Mike Lieber (U28550@UICVM.BITNET)
Mon, 12 Dec 1994 09:31:25 CST

I'm not sure if this counts, but there is in cultural anthro, at least, the
common pattern of seeing all of anthropological issues, generalizations,
theories, etc., from the point of view of the group that one studied in the
field. Malinowski's theories are a good example, but just about everyone else
does this, at least in the early stages of generalization and comparison with
other communities. There appear to be two ways out of this pattern. One is
to do a lot of collaborative comparison, for example, the symposia method used
by the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania, where several people
address a single topic with their field data from different communities.
Another is to do field research in more than one area of the world, e.g.,
Geertz, or in more than one region, e.g., Firth, Rob Welsh, Denise O'Brien,
and others. None of this is automatic. It usually takes a lot of years of
wrestling with one's own field data to (a) understand its patterning and (b) to
understand the particular uniquenesses of one's communitiy compared to others.
Another term for this is intellectual maturity. It took me from 1965 until
1992 to understand that the Kapingamarangi people I was studying constituted a
case of a monocultural community--a very rare bird indeed and, therefore, a
case of limited utility in areal comparison.

I hasten to point out that things are beginning to change, at least among
field researchers in my area, Oceania. There is a growing interest in trying
to understand particular communities as parts of larger regions, meaning that
field research becomes more coordinated, researchers become more attentive to
a community's connections with other communities, and that the ethnographic
description and publication an anthropologist is engaged in has to be seen as
a part-ethnography. Jane Goodale and Ann Chowning did their research on New
Ireland in tandem in the 1950s, and their ethnography was collaborative from
the getgo. U. of Washington Press is about to publish their field letters,
which will give good insight into the process of doing part-ethnography. More
recent examples of this sort of part-to-whole research is Juliana Flinn's
_Diplomas and Thatch Houses_ and Ali Pomponio's _Sea Gulls Don't Fly into the
Bush_. John Terrell has published a very good general piece on regional
approaches to understanding communities. Anyone interested ought to contact
him and ask for his unedited (for pub) version, which he prefers people to
read: email

Mike Lieber