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COMMUNICATIONS

ON THE WRITING OF ETHNOGRAPHY

Vincent Crapanzano

An ethnography - and I use the word in its Elsewhere, he notes that frames of reference,
most comprehensive sense to include what methods, and procedures within the behavioral
might more properly be called ethnology - is sciences "are often systematically transformed
a sympton [ 1 ] of a particular confrontation into veritable counter-transference reactions,
between two or more individuals - the leading to self-constricting acting out, mas-
ethnographer and those others whom he, the querading as science" [4].
ethnographer, refers to, impersonally and pre- Devereux is concerned principally with data
sumptively, as his informants. As some anthro- as anxiety-provoking. The emphasis itself on
pologists are beginning to recognize, with more methodology in the social sciences - and
or less sophistication, there is no question but Devereux recognizes this - suggests that
that this confrontation is anxiety-provoking, methodology may often be a locus of displace-
ego-dystonic, threatening to the ethnographer's ment for the anxiety provoked not just by
sense of self. George Devereux has, in a signifi- data but by the investigator's confrontation
cantly ignored book, From Anxiety to Method with the subjects of his research. This displaced
in the Behavioral Sciences, considered the im- anxiety produces, to use one of Devereux'
plications of anxiety on the methods, proce- favorite words, its own scotoma - its own
dures, and conceptual apparatus of the behav- blind spots.
ioral sciences. One of these blind spots is, curiously, the
Devereux notes that "good methodology" writing of ethnography. It is surprising that a
is "the most effective and the most durable discipline which has become as self-conscious
anxiety-reducing device". Ideally, as anthropology - and is traditionally con-
cerned with texts, - has ignored the structural
It does not empty reality of its anxiety arousing content, 9presuppositions and implications o f the text
but 'domesticates' it, by providing that it, too, can be by which it conveys its data, meanings,
understood and processed by the conscious ego [2].
hypotheses, and theoretical confabulations,
its very identity as a scientific or humanistic
He is quick to add:
discipline.
However much the writer of ethnography
Unfortunately, even the best methodology can, uncon-
sciously and abusively, be used primarily as an ataractic wishes to separate his ethnography from the
- as an anxiety-numbing device - and, when so used, ethnographic confrontation, the writing of
produces scientific (?) 'results' which smell of the morgue ethnography is a continuation of the confron-
and are almost irrelevant in terms of living reality [3].
tation. Such stylistic devices as the self-con-
Vincent Crapanzano is Professor of Anthropology in the
scious avoidance o f the " I " (anthropologists
Department of Comparative Literature, Queens College, City appear particularly disturbed by the presence
University of New York. of the personal pronoun in a "serious" work),

centered unity and continuity. the which may be less than conscious. end before the ethnography but. the other by presence of that ultimate other whom he refers whom the self is constituted is a symbolically to so often. The ethnographer. at generally polysemic language.and by the as symbols. as Sartre full-stop to the ethnographic confrontation. and the calcu.his mother. By this I do not work can be seen as a movement of self-disso- mean the sado-masochistic component of field lution and reconstitution. to give it a beginning and an end. is a quite complex constitution. spective of the future" [ 5 ].70 elimination of connotative. fears.or rather . loss of identity. a reflexive awareness of a of cruelty even. necessary this may be to analysis. inciden. a whole array of idiosyncratic associations Whatever the reason for this dissociation. an identity. generally standing-there. At the most abstract level. wrenching ment of lived reality is. other . This may be very disturb- tion of the sense of self that both the ethno. and of depersonalization and that oscillates between reification and resis. Land Without Bread. quality of the encounter between the ethno. really a moment in this the Strict Sense of the Term [6]. Society. if it can be The dialectical movement by which the self said to end at all. he is a person-who-is- lated use of scientistic. loosely. ence. which hopefully play them- tance to reification. as typified individual. a new sense of.these individuals and his various women friends . from the confrontation itself. is to distort To refer to field work as confrontation is it. with the lessly spelled out by Malinowski in A Diary in other. which. selves out on the oneiric. with magical vindictiveness. as Sartre points out. work. bloody nigger. feelings of stubbornness. The Diary movement. is a sort of It includes not simply concrete individuals aide-de-soi. The other. albeit subject to Indeed. this leads inevitably to a new view on. Luis Bunuel picked up on in his extra. vague anxieties. impassioned. is constituted is continuous. "is presented to each man as a per- just as. synthetic. and ordinary documentary. In other words. specific. This process of self-dissolution resulting mediated and hypostatized by language and from the ethnographic confrontation is relent- consequent idiomatic typifications. ing to the individual. an attempt to maintain a sense of within the self's socio-historical horizon. jargonistic. self. in learning the ways of the other . even paranoid.the alien tally. it ends with the ethnography. but the inevitable disrup. I use the phrase "sense of self'' here to resentments. through a complex dialectical movement. also the object of transference. the "movement" of field- grapher and his informants. the most concrete level. Indeed. and not the "real". conventionalized sive attempt to isolate the act of writing. The individual's sense of self is constructed stage of human endeavor. especially the second part. remarks. so to fact remains that the confrontation does not speak. and its end-product. however rather than continuously explicating it. of the ethnographic gaze.. denote. but also . culturally determined styles. worthlessness. if not in the late thirties.learns to take on their standpoint. so often in the history of civilization. His first dream upon leaving . his friend Stay. The move- to call attention to the violent. typified by social roles. tions. He is. To view the move- writing has selectively embalmed reality ment in terms of discrete moments. He may be flooded with grapher and even his informants may experi. impotence. Malinowski's life . of anger. and perceptions. one could argue that at one level the the vicissitudes of the developmental cycle of writing of ethnography is an attempt to put a the human organism. and he is the transcendental locus of meaning. itself. of inadequacy. Between these two levels he is monsemic or stenic language become a defen. if in self which is continually threatened by the fact such individuals can ever be separated absence of certain significant others in from their symbolic connotations and evalua.

