Musina – San Francisco – Musina


“(…) But just how public an activity is the work of the anthropologist? Yes, we go and talk to people. Some of these people even have the patience and kindness and generosity to talk to us. We try to listen well. We write fieldnotes about all the things we’ve misunderstood, all the things that later will seem so trivial, so much the bare surface of life. And then it is time to pack our suitcases and return home. And so begins our work, our hardest work – to bring the ethnographic moment back, to resurrect it, to communicate the distance, which too quickly starts to feel like an abyss, between what we saw and heard and our inability, finally, to do justice to it in our representations. Our fieldnotes become palimpsests, useless unless plumbed for forgotten revelatory moments, unexpressed longings, and the wounds of regret. And so, even though we start by going public, we continue our labor through introspection. And then we go public again, and if the first time we dealt in something that came dangerously close to tragedy, the second time around we are definitely in the theater of farce as our uncertainty and dependency on our subjects in the field is shifted into a position of authority back home when we stand at the podium, reading our ethnographic writing aloud to other stressed-out ethnographers at academic conferences held in Hiltons where the chandeliers dangle by a thread and the air-conditioning chills us to the bone. (…)”

Ruth Behar (1997): The Vulnerable Observer. Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart. Boston: Beacon Press, p. 8 f.

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