Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation

By Lynne Hume; Jane Mulcock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
Multi-sited Transnational Ethnography and
the Shifting Construction of Fieldwork

Sawa Kurotani

In this essay, I explore issues of anthropological practice in the increasingly deterritorialized social reality of the late-capitalist world, in which a fieldworker must negotiate her way between the limits of ethnographic method and transnational spaces. As Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson (1997b) outline, the disciplinary origin of anthropology as a "field science" has led to much of its theoretical and methodological development being centered around the assumption of a well-defined physical site as the appropriate focus for ethnographic fieldwork. Rapid globalization has disrupted this and other associated fundamental assumptions. Increased mobility in the late twentieth century made it difficult to find what were traditionally thought of as suitable locations for ethnographic fieldwork. Current social conditions also require anthropologists to view geographic mobility, transcultural contact, and fluid identities as an integral part of human experience, and to question any naive notions of cultural authenticity and static identity (Appadurai 1990; Hannerz 1996; Clifford 1997a; Ong 1997).

My research on the homemaking practices of Japanese housewives in the United States involves an attempt to look at domestic space as the intersection of the global and the local, and also to examine the implications of corporate-driven transnational mobility on the wives of Japanese businessmen. Kaigai chuuzai, an assignment, or the state of being assigned, to a remote, overseas post, has become a significant experience for employees at all levels of Japanese corporations with international business interests (Hamada 1992). As these corporations steadily increased their direct investment in the United States between the late 1970s and the 1990s, the kaigai chuuzai of experienced Japanese workers and managers facilitated the transplanting of production know-how and ensured the high efficiency of their U.S. operations. The transnational

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