Favorite Quotes on Anthropology

(photo by M. A. Al Awaid)

Ethnography is unlike literature and like science in that it endeavors to describe real people systematically and accurately, but it resembles literature in that it weaves facts into a form that highlights patterns and principles. As in good literature, so in good ethnography the message comes not through explicit statement of generalities but as concrete portrayal. (Peacock 1986 83).

What is significant is the vision of someone’s (the native’s) existence interpreted through he sensibilities of someone else (the ethnographer) in order to inform and enrich the understanding of the third party (the reader or listener). Ethnography in this sense is like literature: as a source of psychological and philosophical insight (and possibly aesthetic pleasure) when read as the author’s struggle to elucidate a perspective on life through his portrayal of a way of living – as he experienced it and analyzed it. (Peacock 1986 100)

The travel account is generally self-confident and authoritative in tone, and certain of a readership that wants a culturally shared translation of another way of life… but the realist ethnographic account has long been dogmatically dedicated to presenting material as if it were, or faithfully represented, the point of view of its cultural subjects rather than its own culture of reference (Marcus and Cushman 1982 34). [in anthropology] “the style of reportage was always pushed firmly toward generalization rather than maintained at the level of mere detailing of particular facts… it is impossible to work back from a final account to original fieldwork enterprise in anything like the way a chemist can work back through an experiment reported by another chemist (35).

the fact that one’s self is not expendable for a great many people, even when life offers turbulence and disaster; and self-representations shift and change, has two implications: It shelters you from some of the problems attendant on freedom to move ahead-that of keeping a hold of oneself through life. It also anchors you in a material world that clings to you and your biography…You are what you are by virtue of your connection to these things and this world: the same house, the same clothes, the same darned people. Your body, too anchors, you, being for most people a medium we cannot silence. This does not mean that things are fixed, immutable. But they persist, and you have to hang on to them, not just trade in the old car of a new one. (Wikan 1995 275)