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<nettime> Tim Ingold: That's enough about ethnography!
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<nettime> Tim Ingold: That's enough about ethnography!

Journal of Ethnographic Theory

   This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | (c) Tim Ingold. ISSN
   2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau4.1.021


That's enough about ethnography!

   Tim INGOLD, University of Aberdeen

   Ethnography has become a term so overused, both in anthropology and in
   contingent disciplines, that it has lost much of its meaning. I argue
   that to attribute "ethnographicness" to encounters with those among
   whom we carry on our research, or more generally to fieldwork, is to
   undermine both the ontological commitment and the educational purpose
   of anthropology as a discipline, and of its principal way of
   working--namely participant observation. It is also to reproduce a
   pernicious distinction between those with whom we study and learn,
   respectively within and beyond the academy. Anthropology's obsession
   with ethnography, more than anything else, is curtailing its public
   voice. The way to regain it is through reasserting the value of
   anthropology as a forward-moving discipline dedicated to healing the
   rupture between imagination and real life.

   Keywords: correspondence, education, ethnography, fieldwork, method,
   participant observation, theory

Explaining what we mean

   "Ethnographic" has become the most overused term in the discipline of
   anthropology. It is hard to say exactly when the term broke loose from
   its moorings, or what the reasons were for its subsequent
   proliferation. These reasons are undoubtedly complex and could be the
   subject for a separate historical study. My concern in this article,
   however, is prospective, not retrospective. For I believe that this
   overuse is doing great harm to anthropology, that it is holding it back
   while other fields of study are surging forward, and that it is
   actually preventing our discipline from having the kind of impact in
   the world that it deserves and that the world so desperately needs. And
   because the cause is desperate, I shall not refrain from polemic. The
   tenor of what follows is partisan, and deliberately so. I am sick and
   tired of equivocation, of scholarly obscurantism, and of the conceit
   that turns the project of anthropology into the study of its own ways
   of working. A discipline confined to the theatre of its own operations
   has nowhere to go. In its spiraling descent into irrelevance, it has
   no-one and nothing to blame other than itself.

   My aim is not to eliminate ethnography, or to expunge it from our
   anthropological consciousness. Nor is it to underrate its significance,
   and the complex demands it places on those who practice it. Rather, I
   am concerned to narrow ethnography down so that to those who ask us, in
   good faith, what it means, we can respond with precision and
   conviction. Only by doing so, I contend, can we protect it from the
   inflation that is otherwise threatening to devalue its currency to the
   extent of rendering the entire enterprise worthless. For it is not only
   within anthropology that ethnography is on the loose. I am sure I speak
   for the majority of anthropological colleagues in deploring the abuse
   of the term that has become commonplace in social sciences beyond our
   shores. How many research proposals have we read, coming from such
   fields as sociology, social policy, social psychology and education, in
   which the applicant explains that he or she will conduct "ethnographic
   interviews" with a sample of randomly selected informants, the data
   from which will then be processed by means of a recommended software
   package in order to yield "results"?

   Such a procedure, in which ethnographic appears to be a modish
   substitute for qualitative, offends every principle of proper, rigorous
   anthropological inquiry--including long-term and open-ended commitment,
   generous attentiveness, relational depth, and sensitivity to
   context--and we are right to protest against it. And, we are equally
   entitled to protest when those who assess our own proposals demand of
   us, in the name of ethnography, the same slavish adherence to the
   protocols of positivist methodology, by requiring us to specify--for
   example--how many people we intend to talk to, for how long, and how
   they will be selected. Against such benchmarks, anthropological
   research is bound to be devalued.

   Our protests, however, will be of no avail unless we can explain what
   we mean by ethnography in terms that are cogent and intellectually
   defensible. It is not enough to for us to say that anthropological
   research is ethnographic because that is what we anthropologists do. To
   wear ethnography as a badge of honor is unlikely to impress anyone
   beyond our own charmed circle. At a time when so many of us feel that
   our discipline is under threat, pushed to the margins where it no
   longer enjoys the public voice it once had, the growing inability to
   explain what we really mean by ethnography is an increasing source of
   embarrassment--all the more so when, as a defensive reaction, we
   continue to fall back on ethnography as the one thing that marks
   anthropology out, and justifies its existence as a discipline with
   something distinctive to contribute. To stake our fortunes in such
   shifting sands is a risky strategy indeed!