in its product. in the heart of the word. It reconfirms . return.evoked. de- confrontation with the other . He thinks even less of humanity conceived out research elsewhere. in re-affirmation . he will regard the phrase as an erotic and scandalous object. if his response to fieldwork has been conserva.and this he three days. a neck that curves just like mine (seen from the side). The others he thinks of are not empirical "others" defined by what they expect of him at All fieldworkers. including. Ponty cynically reminds us ( and we might add the writer. his im. insofar as the self is objectivated. In many ways the shock of return is more dif. In Genet's case . homosex. At home he cannot ignore the fact that it is he who is s p e a k i n g .through the act of communication. No. "moulds others much more often than he manent departure. sentence will float toward h i m . he does not is reifled. he must be his old self again. any writing. the impression reify a " m o m e n t " at the expense of a "move- that I'd like to have a mouth just like mine to kiss. is an act o f to the Other. . This is only an expedi- which will also "free" him to be a professional ent. "What I seek awaiting their turn". What he forgets of course is that the also. His sense of self has been altered. who set it down. it is always. or his neurotic adaptations. the writing of ethnography.his informants .a stubborn refusal to go native. Scripta manent: tomorrow. . minimally. .a self and an other. too. he will write.reconstitution . follows them". that he alone standpoint of those significant within his "offers himself the ideal fault of roses" and that a moan of pleasure will not keep the earth from turning. The painter and the politician. hearers and speakers. even At the beginning Genet utters the words or dreams them. when he finds the inert little sketch that con- tries to accomplish in many ways. stituted . an ap. 1 got tired ment". Sartre. He is therefore going to turn once again The act of writing. The act of writing . Even when he reads the sentence. upon his return. is con- self. (Malinowski 1967:13) [ 7]. he does not write them down. Merleau- and collected myself s l o w l y . When he listens to himself. He requires lies the trap. the other is ing home. have experienced some. his concern is with others become . A drifting authorless most notably. It requires. in Lacan's magical lan- guage . "is the response Sartre finds exceptional here what is probably of the other" [8]. However rooted in his personal history. communication.and in the Word". Malinowski's dream prefigures the very last sentence of the Diary: "Truly I lack real char. the written word. I had a strange dream. of as a species which possess "human dignity" or "the thing o f this. The really expect such stress and strain. It is a response which con. and xiety. The fieldworker response of the other and t h e constitution has been led to expect the stress and strain o f thereby of the self and his meaningful world - the ethnographic confrontation. . must adopt the He is aware that he alone hears himself. insofar as they have carried this moment.. But before long these murmurs cease to satisfy him. scribes this process brilliantly: has had its effect upon him. self is objectivated in the written word. it is precisely the one acter".is the shock o f return. such an. The public he alms at is not given. inevitably. tive . He is other than he was. with my own double as To give the other constitutive priority is to a partner. Strangely autoerotic feelings. an ad- dressor and an addressee . Genet still knows again. even the writer of ethnography). .the evocation o f the ficult than the initial encounter. in his study of Jean Genet. Sartre notes that others "were already present At some level. writes Lacan. What they have experienced too honor of being m a n " as other species have a carapace or an air-bladder. He is. for it is the other who confers upon the word a veritable objectivity . his works will elicit. peal to the other for recognition.b y listening to it [10]. an essential characteristic o f all writing - stitutes the writer's sense of self. back from the field . and have seen often enough in others coming such that he is able to live with them (italics my own) [9]. The other. 71 Brisbane reflects the threat o f dissolution o f his meaningful world. after all. . Therein " o w n " socio-historical horizon. fronts him with all its inertia.

