

One of the consequences of the social and political unrest of the nineteen sixties was a series of attacks on, and radical critiques of the social sciences. . . . There was a growing skepticism (that) . . . the belief that increased systematic empirical understanding of how society and politics work would naturally lead to the intelligent formulation of policies, ameliorate social inequalities and injustices and enable us to solve the problems of society. ( Dallmayr and McCarthy 1977:xi-xii)


Paradigm Shift

Dallmayr and McCarthy (above) tie intellectual shifts to crises which, in various and complex ways, create a loss of faith. Intellectualized as well as

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