What ethnography is

   Consider just some of the terms to which the qualifier "ethnographic"
   is routinely applied: there is the ethnographic encounter, ethnographic
   fieldwork, ethnographic method, ethnographic knowledge. There are
   ethnographic monographs, and ethnographic films. And now we have
   ethnographic theory! Through all these runs the ethnographer. Taking
   this as a primary dimension of identity, it would appear that
   everything the ethnographer turns his or her hand to is, prima facie,
   ethnographic. Suppose you reflect and write only on your own
   experience? Well, if you are an ethnographer, then that's
   autoethnography. Suppose that your job is to curate artefacts in a
   museum, collected from different parts of the world, then that's museum
   ethnography. Curiously, however, the term does not extend to what goes
   on within the confines of the academy. As students, we are not said to
   undertake ethnography when we train with more senior scholars. Nor to
   my knowledge do any of my anthropological colleagues, when they work
   with students, claim to be practicing ethnography in the classroom. In
   the settings of seminars, workshops and conferences, academic
   anthropologists talk a great deal about ethnography, but rarely if ever
   do they claim to be doing it. The ethnography, it seems, is always
   going on somewhere else.

   I shall return to these anomalies in due course. First, let me declare
   my hand by stating what ethnography means. Quite literally, it means
   writing about the people. Though we anthropologists would likely not
   turn to the dictionary for an authoritative definition, others well
   might, and this is what they would find: "a scientific description of
   races and peoples with their customs, habits and mutual
   differences."^1 To us, of course, this sounds hopelessly
   anachronistic. We would move at once to remove all reference to race.
   We would insist that there is far more to description than the mere
   cataloging of habits and customs. In thickening our descriptions, and
   allowing a real historical agency to the people who figure in them, we
   might want to qualify the sense in which these accounts could be
   considered to be scientific. Ethnographic description, we might well
   say, is more an art than a science, but no less accurate or truthful
   for that. Like the Dutch painters of the seventeenth century, the
   European and American ethnographers of the twentieth could be said to
   have practiced an "art of describing" (Alpers 1983), albeit
   predominantly in words rather than in line and color. Theirs is still a
   standard against which we measure contemporary work.

   These issues have been debated ad nauseam. Much of this debate has
   fallen under the rubric of the so-called "crisis of representation."
   Quite reasonably, controversial questions have been asked about who has
   the right to describe, on what grounds any description may be taken to
   be more truthful or authoritative than any other, to what extent the
   presence of the author can or should be acknowledged within the text,
   and how the whole process of writing it might be made more
   collaborative. I do not intend to prolong these controversies. My focus
   is rather on what is not ethnographic. While a written monograph, in so
   far as it aims to chronicle the life and times of a people, may
   justifiably be called ethnographic, and while the same may even be said
   of a film that shares the same objectives, I do not believe the term
   can be applied to our encounters with people, to the fieldwork in which
   these encounters take place, to the methods by which we prosecute it,
   or to the knowledge that grows therefrom. Indeed to characterize
   encounters, fieldwork, methods and knowledge as ethnographic is
   positively misleading. Autoethnography, when there are no people to
   describe but only the self, and museum ethnography, where there are
   only curated objects, are simply oxymoronic. As for ethnographic
   theory, my argument will be that this is to get anthropology precisely
   back to front.

