From Culture As a

From Culture As a "Product" to Culture As Experience: Back to Ethnography (Essay)

By Ethnologies

  • Release Date - Published: 2007-03-22
  • Book Genre: Social Science
  • Author: Ethnologies
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From Culture As a "Product" to Culture As Experience: Back to Ethnography (Essay) Ethnologies read online review & book description:

In 1973, almost 35 years ago now, Clifford Geertz first published his famous remark concerning "thick" description in anthropology. Attempting not so much to set out a program for anthropology (in short, stating what anthropologists should do), but rather to define the anthropological approach, Geertz furthermore reaffirmed the descriptive character of anthropologists' activities. From the outset, he suggested that in order to understand what makes up a discipline, it was not so much necessary to focus on the results it produced, the theories it formulated or the discoveries that emerged from it; instead, the focal issue should be what its practitioners actually do. And Geertz said that what anthropologists most obviously do is describe; in other words, they are actually ethnographers. Geertz's affirmations are still immensely relevant for today's anthropologists, and it seems to me that they could also very clearly be applied to what ethnology has become in Canada. For the purposes of this text, and, as such, in a manner that is truly exceptional, I wish to apply the classic North American distinction, one that is (or was until recently) made by ethnologists and folklorists, between ethnology (1) and anthropology, with ethnology presenting itself as the diachronic study of Western cultures and defining itself by the fact that the researchers are themselves members of the culture under study ("close" or the "same"), whereas anthropology, is (or was) instead thought of as the synchronic study of exotic cultures where the researchers are not members of the cultures they are studying (Bergeron et al. 1978; Desdouits 1997). It must furthermore be specified that, generally speaking, in North America this distinction is essentially made by ethnologists and folklorists and is most often ignored by anthropologists, who, perhaps given their superior numbers (there are fewer ethnologists), seem to regularly ignore the very existence of ethnology, which has long tried to distinguish itself from anthropology. Of course, before having recourse to such a distinction, we must, moreover, immediately add that today it would no longer be considered necessary to provide any distinguishing theoretical, methodological or epistemological foundations for the discipline of ethnology. Notwithstanding the fact that in the past ethnology took on the distinguishing characteristics that I just described and that this distinction has been the source of specific disciplinary institutions and traditions, today there are of course researchers trained in ethnology who work from the synchronic perspective, and sometimes (though more rarely) in exotic contexts as well. In addition, for some time now anthropologists have been interested in the historic dimension of the phenomena that they study, and many of them have also applied their approaches to Western societies.

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