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Ethnography

http://eth.sagepub.com Ethnografeast: A Progress Report on the Practice and Promise of Ethnography


Loc Wacquant Ethnography 2003; 4; 5 DOI: 10.1177/1466138103004001001 The online version of this article can be found at: http://eth.sagepub.com

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Copyright 2003 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) www.sagepublications.com Vol 4(1): 514[14661381(200303)4:1;514;035380]

Ethnografeast
A progress report on the practice and promise of ethnography

Loc Wacquant
University of California-Berkeley, USA Centre de sociologie europenne, Paris, France

On 1214 September 2002, the journal Ethnography and the Center for Urban Ethnography at the University of California, Berkeley, held an international conference on Ethnography for a New Century: Practice, Predicament, Promise.1 The purpose of the three-day event was to take collective stock of the past achievements, to reect on the contemporary practice, and to sketch the future promise of ethnography as a distinctive mode of inquiry and form of public consciousness. For that purpose, ethnography was dened, in catholic fashion, as social research based on the close-up, onthe-ground observation of people and institutions in real time and space, in which the investigator embeds herself near (or within) the phenomenon so as to detect how and why agents on the scene act, think and feel the way they do. Drawing on and projecting forth from their own eldwork spanning the gamut of topics and styles, the participants were invited to examine the epistemological moorings, methodological quandaries, representational devices, empirical and theoretical (im)possibilities, as well as the changing politics and ethics of ethnography at centurys dawn. And in the process to illumine its relation to and its uses of ction, philosophy, medicine, statistics, political economy, feminism, history, and theory in fastchanging academic worlds and societal landscapes. The spirit of the conference was one of open and attentive dialogue across three divides that, although widely recognized as arbitrary, continue

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to impede the development of eld-based social inquiry as they do research based on other methodologies. The rst is the continuing split between national traditions, and the mutual ignorance and symbolic imperialism it fosters (Gupta and Ferguson, 1997: 2529), which was lessened by convening scholars coming not only from the four corners of the United States but also from London, Stockholm, Paris, So Paulo, and Cape Town. The second is the separation of disciplines: the main impulse behind the conference was to get a group of anthropologists and sociologists who seriously practice and think about eldwork to come not face to face but side by side; to suspend lingering disdain, distrust and doubt, and to remove their professional blinders so as to get each to acknowledge and engage the varied approaches and productions of their twin colleagues in a way that was routinely done a century ago by the Durkheimians (as attested by Mauss, 1913) but that, for reasons having to do with the accumulated accidents of academic and political history, is rarely done in earnest today.2 Needless to say, numerous other disciplines are concerned by the conceptual and practical issues on which the conference fastened: the remarkable renewal and growth of ethnography over the past decade has touched an unprecedented variety of knowledge domains ranging from education, law, media and science studies to geography, history, management and design, to gender studies and nursing.3 Far from being an extinct or endangered species, as the prophets of postmodern gloom would have us believe, ethnography is a proliferating animal that walks on multiplying feet. But, for reasons having to do with its intellectual history and institutional ecology, its two main legs remain anthropology and sociology (Stacey, 1999). Indeed, the premise and wager of the Ethnografeast was that the most promising route for strengthening and enriching the craft of eld inquiry at this particular juncture lies not in grand theoretical elaborations, worried epistemological disquisitions, or deliberate rhetorical innovations (however important these may be in their own right, and they are) but in the long overdue, systematic and selfconscious braiding of actually existing traditions of eldwork across that articial disciplinary divide as anthropologists return home and sociologists go global (Peirano, 1998 and Gille and Riain, 2002). Third, and by design, the conference brought together the diversity of styles of ethnographic work modern, neomodern, and postmodern; positivist, interpretive and analytic; phenomenological, interactionist and historical; theory-driven and narrative-oriented; local, multi-sited, and global 4 as conduced by authors who draw on the broadest array of theoretical traditions in the social sciences, from Marx and Merleau-Ponty to Bourdieu and Blumer to Goffman and Geertz, and seek to amplify or rectify intellectual currents as varied as the Chicago school, feminism(s), identity politics, organization theory, and postcolonialism. This threefold commitment to internationalism, interdisciplinarity rooted in a vigorous

