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Introduction to Special Issue: The Transdisciplinary Travels of Ethnography:

01 Dec 2018-Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies (SAGE PublicationsSage CA: Los Angeles, CA)-Vol. 18, Iss: 6, pp 379-391

Abstract: The theme for this special issue, which examines the transdisciplinary travels of ethnography at the intersections of anthropology, ethnography, cultural studies, performance studies, sport and physical culture studies, as well as theology, emerged from a roundtable panel coconvened by Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston and Virginie Magnat at the Canadian Association for Theatre Research (CATR) Annual Conference held at Brock University in 2014. This discussion became the basis for their co-authored presentation titled “Transdisciplinary Travels of Ethnography: Potentials and Perils” for the 2015 International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry hosted by the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign. This special issue of Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies offers a unique opportunity to enter into a cross-disciplinary dialogue by opening this discussion to an international community of qualitative researchers whose work engages with ethnography. In recent years, the transdisciplinary romance with ethnography has become an urgent topic of concern vehemently debated among social sciences and humanities scholars in informal conversations and graduate seminars. Responses to this romance have varied, ranging from an outright skepticism and criticism to initiating conversations and ethnographic collaborations across disciplinary boundaries. Notwithstanding, thus far, no special issues or edited volumes have taken up the question of what is at stake for researchers employing ethnography within, as well as across, disciplinary formations sanctioned by the neoliberal university. This issue addresses this publication gap by asking the following: What is lost and gained when ethnography “travels” across disciplines? How can ethnography’s transdisciplinary travels contribute to how we might conceptualize, reimagine, and practice ethnography today and in the years to come? What does it mean for ethnography to “travel” within a competitive and profit-driven neoliberal academia, where the pursuit of knowledge is no longer seen as a public good and an end in and of itself? While many anthropologists and ethnographers in cognate disciplines have been critical of the pursuit of knowledge detached from real-life concerns and social problems, and have, instead, practiced socially engaged and interventionist research that benefits the people with whom they work, the utilitarian notions of knowledge under the neoliberal academic regime represent something quite different entirely. As Kazubowski-Houston (see this special issue, 2018, pp. 410-422) asserts, the language of social justice and activism has been co-opted by the neoliberal academy to disparage the notions of knowledge for knowledge’s sake to advance its entrepreneurial goals and agendas. Also, as prominent anthropologist Paul Stoller notes in his recent Huffington Post blog, ethnography has come under attack from other scholars, most frequently from legal and quantitative researchers. Its plausibility, accuracy, and honesty are questioned and contrasted with the rigour and verifiability of “scientific” methods (Stoller, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stoller/indefense-of-ethnography_b_8028542.html). Stoller’s entry blog is a rebuttal to legal scholar Paul Campos’s recent essay scathing the ethics and legitimacy of Alice Goffman’s (2014) controversial ethnography, On the run, investigating the damaging and dehumanizing effects of policing of African-American men in a Philadelphia neighbourhood. Consequently, academic ethnography frequently finds itself in defense of its own legitimacy and authority as a research methodology. Certainly, Stoller’s entry blog is an indication 737100 CSCXXX10.1177/1532708617737100Cultural Studies Critical MethodologiesMagnat and Kazubowski-Houston research-article2017

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1
Introduction to the Special Issue “The Transdisciplinary Travels of Ethnography” co-
authored by Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston and Virginie Magnat
The theme for this special issue, which examines the transdisciplinary travels of ethnography at
the intersections of anthropology, ethnography, cultural studies, performance studies, sport and
physical culture studies, as well as theology, emerged from a roundtable panel co-convened by
Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston and Virginie Magnat at the Canadian Association for Theatre
Research (CATR) Annual Conference held at Brock University in 2014. This discussion became
the basis for their co-authored presentation titled “Transdisciplinary Travels of Ethnography:
Potentials and Perils” for the 2015 International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry hosted by the
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. This special issue of Cultural Studies ↔ Critical
Methodologies offers a unique opportunity to enter into a cross-disciplinary dialogue by opening
this discussion to an international community of qualitative researchers whose work engages
with ethnography. In recent years, the transdisciplinary romance with ethnography has become
an urgent topic of concern vehemently debated among social sciences and humanities scholars in
informal conversations and graduate seminars. Responses to this romance have varied, ranging
from an outright scepticism and criticism to initiating conversations and ethnographic
collaborations across disciplinary boundaries. Notwithstanding, thus far no special issues or
edited volumes have taken up the question of what is at stake for researchers employing
ethnography within, as well as across, disciplinary formations sanctioned by the neoliberal
university. This issue addresses this publication gap by asking: What is lost and gained when
ethnography “travels” across disciplines? How can ethnography’s transdisciplinary travels
contribute to how we might conceptualize, reimagine, and practice ethnography today and in the

