Re: Active Ethnography

jonathan ham (jham@UNLINFO.UNL.EDU)
Tue, 18 Jan 1994 16:54:09 -0600

C Brettel writes:

>I was interested in Cecilia Maria Sardenberg's distinction between
>"outsider" and "native" anthropologists. I touched on this subject a
>little bit in my edited volume "When They Read What We Write: The
>Politics of Ethnography" (Greenwood, 1993) but I think it is worthy of much
>more extensive discussion and the internet seems to be a good place to do
>it. I would like to hear more.

I had the occasion to attend a lecture given by an anthropologist from
the U of Nebraska at Kearney (I can't remember his name off hand, but I
believe that he was a contributor to the above mentioned volume) - and
he spoke on his experiences with the way that his enthographic
research changed the field he was researching. More to the point, it
changed the social system he was looking at in a completely unforseen
way; he had certainly not intended to change it at all!

There are two points to be made here: 1) Introducing an ethnographer
(or any outside element) to a system *will* alter it in some way to
some degree. Always (imperceptibly, at first?). 2) The way in which
the system will change due to the new influence is *often* unpredictable
(indeed, the way the system will evolve and change is seldom predictable
barring outside influence). It should not be difficult to imagine what
this could mean to an applied anthropologist who endeavors to engineer
changes in a system through the puposeful introdution of certain structures
into a specific system with the desire for specific results!

Jonathan M Ham
University of Nebraka-Lincoln