Re: Distinguishing ethnographers from ethnographies

Douglass Drozdow-St.Christian (stchri@MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA)
Fri, 10 Mar 1995 07:47:05 +0001

in thinking and reading ethnography, perhaps a more useful distinction
can be drawn between texts which deny authorial presence and those which
incorporate this presence.....rather than between those in which
reflexivity is explict and those in which it is implicit [ the narrative
foundation of the text is "about" the encounter, but the encounter is not
the dramatic or descriptive core of the text]...

this might allow us a subtler read of evans-pritchard [ who is not
anti-reflexive in contrast to hallpike, one of his students who worked in
the same region of africa and who explicitly denies his presence in the

my concern in drawing lines between reflexive and non-reflexive [ if such
an animal can be said to exist, since the explicit denial of reflexivity
is, by definition reflexive, but antithetical to the other entailment of
reflexivity - that authorial presence shapes the encounter and the text
of the encounter] is that we end up with a
reflexive=good/non=reflexive=bad ethnography standard which loses sight
of the good and the bad in both approaches...[which btw the way is not a
'there's good in everyone' fudge on my part, but simply a recognition
that explicit and implicit reflexivity derive from two different
theories of the generation of knowing rather than from good and bad forms
of the same model]...

it has long struck me that the critical call for more explicit
'authority' in ethnographic texts, while important and useful, can also
mask a decline in readerly sophistication....i think it possible to
approach ethnography [ and again, evans-pritchard is examplary] in an
exploratory way [we, as readers, chart our way through the entanglements
of voices]...demanding roadmaps seems, to me, to end up transforming
reading from a relationship of exploration into some kind of intellectual
package touring [ it is saturday evening, this must be reflixivity
mimicing it is saturday evening, this must be cancun]....

and the risk is the loss of the critcal sophistication needed to read
the nuer from evans-pritchard because we end up becoming too obsessed
with reading e-p from it...indeed, the dsimissive perspective on
implicitly reflexive ethnography seems to end up reading the nuer out,
the text then becoming nothing more than e-p...and whatever we may think
of the model of knowledge e-p bases his authority it, nuer religion is
not simply e-p...even if it ain't the truth about the nuer either...


douglass st.christian, phd.
anthropology - mcmaster u.
hamilton - canada
416 234 9978