Encountering the world

   Let me begin with ethnographic encounters. Simply put: in the conduct
   of our research, we meet people. We talk with them, we ask them
   questions, we listen to their stories and we watch what they do. In so
   far as we are deemed competent and capable, we join in. There is
   nothing particularly special or unusual about this: it is, after all,
   what people do all the time when they encounter one another. What,
   then, could possibly distinguish an encounter that is ethnographic from
   one that is not? Here you are in what you imagine to be the field (of
   which more below). You tell people that you have come to learn from
   them. You are perhaps hoping that they will teach you some of their
   practical skills, or that they will explain what they think about
   things. You try very hard to remember what you have observed, or what
   people have told you, and lest you forget, you write it all down in
   fieldnotes as soon as the opportunity arises. Could it be the eagerness
   to learn, the strenuous memory-work, or perhaps the subsequent writing
   of notes, that lends an ethnographic inflection to your encounters with

   The answer is no. For what we could call "ethnographicness" is not
   intrinsic to the encounters themselves; it is rather a judgment that is
   cast upon them through a retrospective conversion of the learning,
   remembering and note-taking which they call forth into pretexts for
   something else altogether. This ulterior purpose, concealed from the
   people whom you covertly register as informants, is documentary. It is
   this that turns your experience, your memory and your notes into
   material--sometimes spun quasi-scientifically as "data"--upon which you
   subsequently hope to draw in the project of offering an account. The
   risks of double-crossing entailed in this ethnographizing of
   encounters, and the ethical dilemmas consequent upon them, are well
   known and much discussed. No one could accuse anthropologists of
   turning a blind eye to them. This is not where the fault lies. It lies
   rather in a temporal distortion that contrives to render the aftermath
   of our meetings with people as their anterior condition. Johannes
   Fabian (1983: 37), alluding to the same distortion, speaks of the
   "schizochronic tendencies of emerging anthropology." In effect, to cast
   encounters as ethnographic is to consign the incipient--the
   about-to-happen in unfolding relationships--to the temporal past of the
   already over. It is as though, on meeting others face-to-face, one's
   back was already turned to them. This is to leave behind those who, in
   the moment of encounter, stand before. Two-faced indeed!

   Over a period of time, encounters with people are compounded and folded
   into what we have come to know as fieldwork. Thus the objections I have
   raised to the ethnographizing of the former apply to the latter as
   well. Ethnographicness is no more intrinsic to fieldwork than it is to
   the encounters of which it is comprised. The conflation of ethnography
   with fieldwork is indeed one of the most commonplace in the discipline,
   and all the more insidious because it is so rarely questioned. That the
   field is never experienced as such when you are actually there and
   caught up in the currents of everyday life--that it only stands out
   when you have left it far behind and begin to write about it--is widely
   acknowledged. What we have been less ready to accept is that the same
   goes for the ethnographic. Perhaps then, if we are to be really
   consistent, we should drop both the ethnographic and the field from
   ethnographic fieldwork, and refer instead to our tried and tested way
   of working, namely participant observation. Ethnography and participant
   observation, as Jenny Hockey and Martin Forsey (2012) have pointed out,
   are absolutely not the same.

Observing from the inside

   To observe means to watch what is going on around and about, and of
   course to listen and feel as well. To participate means to do so from
   within the current of activity in which you carry on a life alongside
   and together with the persons and things that capture your attention.
   As with the encounter, anthropological participant observation differs
   only in degree from what all people do all of the time, though children
   more than most. But children have all their lives to learn. For the
   adult anthropologist, arriving as a complete newcomer and with limited
   time at his or her disposal, the hurdles are considerably greater. Now
   as a way of working--or better perhaps, as a condensed expression of
   the way we all work--participant observation is a procedure that I
   wholeheartedly endorse. But, I am not so sure that we have the full
   measure of why it is so important and so essential to what we do. In
   this regard, I want to make two points about it. The first is about
   ontological commitment; the second--to which I move in the next
   section--is about education.

