Unreal Nature

February 26, 2014

“We Had Seen It in the Movies Already”

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… The process is self-reinforcing and reconfirms everyone’s view of the world.

This is from the essay ‘Ethnography as Narrative’ by Edward M. Bruner, found in The Anthropology of Experience edited by Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Bruner (1986):

… It is not that we initially have a body of data, the facts, and we then must construct a story or a theory to account for them. Instead, to paraphrase Schafer, the narrative structures we construct are not secondary narratives about data but primary narratives that establish what is to count as data. New narratives yield new vocabulary, syntax, and meaning in our ethnographic accounts; they define what constitute the data of those accounts.

… We go to the [Indian] reservation with a story already in mind, and that story is foregrounded in the final professional product, the published article, chapter, or monograph. If we stray too far from the dominant story in the literature, if we overlook a key reference or fail to mention the work of an important scholar, we are politely corrected by such institutional monitors as thesis committees, foundation review panels, or journal editors. At the beginning and the end the production of ethnography is framed by the dominant story. Most of the time there is a balance to research innovation — the study is new enough to be interesting but familiar enough so that the story remains recognizable. There are those who are ahead of their times — Bateson did publish Naven in 1936 — but we usually define research with reference to the current narrative and report back our particular variation of that narrative to our colleagues, most of whom already know the plot structure in advance. The process is self-reinforcing and reconfirms everyone’s view of the world.

… We can all agree … that the field situation initially presents itself as a confusing “galaxy” of signifiers. It is alien, even chaotic; there is so much going on, all at once, that the problem becomes one of making sense of it. How do we accomplish this? I am reminded of Abrahams’s statement about¬† hijacking: “A common reaction of people involved in airplane hijackings, when asked how they felt and what they did, was ‘Oh, everything was familiar to us; we had seen it in the movies already.'” Previous ethnographic texts and the stories they contain are the equivalent of the movies. Narrative structures serve as interpretive guides; they tell us what constitute data, define topics for study, and place a construction on the field situations that transforms it from the alien to the familiar.

-Julie

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