Thursday, February 04, 2010

David Graeber Defines "Ethnography"

And explains how it may provide a model for radical scholarship. From Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology

When one carries out an ethnography, one observes what people do, and then tries to tease out the hidden symbolic, moral, or pragmatic logics that underlie their actions; one tries to get at the way people’s habits and actions makes sense in ways that they are not themselves completely aware of. One obvious role for a radical intellectual is to do precisely that: to look at those who are creating viable alternatives, try to figure out what might be the larger implications of what they are (already) doing, and then offer those ideas back, not as prescriptions, but as contributions, possibilities—as gifts.

File under "Things I read a year and a half ago but did not recognize the full significance of." In the sense that Graeber defines it here, I would call my work "ethnography," even though it is probably an ethnography performed by someone learning the ropes of the method as he goes along, and trying to adapt to the strange "field environment" that is an online wiki community. What I like most about Graeber's definition is the concrete sense of purpose it gives to academic work. Reading this while reviewing Fragments for a class reading really made me feel more confident about academia as a whole.