   It is sometimes supposed that participation and observation are in
   contradiction. How can one simultaneously watch what is going on and
   join in? Is this not tantamount to asking us to swim in the river and
   stand on the bank at the same time? "One can observe and participate,"
   writes Michael Jackson (1989: 51), "successively but not
   simultaneously." Observation and participation, he goes on, yield
   different kinds of data, respectively objective and subjective. So how
   can the engagement of participation possibly be combined with the
   detachment of observation? These questions, however, are founded upon a
   certain understanding of immanence and transcendence, deeply rooted in
   the protocols of normal science, according to which human existence is
   constitutionally split between being in the world and knowing about it.
   The alleged contradiction between participation and observation is no
   more than a corollary of this split. As human beings, it seems, we can
   aspire to truth about the world only by way of an emancipation that
   takes us from it and leaves us strangers to ourselves (Ingold 2013: 5).

   Anthropology, surely, cannot passively acquiesce to this excision of
   knowing from being. More than any other discipline in the human
   sciences, it has the means and the determination to show how knowledge
   grows from the crucible of lives lived with others. This knowledge, as
   we are well aware, consists not in propositions about the world but in
   the skills of perception and capacities of judgment that develop in the
   course of direct, practical, and sensuous engagements with our
   surroundings. This is to refute, once and for all, the commonplace
   fallacy that observation is a practice exclusively dedicated to the
   objectification of the beings and things that command our attention and
   their removal from the sphere of our sentient involvement with
   consociates. Recall Jackson (1989: 51): observation, he says, yields
   "objective data." Nothing could be further from the truth. For to
   observe is not to objectify; it is to attend to persons and things, to
   learn from them, and to follow in precept and practice. Indeed there
   can be no observation without participation--that is, without an
   intimate coupling, in perception and action, of observer and observed
   (Ingold 2000: 108). Thus, participant observation is absolutely not an
   undercover technique for gathering intelligence on people, on the
   pretext of learning from them. It is rather a fulfilment, in both
   letter and deed, of what we owe to the world for our development and
   formation. That is what I mean by ontological commitment.

An education by attention

   But to practice participant observation is also to undergo an
   education. Indeed I believe there are good grounds for substituting the
   word "education" for "ethnography" as the most fundamental purpose of
   anthropology. I do not mean to give a boost to that minor and unjustly
   neglected subfield known as the anthropology of education. I want to
   insist, rather, on anthropology as a practice of education. That is to
   say, it is a practice dedicated to what Kenelm Burridge (1975: 10) has
   called metanoia: "an ongoing series of transformations each one of
   which alters the predicates of being." Though Burridge argues that
   metanoia is the goal of ethnography, to my mind it much more
   appropriately describes the goal of education. Jackson (2013: 28), who
   fully concurs with Burridge in the way he thinks about his own
   research, much of it carried out among Kuranko people in Sierra Leone,
   acknowledges that "Sierra Leone transformed me, shaping the person I
   now am and the anthropology I do." Exactly so: but that is why the
   anthropology he does is a practice of education and not of ethnography.
   "I have never thought of my research among the Kuranko as elucidating a
   unique lifeworld or foreign worldview," he admits. "Rather, this was
   the laboratory in which I happened to explore the human condition"

   With his Kuranko mentors, Jackson studies the conditions and
   possibilities of being human. That, precisely, is to do anthropology.
   But by the same token, since he is not setting out to elucidate the
   Kuranko lifeworld, it is not ethnography. And yet, despite this,
   Jackson continues to portray himself as an ethnographer! Elsewhere,
   however, he comes close to defining his anthropological project in
   educational terms: it is, he says, about "opening up new possibilities
   for thinking about experience" (ibid.: 88)--a process which, following
   the philosopher Richard Rorty, he calls edification. For Rorty, to
   edify is to keep the conversation going and, by the same token, to
   resist all claims to final, objective truth. It is to open a space, he
   writes, "for the sense of wonder which poets can sometimes
   cause--wonder that there is something new under the sun, something
   which is not an accurate representation of what was already there,
   something which (at least for the moment) cannot be explained and can
   barely be described" (Rorty 1980: 370).