2
years to come? What does it mean for ethnography to travel within a competitive and profit-
driven neoliberal academia, where the pursuit of knowledge is no longer seen as a public good
and an end in and of itself? While many anthropologists and ethnographers in cognate disciplines
have been critical of the pursuit of knowledge detached from real-life concerns and social
problems, and have, instead, practiced socially engaged and interventionist research that benefits
the people with whom they work, the utilitarian notions of knowledge under the neoliberal
academic regime represent something quite different entirely. As Kazubowski-Houston (see this
special issue, p…) asserts, the language of social justice and activism has been coopted by the
neoliberal academia to disparage the notions of knowledge for knowledge’s sake in order to
advance its entrepreneurial goals and agendas. Also, as prominent anthropologist Paul Stoller
notes in his recent Huffington Post blog, ethnography has come under attack from other scholars,
most frequently from legal and quantitative researchers. Its plausibility, accuracy, and honesty
are questioned and contrasted with the rigour and verifiability of “scientific” methods (Stoller,
2019, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stoller/in-defense-of-ethnography_b_8028542.html).
Stoller’s blog is a rebuttal to legal scholar Paul Campos’s recent essay scathing the ethics and
legitimacy of Alice Goffman’s widely respected ethnography, On the Run (2014), on the
damaging and dehumanizing effects of policing of African-American men in a Philadelphia
neighbourhood. Consequently, academic ethnography frequently finds itself in defence of its
own legitimacy and authority as a research methodology. Certainly, Stoller’s blog is an
indication that, in recent years, such a defence has become urgent enough to break through to
public discourse and reach wider, non-academic audiences. The contributors to this special issue
hold that it is in such contested and uncertain contexts that the transdisciplinary travels of
ethnography must be ultimately understood and debated.

3
Ethnography
Since anthropology has always differentiated itself from other disciplines by its deeply
contextual, historical, and quotidian methodology of ethnography, it is crucial to carefully
historicize the confluence of anthropology and ethnography in order to understand what might be
at stake when engaging with ethnographic inquiry. Readers of Cultural Studies ↔ Critical
Methodologies will notice when consulting the newly published fifth edition of the Sage
Handbook of Qualitative Research that Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna D. Lincoln provocatively
state in the preface: “indeed, the traditional ethnographic text may be dead (see Snow, 1999, p.
97; Erickson, Chapter 2, this volume). [. . .] We are in a postethnographic, postethnographer
space” (pp. xv-xvi). In the second chapter titled “A History of Qualitative Inquiry in Social and
Educational Research,” Frederick Erickson provides critical insights into the genealogies of
ethnography. He observes that the term ethnography was initially used by anthropologists in the
last quarter of the 19
th
century to refer to “descriptive accounts of the lifeways of particular local
sets of people who lived in colonial situations around the world” (p. 38). He foregrounds the
etymology of ethnography, which he argues is informed by the ancient Greek xenophobic
propensity for treating non-Greeks as the Other, inferring that ethnography originally signifies
“writing about other people” (p. 39). He links ethnographic research to early forms of qualitative
social inquiry such as descriptive reporting of social practices and cross-cultural comparisons,
and includes in his historical overview the writings of Greek scholars Herodotus (5
th
century
B.C.E.) and Sextus Empiricus (2
nd
century C.E.), Renaissance and Baroque “how to do it books”
on courtly dancing, pedagogy, fishing or violin playing, along with accounts by travelers and
missionaries about Native Americans under Spanish colonial rule. Erickson argues that with the