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and rigorous dialogue between sociology and anthropology, and pluralism in genres and theoretical suasions is epicentral to the mission of Ethnography. It sets the editorial policy and denes the distinctive intellectual stance of the journal in the ever-more cluttered space of social scientic production. And it will continue to guide its efforts to stimulate and disseminate innovative eldwork stamped by theoretical sensitivity, empirical commitment, and civic relevance. The Ethnografeast started off with a session titled Suspended Between Theory and Fiction, in which sociologist Michael Boris Burawoy presented the case for theory-driven ethnography carried out under the banner of science while anthropologist Ruth Behar advocated a humanistic approach based on story-telling closer to writing and lm. The BeharBurawoy pairing was meant to incarnate the two poles of the craft, that of explanation and interpretation, experiment and narration, observer concept and native percept, and to invite each to recognize, exchange with, and learn from the other. Sessions held on the ensuing two days addressed violence, social divisions and bonds (kinship, class, and gender), the ethics of eldwork, and the body and the senses, before returning to the role of history and theory in ethnography. Presentations were based on completed or ongoing research into subjects as variegated as drug addiction in San Francisco and crime in So Paulo, the politics of medicine in Haiti and the aesthetics of death in Nepal, sentiments in French families and gender in Mexican factories, morality among American physicians and zombies in post-apartheid South Africa, and the occupational habits of school administrators, mushroom collectors, urban planners, professional boxers, international journalists, and global organs trafckers. The conference opened on a double dedication, the one joyful and the other somber. The rst was to Michael Boris Burawoy, who received a special award in recognition of 25 years devoted to teaching, practicing, and promoting ethnography at Berkeley. So much so that one could argue that he has single-handedly created a Berkeley school of eld research, with roots in Manchester by way of Lusaka, Chicago, Budapest and Syktyvkar in Northern Russia, mating the extended case method of Jaan van Velsen and Max Gluckman to the theoretical agenda of an epistemologically astute and empirically aware Marxism scouring the globe in stubborn search for the politics of production (Burawoy, 1998 and 2000a). Bridging the gap between anthropology and sociology, as well as between theory and method, Burawoy has not only produced classic eld studies of labor and working class (de)formation under capitalist evolution and Soviet involution (see Burawoy, 1996, for a reexive recapitulation). He has trained cohorts of rst-rate ethnographers who have gone on from being close collaborators in a revolving ethnographic cooperative (Burawoy et al., 1991; Burawoy et al., 2000) to inuential authors with their own agenda