   Does this sense of wonder, which Rorty attributes to the poet, not also
   lie at the root of anthropological sensibility? Like poetry,
   anthropology is a quest for education in the original sense of the
   term, far removed from the sense it has subsequently acquired through
   its assimilation to the institution of the school. Derived from the
   Latin educere (from ex, "out," plus ducere, "to lead"), education was a
   matter of leading novices out into the world rather than, as commonly
   understood today, of instilling knowledge in to their minds. Instead of
   placing us in a position or affording a perspective, education in this
   sense is about pulling us away from any standpoint--from any position
   or perspective we might adopt. In short, as the philosopher of
   education Jan Masschelein (2010a: 278) has observed, it is a practice
   of exposure.

   Surely participant observation, if nothing else, is just such a
   practice. It is one that calls upon the novice anthropologist to
   attend: to attend to what others are doing or saying and to what is
   going on around and about; to follow along where others go and to do
   their bidding, whatever this might entail and wherever it might take
   you. This can be unnerving, and entail considerable existential risk.
   It is like pushing the boat out into an as yet unformed world--a world
   in which things are not ready made but always incipient, on the cusp of
   continual emergence. Commanded not by the given but by what is on the
   way to being given, one has to be prepared to wait (Masschelein 2010b:
   46). Indeed, waiting upon things is precisely what it means to attend
   to them.

On intersubjectivity and correspondence

   As every anthropologist knows, there is a great deal of waiting in
   participant observation. Launched in the current of real time,
   participant observation couples the forward movement of one's own
   perception and action with the movements of others, much as melodic
   lines are coupled in musical counterpoint. For this coupling of
   movements that, as they proceed, continually answer to one another, I
   have adopted the term correspondence (Ingold 2013: 105-8). By this I do
   not mean the endeavor to come up with some exact match or simulacrum
   for what we find in the happenings going on around us. It has nothing
   to do with representation or description. It is rather about answering
   to these happenings with interventions, questions and responses of our
   own--or in other words, about living attentionally with others.
   Participant observation is a practice of correspondence in this sense.
   Yet cast within the schizochronic frame of ethnography, correspondence
   reappears in the quite different guise of "intersubjectivity." And
   intersubjectivity, following Edmund Husserl, is about living with
   others not attentionally but intentionally (Duranti 2010; Jackson 2013:

   Of ethnographic intersubjectivity, we are bound to ask: is it given, as
   an existential condition, or is it achieved, as a communicative result?
   The question is unanswerable, since it is wrapped up in the very move
   by which the ethnographizing of encounters converts end results into
   initial conditions. With correspondence, however, the question does not
   arise. Correspondence is neither given nor achieved but always in the
   making. For one thing, it is not a relation between one subject (such
   as the anthropologist in person) and others, as the prefix inter-
   indicates, but one that carries on or unfolds along concurrent paths.
   And for another, in carrying on, persons and things are not already
   thrown, as the suffix -ject implies, but are in the throwing. They are
   not subjects at all, nor objects, nor are they hybrid subject-objects.
   They are verbs. This is as true of humans as of beings of any other
   kind. Indeed, humans are not really beings at all but "becomings"
   (Ingold and Palsson 2013). Wherever you find them, humans are humaning.
   That is to say, they are corresponding--as letter writers do, scribing
   their thoughts and feelings and waiting for answers--living lives that
   weave around one another along ever-extending ways. The "loose ends"
   that Johannes Fabian (in the themed section of this issue of HAU) finds
   in intersubjectivity are precisely the threads which are twined
   together in correspondence, and that allow life to keep going. In an
   interconnected world, where everyone and everything is already joined
   up and all lines lead from A to B, no life would be possible at all.

   To practice participant observation, then, is to join in correspondence
   with those with whom we learn or among whom we study, in a movement
   that goes forward rather than back in time. Herein lies the educational
   purpose, dynamic, and potential of anthropology. As such, it is the
   very opposite of ethnography, the descriptive or documentary aims of
   which impose their own finalities on these trajectories of learning,
   converting them into data-gathering exercises destined to yield
   "results," usually in the form of research papers or monographs. And
   this brings us to the question of methods. It is, of course, as common
   for the word ethnographic to be placed before method as before
   fieldwork. What is usually implied is some form of participant
   observation. I have already shown that the a posteriori ethnographizing
   of participant observation undermines both the ontological commitment
   that it enshrines and its educational purpose. Questions remain,
   however, around the notion of method. Granted that participant
   observation and ethnography are entirely different, that one is a
   practice of correspondence and the other a practice of description, can
   either be regarded as a method at all?

