Willis, P. Trondman, M. (2000) 'Manifesto for Ethnography', in Ethnography, Vol 1 (1): 5 - 16
This manifesto was written to launch the new magazine devoted to ethnography. Ethnography is defined as 'the family of methods involving direct and sustained social contact with agents, and of richly writing up the encounter, respecting, recording, representing at least partly in its own terms, the irreducibility of human experience. Ethnography is the disciplined and deliberate witness -cum - recording of human events' (original emphasis) (5). Every day lived experience is to be understood, both empirically and theoretically. This involves understanding the cultures in which experience is located, the 'symbolic forms, patterns, discourses and practices which helped to form it and give it shape' (6). Experience is both constrained by and enacts creatively these constraints.
Ethnography has been criticised, for being empiricist, or for being tied to humanism and even colonialism. It needs to be theoretically informed to avoid this criticism. Post structuralists have pointed to the naivety of ethnographers in reproducing writing techniques: self awareness among ethnographers seems to be required here (and the value of ethnography overall more than compensates for these problems).
The particular kind of ethnography favoured by this journal should have the following characteristics:
(1) It should recognise the role of theory as 'a pre-cursor, medium and outcome of ethnographic study and writing' (7). Such theory should be useful and tied to evidence and ethnographic problems rather than being merely scholastic. Theory can be drawn from a number of resources.
(2) Culture should be central, defined 'in the broad sense of the increasing imperative for all social groups to find and make their own roots, routes and "lived" meanings in societies undergoing profound processes of restructuration and detraditionalization' (8). The postmodern view that culture has become free-floating is to be challenged: it is the flexibility and unpredictability of modern culture that makes it look as if it has no social constraint, but culture still 'consciously and unconsciously "handles", productively and reproductively, the social' (9). Ethnography should study the ways in which meanings are made, especially in emergent cultures. This becomes an important economic and political matter.
(3) Ethnography should offer a critical focus, understanding social relations partly at least as a result of unequal power and responses to power. [Bourdieu et al 1999 does this much better. Is this a residue of the old Cultural Studies approach?]. One particular question is how subjective beliefs and practices can come to act against the interests of the subjects themselves. The everyday practices of the powerful should also be studied 'where field access is possible' (10) [an excuse already?]. These practices seem to offer shifting relationships representations and alliances in 'complex, contradictory and unintended' ways (10) [as in gramscianism?].
(4) There should be an interest in cultural policy and cultural politics, culture and experience within public spheres, including doing work that will assist policy, or 'make explicit embedded logics, so that social actors increasingly become more agents of their own will' (11). For example policies towards youth are 'Rarely... conditioned by ethnographic evidence concerning actual ways of life among the young' (11).
These proposals are further discussed. overall, the goal is to provide 'TIME: a theoretically informed methodology for ethnography' (11) the idea is to generate 'surprise' as a description of the best form of the 'data/theory' relation (12) [This old goal of producing surprise as the point of and guarantee of method dates back to Willis's early work, which is referenced explicitly here. I want to make my old criticisms too -- the amount of surprise generated by research depends on how naive you were in the first place, and ethnography can also offer simulated surprise, or stage-managed discovery as a writing effect (Harris 1992). I also think that most empirical research could generate surprise, and that it does not require ethnography particularly]. The 'dialectic of "surprise"' is 'a two-way stretch, a continuous process of shifting back and forth, if you like, between "induction" and "deduction"' (12) [shades of the old claim that British Cultural Studies follows the Sartrean dialectic, first made in Hall and Jefferson 1976]. Theory should also be tested against its power to illuminate the data. There is no need to discuss theory for its own sake, or to follow scholastic agendas, theory can provide '"Analytic points"' (12). Scholasticism is itself culturally bounded, it is '"free time, free from the urgencies of the world, this allows a free and liberated relation to those emergencies and to the world"' (a quote from Bourdieu 1991, cited here on page 13) .
The dialectics of surprise unfolds over time, as the narrative of ethnographic understanding unwinds. Narratives like this can also be seen to develop theoretical understanding, a kind of reflection over time [a radical version of grounded theory?]. Such narratives should provide a suitable vocabulary, 'or a practical sense of relevant theoretical sites for casting the maximum illumination, including the formulation of open and energetic questions, on to a given topic of study' (original emphasis) (13). This means that theory need not be drawn from any particular scholarly field. A theoretical site is one defined by 'interfaces between social theory and ethnographic data. You could say that we are indicating a "halfway house" between theory and topic, connecting up relevant theoretical insights, concepts and tools... which can be taken together because all can be applied to a specific topic or theme' (13). These sites will 'usually' include 'class/race/ gender, age and nationality too, as baseline considerations' (13). Such investigation breaks with the 'self referencing discourses with theories related only to other theories in everlasting chains of the history of ideas rather than of the world' (14). They can also investigate policy issues: '[ethnographers]... must be open to be surprise not only by... empirical data in the research process, but also by responses to it from different public spheres' (14). Social agents themselves can also be surprised by ethnographic studies of their own cultures: the studies act as 'method and catalyst for self reflexivity and self-examination in common culture: making positions and dispositions in social space scene/revealed in an evocative way -- glimpses of freedom flashing' (14). Finally, TIME must be open as to the problems and questions it encounters, helping social science 'regain a critical and dialogical consciousness' (14). [I bet that none of this self reflexivity and glimpses of freedom will be applied to academics and students themselves labouring in the peculiar constraints of the modern university].
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