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and voice and working at the four corners of the earth. And, whether one admires or deplores his obdurate insistence on the centrality of class and capitalism, Burawoy has time and again demonstrated the scientic and political pertinence of eld inquiry to the ongoing great transformations of our epoch, thus setting high standards for an ethnography alive to its civic responsibility.5 The second dedication was to Pierre Bourdieu, who agreed, in summer of 2001, to come to Berkeley for the Ethnografeast and to deliver a closing address on Ethnography as Public Service. His sudden and untimely passing in January 2002 not only robs the social sciences and humanities of one of their most innovative and inuential practicioners. It deprives activists ghting for social justice around the world of an engaged intellectual who was deeply committed to making the results of social inquiry inform and impact democratic struggles. And it leaves many of us bereft of an irreplaceable friend and wonderful human being. Pierre Bourdieu was an inventive and iconoclastic scientist who transformed social science by fusing rigorous theory with precise research, including ethnography, which he taught himself in the late 1950s crisscrossing the countryside and delving into the urban slums of colonial Algeria in the grisly conditions of the war of national liberation.6 In the introduction to his 1963 book Travail et travailleurs en Algrie, his rst methodological notations, Bourdieu called for a forthright collaboration between statistics and sociology, by which he meant intensive eld studies that are alone capable of ferreting out the social meaning that patterns of action and belief acquire in the concrete cases that quantitative techniques parse, aggregate and correlate (Bourdieu et al., 1963: 913). And he dutifully followed his own prescription: Bourdieu resorted to detailed and sustained in situ observation in every one of his major studies thereafter, from the dissection of gender relations and kinship strategies in his native village of Barn to the analysis of taste in the making of class and of the rituals of consecration of the state nobility to the diagnosis of novel forms social suffering in societies wracked by economic deregulation and welfare-state devolution (Bourdieu, 2002; 1979[1984]; 1989[1996]; Bourdieu et al., 1993[1997]). Bourdieu was the rst scholar to truly reunify sociology and anthropology in his practice since the classical generation in which his work was anchored and the Ethnografeast was a means to acknowledge and advance on the path he cleared. In lieu of a tribute or homage (something he profoundly disliked: he once quipped hommage gale fromage), the conference included an evening with Pierre Bourdieu in the form of the ofcial U.S. premiere of the awardwinning documentary on his life and thought, Sociology is a Martial Art by Pierre Carles (2001).7 By convening this gathering of anthropologists and sociologists committed to the craft, Ethnography sought to provoke a confrontation of

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experiences, purposes, and views liable to clarify its standards and to make the case for the renewed vigor and centrality of ethnography to social research, as well as for its pertinence to social policy and citizenship after a protracted period of solipsistic doubt and nihilistic rumination. If anything, the three days of lively debates before a packed room and the subsequent exchanges they triggered through manifold media offered irrefutable proof that reports of the death of ethnography have been wildly exaggerated they turn out to be little more than the prescriptive cries of those who, having stopped doing eldwork, need to make an epistemological virtue out of their professional surrender. They conrmed that eld inquiry is a diverse enterprise admitting of a variety of standards of production and evaluation but one endowed with a strong core of common epistemological and operational principles readily apparent in its nished products.8 And they made it clear that the balance sheet of similarities and differences between sociologists and anthropologists active in the eld tilts decisively in favor of the former: indeed, there was more dispersion of style, focus and concern within each of the disciplines than between them. What separates sociologists and anthropologists are the ready-made problematics they inherit, the universe of references and studies they build on, and the idiom in which they articulate their questions, as a result of the separate training they receive and the distinct career tracks they follow. Shed this professional garb (or armor) and they turn out to be not sister disciplines but identical twins. The three papers by Ruth Behar, Mary Pattillo, and Gary Fine featured in this issue form the rst of several installments of contributions to the Ethnografeast. It is hoped that publication of these presentations will help extend and enlarge the animated discussion of the distinctive problems and promise of ethnography that took place in Berkeley. (Ethnography welcomes reactions and commentaries that take up central issues addressed or evaded by several papers). And that it will feed intellectual exchanges across disciplinary boundaries liable to erode the arbitrary mental and professional divisions that hamper the full blossoming of an ethnographic social science.

Appendix: Summary Program of the Ethnografeast Day 1 Thursday 12 September 2002 1 Suspended between theory and ction Ruth Behar (University of Michigan): Adio Kerida: Ethnography without Borders Michael Burawoy (University of CaliforniaBerkeley): Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Bringing Theory and History to Ethnography