A way of working

   That depends, of course, on what we mean by method. We could perhaps
   characterize participant observation as a way of working. This was
   probably what C. Wright Mills (1959: 216) had in mind, in a celebrated
   essay on intellectual craftsmanship, when he insisted that there can be
   no distinction between the theory of a discipline and its method--that
   both were indissoluble aspects of the practice of a craft. If
   anthropology's method, in this sense, is that of the practitioner
   working with people and materials, then its discipline lies in the
   observational engagement and perceptual attunement that allow the
   practitioner to follow what is going on, and in turn to respond to it.
   But this is far from what is conventionally meant by method in the
   protocols of normal science, where to implement a method is to follow
   through a sequence of prespecified and regulated steps towards the
   realization of a determinate goal. For the steps of participant
   observation, like those of life itself, are contingent on the
   circumstances, and advance towards no end. They rather tread ways of
   carrying on and of being carried, of living life with others--humans
   and non-humans all--that is cognizant of the past, attuned to the
   conditions of the present and speculatively open to the possibilities
   of the future.

   What then of ethnography, sensu stricto? Is it a method? As a craft of
   writing about the people, ethnography doubtless has its methods, much
   as Mills intimated. But that it is a method, applied in the service of
   some greater end, is questionable. I would argue strongly that it is
   not. Ethnography, surely, has value in its own right, not as a means to
   something else. We do not have to look beyond it for justification.
   What greater good is there, to which ethnography allegedly owes its
   existence? The traditionalist might answer that it is comparative
   anthropology. There was a time when we were told to treat ethnographic
   studies as compendia of empirical data, on the diverse societies and
   cultures of the world, which could then be used to test our theoretical
   generalizations (Sperber 1985: 10-11). Still today we persist in
   assembling studies culled from here and there between the covers of
   edited volumes, in the hopes that insights of a general sort might fall
   out. Not only, however, is ethnographic writing grossly devalued by its
   reduction to "data," but also the idea that universals are anything
   more than abstractions of our own has long been shown to be fallacious.
   Anthropology and ethnography are indeed distinct, as I have indicated,
   but this distinction cannot be aligned to one between the general and
   the particular, or between comparative-theoretical work in the study
   and empirical data collection in the field. Ethnography is not a
   prelude to anthropology, as fieldwork to writing up. If anything, it is
   the other way around. The ethnographer writes up; the anthropologist--a
   correspondent observer at large--does his or her thinking in the world
   (Ingold 2011: 241-3).

A conversation of human life

   The fruits of this thinking are what we tend to call "knowledge."
   Sometimes we speak of anthropological knowledge, sometimes of
   ethnographic knowledge. An enormous amount of ink has been spilled on
   the question of what this knowledge amounts to. There is widespread
   agreement, nowadays, that knowledge is not built from facts that are
   simply there, waiting to be discovered and organized in terms of
   concepts and categories, but that it rather grows and is grown in the
   forge of our relations with others. I will not rehearse the arguments
   in support of this view, but will take them as read. Knowledge, as Bob
   White and Kiven Strohm explain in their preface to the themed section
   in this issue of HAU, is co-produced. This is the point, however, at
   which to return to my earlier observation that in the eyes of most
   colleagues who would call themselves, interchangeably, anthropologists
   and ethnographers, the practice of knowledge generation or
   co-production that they would call "ethnographic" appears to stop at
   the walls of the academy, and not to penetrate within. Inside the
   walls, they talk endlessly about ethnography, to each other and to
   their students, and of course they write it up, but they do not do it.
   Thus knowledge co-produced with informants is ethnographic, knowledge
   co-produced with students is not.

