25 / 2007
Maša Mikola

Quiet observer in the silent field: Ethnography and the present time

Ethnography as a methodological discipline today is challenged by many recent developments in the anthropological and sociological disciplines, mobility and movement, cross-cultural and transnational ties etc. Ethnographers deal with an increasingly mixed world of cultural elements. The position and the ambiguity of the researcher within the process of social inquiry has always been an important part of the anthropological methodological debate. With the debates on translocalities and globalisation proliferating links between places become more important. Contextual and demographic changes within the discipline raise new issues about identities of anthropologists in relation to those they study. Even though few would still question the legitimacy and value of multi-site ethnography today, the difficulties in actually doing it remain. As Susanne Friedberg notes, “they pose more or less formidable obstacles depending on the scope of the project and the time, money and other resources available” (Friedberg, 2001: 362-363). Not only aims, but the character of the multilocal or translocal (Hannerz, 2003) ethnography is changing the face of the discipline. Anthropology was traditionally inclined to ambiguities, passages and travels over and beyond the context, as well as beyond space and time. The recent changes however pose some new epistemological questions as well as some new ethical concerns. Not only that the places and sites of the ethnographic inquiry become less important, the people may become less important too. Broadening of the geographical field of ethnography has at the same time not brought many changes in the representation of the field. In the context of the anthropological standard that has not changed over time this paper uses the notions of 'otherising' and ‘silencing’ to explain some of the basic ways ethnographers built representations of other cultures and other people. The author negotiates the notion of the recognition, specifically in relation to the politics of recognition, and discusses the concept of authenticity that evolves from the politics of recognition. The paper examines the construction of the subject-object relation between the ethnographers and their subject area. It explores the shift in the nature of ethnographer’s connection to places and explains the idea of “being there… and there… and there” – the geographical connotation that justifies the authoritative position of the researcher in a globalised world. Even though the ethnographic practice was always difficult to identify, ethnography has undergone a significant transformation in recent decades. Ethnography nowadays is not simply characterised by the movement of the researcher from one stable and fixed place to another. Even when the ethnographer does not physically move, the travel can be happening. Not only the physical movement is important, crossing the borders of non-physical, imaginative world has become more common in ethnographic research of the present as well.