4
rise of the Enlightenment, quantitatively based inquiry became associated with a world view
assuming universally applicable principles of causality. The notion of a social science emerged
from this increasingly dominant worldview: “Some of the French Enlightenment philosophers of
the 18
th
century saw the possibility that social processes could be mathematically modeled and
that theories of the state and of political economy could be formulated and empirically verified in
ways that would parallel physics, chemistry, and astronomy” (p. 28). Early sociology and
anthropology were informed by this doctrine of discovery and embarked on the search for
“causal laws that applied to all cases” to produce general knowledge about “universal stages of
development from barbarism to contemporary (European) civilization” (p. 38). However, the
imposition of a natural sciences paradigm upon the study of human social and cultural practices
was contested by German scholars such as Dilthey, Weber, Simmel, Husserl and Heidegger, who
advocated for the interpretative approach that eventually led to the “hermeneutic turn” in mid-
twentieth century anthropology.
Yet, in spite of this methodological shift, the positionality of ethnographers remained that of
outside observers relying on their scholarly expertise to generate etic descriptions that could
contribute to the advancement of knowledge in their discipline, that is to say,for an audience
consisting of people other than those who had been studied” (p. 41, italics in original). Erickson
specifies that the researched “were not expected to read the research report” as most of them
were illiterate (p. 41). However, the so-called subjects of ethnographic research would soon
dramatically disrupt the “golden age” of this realist ethnographic paradigm grounded in “its
literary quality of ‘you are there’ reporting” (p. 42), which anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski
pioneered. While privileged white men largely dominated mainstream sociology and
anthropology whose authority had remained unchallenged, women such as Laura Bohannon

5
(1954), Hortense Powdermaker (1966), and Rosalie Wax (1971) chose to address their personal
experience of ethnographic fieldwork through the use of fictionalized and self-reflexive writing
(p. 45). Moreover, Indigenous scholar Vine Deloria indicted the anthropology of Amerindian
societies and cultures as an “ethnocentric and implicitly colonialist” enterprise in his 1969 book
Custer Died for Your Sins (p. 46). Deloria’s critique has been further articulated within the
context of dominant Western research systems by the following generation of scholars who have
developed “Indigenous research perspectives and methods [. . .] practiced by members of
communities formerly studied as ‘others’ by ‘outsiders’ (see, e.g., Kovach 2010, Tuhiwai Smith,
2013)” (p. 50).
Feminists, Indigenous, non-Western, postcolonial and postmodern researchers have thus
called into question “the entire Enlightenment project of authoritative academic discourse
concerning human activity, whether this discourse manifested in the arts, in history, or in social
science” (p. 50) to delegitimize the evidence-based credibility of master narratives produced by
such discourse. Echoing anthropological conceptions of ethnographic truths as partial and
subjective that have defined the discipline since the 1980s “crisis of representation” (Abu-
Lughod, 1993; Clifford and Marcus, 1986; Geertz, 1988), Erickson asserts that qualitative
research reports (and, by extension, ethnographic writing) are “often considered partial –
renderings done from within the standpoint of the life experience of the researcher,” and suggests
that their validity may be “compared to that of novels and poetry a pointing toward ‘truths’ that
are not literal” (p. 53). He nevertheless underlines salient cross-disciplinary contradictions: while
“realist” ethnography has come under intense scrutiny in both anthropology and sociology, this
paradigm still tends to be privileged in applied fields such as education, medicine, and business,
“while more recently developed approaches have sometimes been adopted (especially in

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"Introduction to Special Issue: The ..." refers background in this paper

  • ...Today, anthropological ethnography tracks routes, global connections, scapes, and zones of friction, and concerns itself with interior dialogues, imaginaries, human-nonhuman relations, and affective dimensions of the everyday (Appadurai, 1996; Clifford, 1997; Crapanzano, 2004; Irving, 2011; Kohn, 2013; Stewart, 2007; Tsing, 2004)....

    [...]

  • ...…tracks routes, global connections, scapes, and zones of friction, and concerns itself with interior dialogues, imaginaries, human-nonhuman relations, and affective dimensions of the everyday (Appadurai, 1996; Clifford, 1997; Crapanzano, 2004; Irving, 2011; Kohn, 2013; Stewart, 2007; Tsing, 2004)....

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