Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Arbitrary Locations: In Defence of the Bounded Field-site./Localisations Arbitraire: Pour Une Defense Du Terrain Delimite

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Arbitrary Locations: In Defence of the Bounded Field-site./Localisations Arbitraire: Pour Une Defense Du Terrain Delimite

Article excerpt

Introduction: 1995

In 1995, the filmmaker Peter Jackson embarked upon an adaptation of Tolkien's fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings. In the many interviews which followed the international success of the ensuing trilogy, Jackson reminisced on the roots of his project. He had been encouraged, he often stated, by a realization about the level of complexity reached by computer animation and special effects technology. Following these advances, Jackson realized it was now possible to put anything on screen, or as the director once put it, to do anything. Suddenly, all technological limitations having been removed, Jackson felt he was in a position to create a believable Lord of the Rings. And indeed, the director's explicit policy throughout filming was to shoot with the realism of a historical reconstruction, and he enjoined all those involved in the project to consider it as such.

Back in 1995, two other filmmakers reacted in a rather different way to similar understandings of their growing technological freedom. The Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg together agreed upon a manifesto, entitled Dogme 95, laying down strict limits on what, to use Jackson's terminology, a filmmaker should do. In order to qualify for the Dogme seal of approval, a director had to forsake the use not only of visual effects, but also of lighting, props, overlaid musical soundtracks, or even professional make-up. All shooting had to be done on location, using a handheld camera, and the plot was to forsake superficial action and 'temporal or geographic alienation'. Von Trier and Vinterberg entitled their charter 'the vow of Chastity', and it closed with the following pledge: 'My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations' (von Trier & Vinterberg 1995).

In diametrical opposition to Jackson's heady emancipation from all constraints, the Dogme filmmakers imposed upon themselves an iron rule of methodological minimalism. Such an assessment, however, obscures two major similarities between the two approaches. Firstly, reliant as they are on handheld digital cameras, the 'bare bones' of Dogme filmmaking are just as much a product of the latest technological advances as is Peter Jackson's extravaganza. Secondly, and more importantly, both approaches are centrally premised on a concern with truth and realism. (1)

This is where I would like to open my account, in this space between The Lord of the Rings and Dogme, between sensibilities based on limitless narrative possibilities and sensibilities based on self-imposed restriction. (2) But this article is not about film, it is about anthropological methodology, about the way in which it has been shaped by a sense that the world was increasingly connected and seamless. More specifically, I will examine calls for multi-sited research which have urged us to expand the possibilities and vistas of ethnography in order to deal with a complex world. Drawing on my own recent fieldwork on the French island of Corsica, this article asks what ethnography would look like if we took the other path, the path of self-limitation rather than the path of expansion.

In 1995, George Marcus coined a phrase which was to achieve resounding fame in and beyond anthropological circles, namely 'multi-sited ethnography' (Marcus 1995). Less a programmatic piece than a review of already existing research strategies, Marcus's article nevertheless framed and concretized a methodological trend, by providing it with historical contextualization, a range of practical suggestions, and a defence against potential critiques and anxieties. This is a trend which the author and Michael Fischer had called for a decade earlier in their book Anthropology as cultural critique, under the designation of 'multi-locale ethnography' (Marcus & Fischer 1986: 90-5). …

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