I can listen to it as if it by which he identifies himself as an ethnogra- emanated from someone else. importance he pretends. "And if I succeed in taking good faith.consequent alienation of the ethnographic and must inevitably address.and read with courage .is essentially curious way. his mentors. His ambiva- as if it were sounding all by itself" [12]. cism.of the audience of those other people whom he a willing objectivation o f self well worth the refers to in an act o f presumptive if not price of alienation. it is also. my mind off myself when the word comes out guilt. The ethnographer writing of autobiography . than the ethnographer's profes- sional or public audience. have an effect upon the objectivity if not the tivation. an instrument. his spouse. integrity. He wants. an act of exorcism. He though wanting to be heard [ 11]. NOTES his mother.72 The imaginary gaze of the gentle reader has no function from whom he desires recognition. I suggest that the writer o f the ethnographic confrontation. to address. or the of my mouth". than making a ethnography . inevitable feature of the act. Genet is not yet speaking to u s : he is talking to himself. the alienation is an patronizing incorporation as " m y people". or constitution. with reference desire to fill an obligation. he is a means. hatred. in some scientific validity of the work . which must be ing an identity. if the con. irritation. it would seem. I suggest.through a dialectic of constitu- scientific contribution or convincing others to tion and deconstitution. The question remains: Who is this other. he is much more than the learns to read .and however ob. an essentially The reader is not an end.a bifurcate other. reappoint.a double wanting to be heard". writes Sartre. subjectively felt as a sense of revealed. those illiterate confrontation serves to exorcise the writer of others on his fieldwork . inevitably The ethnographer in writing ethnography is toward himself.the doing more. necessity to declare them worthy of having tatory masturbations. 1967).or his new jective they may seem there is an autobiograph. The anthropologist whose standpoint the ethnographer takes in must recognize his product for what it is .through an act of writing ical dimension to all ethnographies . He is more. creation and destruction. lence toward both his audiences. professional responsibility. . of ethnography is. too. his father. too. or any other signifi- cant other in his personal history against whom 1 George Devereux. Indeed. and indeed even pher and obtains his sense of self. too. that is addressed to the significant others with- ing of ethnography through objectivation and in his own world. Like the a compromise formation. he had written. for the act of The writing of ethnography . resentment. more complex other . incantation and exor- hire. though ethnography writes . is worked out in a text .and creates . self. or promote him. but also out of a to the onanist's use of the word in his incan. is at once the significant other o f the ethnog- rapher's own cultural world and the other of So. "if I succeed in forgetting been and continuing to be that silent audience that it is I who say it. by addressing and reifying thereby. He is affirm. objec. professional self . wants to reconstitute his old self .the writ. From Anxiety to Method in the he wishes to separate or measure himself or Behavioral Sciences (The Hague: Mouton. The act of writing audience: the audience of his own people and ethnography is an act o f self-constitution .and this must writing is not simply an act of creation. The other other than to give the word a new and strange consistency. The writer of ethnography writes " t o talk to himself. like the structures of dream and myth.what name to whom the ethnography is dedicated. .not simply out of the confrontation. symptom of extreme confrontation with other- tention about the multidimensionality of the ness which can only be understood when he other is correct. an before the anthropologist can succeed to the other.a his act o f self-constitution? Surely.

A Diary in the Strict Sense o/the 10 Jean-Paul Sartre. Signs (Chicago: Nurthwestem 1963) p. 494. p. 1968). University. Brace. 97. 96. 6 Bronislaw Malinowski. . 83. 73 2 Ibid. 7 Ibid. Anthony Wilden 4 lbid. p. p. 97. 492. 9 Maurice Mefleau-Ponty. p. 1964) p. York: Mentor. Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr (New Term (New York: Harcourt. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. "The Function of Language in Psycho- 3 lbid. 74. p. 13. 1964) p. Search for a Method (New York: Knopf. and World. 1967). p. analysis" in The Language of Self. 11 lbid. 8 Jacques Lacan. 12 lbid. 494. 5 Jean-Paul Sartre.