   Now I am not suggesting that we should become ethnographers of our
   students or of our academic colleagues. We are there to work with them,
   not to make studies of them. However, I would challenge those who
   insist on using the word ethnographic to describe the knowledge that
   grows from their collaborative engagements (or correspondence) with the
   people among whom they work, to explain why they would not consider it
   equally appropriate to describe knowledge that grows from their
   correspondence with colleagues and students. Is it not because, despite
   all protestations to the contrary, they remain complicit in reproducing
   a pernicious distinction between those from whom and with whom we
   learn, respectively inside and outside the academy? Surely when we seek
   an education from great scholars, it is not in order that we can spend
   the rest of our lives describing or representing their ideas,
   worldviews, or philosophies. It is rather to hone our perceptual,
   moral, and intellectual faculties for the critical tasks that lie
   ahead. But if that is so, and if--as I have argued--to practice
   anthropology is to undergo an education, as much within as beyond the
   academy, then the same must be true of correspondences with our
   "non-academic" interlocutors. Knowledge is knowledge, wherever it is
   grown, and just as our purpose in acquiring it within the academy is
   (or should be) educational rather than ethnographic, so it should be
   beyond the academy as well.

   One example of the kind of distortion to which I allude comes from a
   recent editorial, in the journal Anthropology Today, by Catherine
   Besteman and Angelique Haugerud. Their call is for a public
   anthropology. Of course, as they acknowledge, there has never been a
   time when anthropology has not been public, "in the sense that our
   disciplinary forte is ethnography and we carefully probe the views of
   our research interlocutors" (Besteman and Haugerud 2013: 2). Now I
   would be the first to agree that the careful, even forensic probing of
   ideas is a primary desideratum of good scholarship. To do so in the
   name of ethnography, however, is precisely to neutralize the challenge
   that critical engagement with other ways of doing and knowing can
   present to public understanding. Why? Because in the ethnographizing of
   these ways, the priority shifts from engagement to reportage, from
   correspondence to description, from the co-imagining of possible
   futures to the characterization of what is already past. It is, as it
   were, to look through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead of
   calling on the vision afforded by our education to illuminate and
   enlarge upon the world, the ethnographer takes his or her sightings
   from the world in holding up the other's ways to scrutiny. Who would
   dare do such a thing to our mentors and peers within the academy?
   Beyond its walls, however, such treasonable activity is not just
   routine; we even flag it up as our disciplinary strong point!

Anthropology back to front

   That anthropology has lost its public voice, or that it is scarcely
   audible, is certainly a cause for concern. Peddlers of other wares,
   often with ill-conceived, populist or fundamentalist agendas, are only
   too keen to fill the vacuum. Some are even prepared to fake
   anthropological credentials in their eagerness to feed popular
   prejudice. It is a symptom of anthropology's retreat that it has
   signally failed to keep such miscreants in check. In their manifesto
   for the renewal of ethnographic theory, Giovanni da Col and David
   Graeber (2011: ix) go so far as to lament that anthropology, in its
   current predicament, is "committing a kind of intellectual suicide."
   But is this, as they claim, for want of original insights? Is it the
   turn to philosophy--specifically of continental European
   provenance--and away from ethnography that has set the discipline on
   the path of self-destruction?

   I think not. For one thing, I do not share da Col and Graeber's
   pessimistic assessment of recent anthropology. There has been no
   shortage of original insights. Compared with most other disciplines,
   anthropology constantly astonishes with its originality. But if there
   is one thing that prevents anthropological insights from having the
   wider, transformative effects that we might hope for them, it is the
   constant resort to ethnography. "Ethnographically oriented
   particularism," as Stuart McLean (2013: 66-7) has noted, "has become
   not only the default setting for much current anthropological research
   and writing, ... but also the basis for many arguments concerning the
   discipline's continued relevance to the understanding of contemporary
   social processes." McLean is skeptical of this "almost ubiquitously
   shared vision of anthropology," and so am I. For far from increasing
   its social relevance, it seems to me that the appeal to ethnography
   holds anthropology hostage to the popular stereotype of the
   ethnographer, which is not without foundation, as one who is bound to
   the retrospective chronicling of lives that are always on the brink of

