multi-sited fieldwork – reading notes on Marcus (revised)

Pardon the load of spew I’m dumping on the blog. I’ve been encouraged to write an hour a day, and I thought I’d try blogging it. This of course means I’m at the stage of the research where I need to produce vast quantities of writing, so increasingly I’ll be using this blog as a scratch pad. You might also say I have a bad case of Logorrhoea”]

I found George Marcus’s article, Ethnography Through Thick and Thin, to be very helpful for defending my research as ethnographic.  My writing ethnography class considered it a brutally thick piece of writing. I have to agree, and perhaps thats why I jumped to bullets instead of giving it the proper writeup it deserves.

What does this article bring to my research? First, ethnography is not always about holistic representations. (presenting it as a totality) Where ethnographers once focused on people in particular places, current interests often lie in following political issues across a number of sites. My research is being done at Concordia University and online across a number of English blogs. Had I succeeded in also doing research from the perspective of the publishing industry, I would say this project was ‘multi-sited’. Sites in this case aren’t necessarily places, but also positions. Ie,Tsing working with and following environmental activists, logging companies, various levels of governments, and tying these positions down to an ethnographic ‘local’ narrative, provides an interesting way to understand how a forests resources are allocated and used, without being limited to a particular perspective. The change of site/position/location reveals inconsistencies and conflicting understandings.

I’m still not sure how much stating it as being ‘multi-sited’ helps, since Marcus was really trying to describe recent changes in the focus of anthropological field work. It feels like an “others are doing it too” defense of method, which is kind of weak. That different research questions can be addressed using this is probably the most helpful argument. The circumstantial activist terminology is also interesting.

Further, researching online communication and collaboration in anthropology is a kind of ‘circumstantial’ activism, in that my research brings publicity to the open access publishing issue (even if only a little). At the same time, I actively promote OA publishing, self-archiving, and openly blogging ones research, so in this case it’s not circumstantial.  Perhaps circumstantial a kind of activism that relies on doing research that informs questions relevant to activists while trying to avoid the bias that comes with passionate engagement.

Reading Response:

Marcus, George E. 1998. Ethnography Through Thick and Thin.


Multi-sited ethnography

  • focus on connections and associations rather than a particular place.
  • “… its goal is not holistic representation, an ethnographic portrayal of the world system as a totality. Rather, it claims that any ethnography of a cultural formation in the world system is also an ethnography of the system, and therefore cannot be understood only in terms of the conventional single-site mise-en-scene of ethnographic research…” (p83)&b
  • “In yielding the ethnographic centering on the subaltern point of view, one is also decentering the resistance and accomodation framework that has organized a considerable body of valuable research for the sake of a reconfigured space of multiple sites of cultural production in which questions of resistance, although not forgotten, are often subordinated to different sorts of questions about the shape of systemic processes themselves and complicities with these processes among variously positioned subjects.” (p85)I’m okay with this because honestly, the domination and resistance thing was tiring me out.
  • Multi-sited ala Marcus = “de facto comparative dimensions develop instead as a function of the fractured, discontinuous plane of movement and discovery among sites as one maps an object of study and needs to posit logics of relationship, translation, and association among these sites. ”  (p86)Perhaps locating the blogsphere in relation to journals, listservs, twitter etc?
  • “Media studies has been one important arena in which multi-sited ethnographic research has emerged. Distinct genres of research have appeared on production (especially in television and film industries), on the one hand, and on the reception of such productions, on the other.” (p87)
  • “In anthropological work within the field of cultural studies of science and technology, the tendency towards multi-sited research is most prevalent in the following topical areas: … (4a); studies of new modes of electronic communication such as the Internet and studies concerned with environmentalism and toxic disasters.”   (applies to this research project on internet communication, and Mary Theberge’s on environmentalism).
  • Multiple sites -> “… the politics and ethics of working in any one reflects on work in the others.” (p98) –> “Circumstantial Activist”
    Can we say that the politics and ethics of the blogsphere reflect on the politics and ethics in journals? Yes, but theres something to be said about strategically chosing ones research sites in this case.  Next time I go through the reading I’ll look for more on choosing ones sites.

[defining collaboration]    [new trends in ethnography]

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