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811pm, Wheeler Auditorium: An evening with Pierre Bourdieu USA Premiere of Pierre Carles Sociology is a Martial Art, introduced by Chancellor Robert Berdahl and followed by a debate with director Pierre Carles and Linda Williams (Chair of UCBerkeley Film Studies). Day 2 Friday 13 September 2002 2 Dissecting violence Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg (University of CaliforniaSan Francisco): Heroin, Crack and Homelessness in Black and White: A PhotoEthnography from San Francisco Martn Snchez-Jankowski (University of CaliforniaBerkeley): The Role of School Violence in Leveling Aspirations and Curtailing Mobility among the Poor in Two American Cities Teresa Caldeira (Universidade So Paulo, University of CaliforniaIrvine): Crime and Rights in Contemporary Brazil Paul Farmer (Harvard University): Toward an Ethnography of Structural Violence: Haiti and Beyond 3 Bonds and divisions: kinship, gender, class Florence Weber (Ecole normale suprieureParis): Sentiments, Strategies and Models in the Ethnography of Kinship and Kin Dependency Leslie Salzinger (University of Chicago): Now You See It, Now You Dont: Masculinity at Work Sherry Ortner (Columbia University): New Jersey Dreaming: Theoretical Intentions and Field Lessons of a Native Ethnographer Discussant: Raka Ray (University of CaliforniaBerkeley) 4 The contested politics and ethics of eld work Mary Pattillo (Northwestern University): The Politics (Mine and Theirs) of Revitalizing Black Chicago Ruth Horowitz (New York University): On the Uses and Abuses of Membership: Dynamics and Ethics of Participation in the Regulation of Medicine Nancy Scheper-Hughes (University of CaliforniaBerkeley): Rotten Trade: Global Justice and the International Trafc in Human Organs Discussant: Laura Nader (University of CaliforniaBerkeley) 911pm, 160 Kroeber Hall: Screening of Ruth Behars Adio Kerida, followed by a debate with Ruth Behar and Jos David Saldvar (Chair of UCBerkeley Ethnic Studies).

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Day 3 Saturday 14 September 2002 5 Bodies, senses, selves Loc Wacquant (University of CaliforniaBerkeley, Centre de sociologie europenneParis): Suffering Beings: Ethnography as Embedded and Embodied Social Inquiry Robert Desjarlais (Sarah Lawrence College): A Phenomenology of Dying: Subjectivity and Death among Nepals Yolmo Buddhists Gary Alan Fine (Northwestern University): Towards a Peopled Ethnography: Analyzing Small-Group Culture Akhil Gupta (Stanford University): Bodily Practices and Rebirth Discussant: Lawrence Cohen (University of CaliforniaBerkeley) 6 From site(s) to history and back to theory (25pm) Ulf Hannerz (Stockholm University): Being There . . . and There . . . and There! Reections on Multisite Ethnography Calvin Morrill (University of CaliforniaIrvine), David Snow (University of CaliforniaIrvine) and Leon Anderson (Ohio State University): Elaborating Analytic Ethnography: Linking Field Work and Theoretical Development Paul Willis (Wolverhampton University): Autonomy and Determinacy in Understanding Cultural Practices Jean Comaroff (University of Chicago): Ethnography on an Awkward Scale: The View from the South-African Postcolony

Notes
1 The journal expresses its appreciation to the following institutions, all at the University of California-Berkeley, for making the conference possible: the Survey Research Center, the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology, the Institute for the Study of Social Change, the Center for the Study of New Inequalities, the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the French Studies, Film Studies, and Ethnic Studies Programs, and the Ofce of the Chancellor. Extramural support from the Lal Foundation, the Holbrook Foundation, and the French Consulate is gratefully acknowledged. I would like to personally thank my co-organizers, Martn Snchez-Jankowski and Nancy Scheper-Hughes, for their patience and persistence, and Maureen Fesler for her awless management of the event. 2 Several anthropologists noted aloud that it was the rst time in their career that they found themselves in a conference room with throngs of sociologists. Conversely, the sociologists candidly confessed to being unfamiliar with some of the idioms and concerns of anthropologists as expressed at the lectern and from the oor during discussion. Professional gatherings