   So what is this strange hybrid of pragmatism and philosophizing that
   goes by the name of ethnographic theory? In some ways it goes back to
   where I began my anthropology, as "philosophy with the people in": an
   enterprise energized by the tension between speculative inquiry into
   what life could be like and a knowledge, rooted in practical
   experience, of what life is like for people of particular times and
   places (Ingold 1992: 696). I have already shown, however, that in its
   ethnographization, this experience is schizochronically put behind us,
   even as it is lived. As for theory, it becomes a domain in which
   ethnographers, having turned away from their respective field sites,
   trade in the "insights" they have brought back. Like connoisseurs of
   exotic art, they aspire to put their treasures on display, and to
   extract value from their comparison or juxtaposition. In the museum of
   ethnographic theory, such concept-objects as totem, mana and saman,
   originating from three continents of the world, rub shoulders on the
   shelf, awaiting the attentions of the virtuoso scholar, who will magic
   them into some kind of "disjunctive homonimity" (da Col and Graeber
   2011: viii).

   Indeed ethnography and theory resemble nothing so much as the two arcs
   of a hyperbola, which cast their beams in opposite directions, lighting
   up the surfaces, respectively, of mind and world. They are back to
   back, and darkness reigns between them. But what if each arc were to
   reverse its orientation, so as to embrace the other in an encompassing,
   brightly illuminated ellipse? We would then have neither ethnography
   nor theory, nor even a compound of both. What we would have is an
   undivided, interstitial field of anthropology. If ethnographic theory
   is the hyperbola, anthropology is the ellipse. For ethnography, when it
   turns, is no longer ethnography but the educational correspondences of
   real life. And theory, when it turns, is no longer theory, but an
   imagination nourished by its observational engagements with the world.
   The rupture between reality and imagination--the one annexed to fact,
   the other to theory--has been the source of much havoc in the history
   of consciousness. It needs to be repaired. It is surely the task of
   anthropology, before all else, to repair it. In calling a halt to the
   proliferation of ethnography, I am not asking for more theory. My plea
   is for a return to anthropology.


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   ------. 2013. Making: Anthropology, archaeology, art and, architecture.
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Assez avec l'ethnographie!

   Résumé : L' ethnographie est devenu un terme tellement galvaudé, en
   anthropologie et dans les disciplines liées, qu'il a perdu beaucoup de
   son sens. Je soutiens qu'attribuer une qualité « ethnographique » aux
   rencontres avec ceux parmi lesquels nous effectuons nos recherches, ou
   plus généralement au travail de terrain, porte atteinte à la fois à
   l'engagement ontologique et au but éducatif de l'anthropologie en tant
   que discipline, et à son principal outil de travail - à savoir
   l'observation participante. Cet usage reproduit également une
   distinction pernicieuse entre ceux parmi lesquels nous étudions et
   apprenons, respectivement à l'intérieur et au-delà du cercle
   académique. L'obsession anthropologique pour l'ethnographie, plus que
   toute autre chose, étouffe sa voix publique. Une façon de la retrouver
   consisterait en la revalorisation de l'anthropologie comme une
   discipline allant de l'avant et dédiée à panser la rupture entre
   l'imagination et la vie réelle.

   Tim INGOLD is currently Chair of Social Anthropology at the University
   of Aberdeen. He has carried out ethnographic fieldwork among Saami and
   Finnish people in Lapland, and has written on comparative questions of
   environment, technology and social organisation in the circumpolar
   North, on the role of animals in human society, and on human ecology
   and evolutionary theory in anthropology, biology and history. More
   recently, he has explored the links between environmental perception
   and skilled practice. Ingold is currently writing and teaching on
   issues on the interface between anthropology, archaeology, art and
   architecture. His latest book, Making, was published in 2013.

   Tim Ingold
   Department of Anthropology
   School of Social Science
   University of Aberdeen
   Aberdeen AB24 3QY
   Scotland, UK
   tim.ingold {AT} abdn.ac.uk

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