Essay about Postmodernism, Deconstructionism, and the Ethnographic Text

Essay about Postmodernism, Deconstructionism, and the Ethnographic Text

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Postmodernism, Deconstructionism,
and the
Ethnographic Text

Anthropology 575

     In the late 1960’s the social sciences (mainly anthropology and sociology) entered a crisis period in which traditional ways of conducting the study of the Other were re-examined in the context of their association with dominance-submission hierarchies and the objectification of the subjects of study. There was seen to be an association between Western imperialism’s objectification of the Third World and the Western ‘data imperialism’ that objectified the subjects of study. Increasingly social science research was called to task in the creation of new ways of conducting social science research outside of the positivist-empiricist paradigm and conducting research that was relevant and useful to the people studied.
     Lyotard questioned the authority of all self-validating theoretical frameworks that were used to legitimize science. He argued that researchers should study the world in its fragmentary state, examining each distinct fragment, rather than creating meta-theories to explain observed cultural phenomenon and argued for the creation of new, temporally appropriate, modes of expression which questions the implied authority of traditional theoretical and methodological constructs (1984). Derrida (1976) questioned the relationship of text and author, challenging the dominance of the latter over the former, offering deconstructionism as an answer to the problem of authorship and interpretation of texts. Clifford (1988) viewed the accepted ethnographic authority as being derived from the privileging of “participant observation” as evidence of the authenticity of the text; the author having gone there, observed the event, and which he objectively reported as fact on his return. Nichols writes: “mobility and travel no longer serve as a symbol for the expansion of one’s moral framework, the discovery of cultural relativity, the heroics of salvage ethnography, the indulgences of secret desires in strange place…movement and travel no longer legitimate, ironically the subjects’ right to disembodied speech, disembodied but master (italics in original text) narratives and mythologies in which the corporeal “I” who speaks dissolves itself in a disembodied, depersonalized, institutional speech ...

... middle of paper ...

...stern University Press.

Fontana, A. 1994. “Ethnographic Trends in the Postmodern Era.” Pp. 203-21 in Postmodernism and Social Inquiry, edited by D. Dickens and A. Fontana. New York: Guilford Press.

Lyotard, J.F. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Translated by G. Benningston and B. Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Moore, H. 1994. “Trinh T. Minh-ha Observed: Anthropology and Others.” Pp. 115-137 in Visualizing Theory, Ed. Lucien Taylor. New York: Routledge.

Nichols, B. 1994. Blurred Boundaries: Questions of Meaning in Contemporary Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Rorty, R. 1982. Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays, 1972-1980. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Adair, P., 1968, Holy Ghost People. 53 min.; b&w; prod.: Contemporary Films; distr.: McGraw Hill.

Kendall, L., 1991, An Initiation Kut for a Korean Shaman. 37 min.; color; prod.: USC CVA; distr.: University of Hawaii Press.

Perez, A., 1993, Voices of the Orishas. 37 min.; color; prod.: USC CVA; distr.: unknown.

Singer, A., 1975, Witchcraft Among the Azande. 52 min.; colour; prod.: Disappearing World Series; distr.: Granada Films.

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