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of anthropologists rarely include more than a token sociologist and vice versa. See, among a urry of recent works, Walford (2001) and Zou and Trueba (2002) for education, Goodale and Starr (2002) for law; Cottle (2000) and Schlecker and Hirsch (2001) for media and science studies; Herbert (2000) and McHugh (2000) for geography; Mayne (1999) for history; Wasson (2000) for design and Rosen (2000) for management; Wolf (1996) for gender; and Roper and Shapira (2000) for nursing. Adler and Adler (1999) provide a different taxonomy of breeds of ethnographers, all of which were represented at the Ethnografeast. Read, among more recent papers, Burawoy (2000b and 2001a) and the interdisciplinary volume on social change in Eastern European societies after the Soviet collapse (Burawoy and Verdery, 1999); and, for a collective appraisal and critique of his work by sociologists, the articles by Robin Leidner, Jennifer Peirce, Heidi Gottfried, Gay Seidman, Steven Peter Vallas, and Leslie Salzinger in Contemporary Sociology (2001, 305, September 2001, 423444), as well as Burawoys (2001b) own para-reflexive piece on his predecessor industrial sociologist and ethnographer Donald Roy. A future special issue of Ethnography on Pierre Bourdieu in the Field (scheduled for Spring 2004) will feature several original ethnographic texts by Bourdieu drawn from his early eldwork in Algeria and in his native region of Barn in Southern France, as well as critical analyses of their theoretical and empirical import. The movie was screened before a full house on the opening evening of the conference in Wheeler Auditorium; it was introduced by Chancellor Berdahl and followed by a debate with director Pierre Carles and Linda Williams, Chair of Film Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. The full conference program, with biographical sketches, draft papers and/or abstracts of the presentations is available on line at http:// cue.berkeley.edu.

References
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Bourdieu, Pierre, Alain Darbel, Jean-Paul Rivet and Claude Seibel (1963) Travail et travailleurs en Algrie. Paris and The Hague: Mouton and Co. Bourdieu et al. (1993[1999]) The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Burawoy, Michael Boris (1996) From Capitalism to Capitalism via Socialism: The Odyssey of a Marxist Ethnographer, 19751995, International Labor and Working-Class History 50: 7799. Burawoy, Michael Boris (1998) The Extended Case Method, Sociological Theory 16(1): 433. Burawoy, Michael Boris (2000a) Marxism After Communism, Theory and Society 29(2): 151174. Burawoy, Michael Boris (2000b) A Sociology for the Second Great Transformation, Annual Review of Sociology 26: 693695. Burawoy, Michael Boris (2001a) Manufacturing the Global, Ethnography 2(2): 147159. Burawoy, Michael Boris (2001b) Donald Roy: Sociologist and Working Stiff, Contemporary Sociology 30(5): 453458. Burawoy, Michael Boris and Katherine Verdery (eds) (1999) Uncertain Transition: Ethnographies of Change in The Postsocialist World. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littleeld. Burawoy, Michael Boris et al. (1991) Ethnography Unbound: Power and Resistance in the Metropolis. Berkeley: University of California Press. Burawoy, Michael Boris et al. (2000) Global Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press. Carles, Pierre (2001) Sociology is a Martial Art. Betacam Video/VHS. C-P Productions (distributed in the United States by Icarus Films, New York, www.frif.com) Cottle, Simon (2000) New(s) Times: Towards a Second Wave of News Ethnography, Communications 25(1): 1941. Gille, Zsuzsa and Sen Riain (2002) Global Ethnography, Annual Review of Sociology 28: 271295. Herbert, Steve (2000) For Ethnography, Progress in Human Geography 24(4): 550568. Goodale, Mark and June Starr (eds) (2002) Practicing Ethnography In Law. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Gupta, Akhil and James Ferguson (eds) (1997) Anthropological Locations: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science. Berkeley: University of California Press. Mayne, Alan and Susan Lawrence (1999) Ethnographies of Place: A New Urban Research Agenda, Urban History 26(3): 325348. Mauss, Marcel (1913) Lethnographie en France et ltranger, La Revue de Paris 20: 815837. McHugh, Kevin E. (2000) Inside, Outside, Upside Down, Backward, Forward,

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