One of the many moments that stand out in my mind from the 2001 conference Take/Cover is the argument between Henry Glassie and Dan Ben-Amos. Henry had provided a moving account of his sustained acquaintance and work with Hugh Nolan who lived an economically impoverished life at the margins of a marginal community, guardian of local history and eternally plagued by severe colds. Years after Nolan's death, technology made it possible to edit the coughs and sniffles out of the many hours of tape Henry had recorded with him. Henry opted to take advantage of this opportunity and bestowed upon the world recordings of Irish folk history narrated by a Hugh Nolan granted, in death, a voice of health.
The edited coughs and sniffles roused Dan's vociferous objection: from the scholarly perspective each sniffle has relevance, provides idiosyncratic cadences in handling traditional material, and is thus analytically significant to grasp the performance. For Henry, the original tapes resting in archives at Indiana University remain available for precisely such purpose, while the edited tape allows for three things simultaneously: one, an ideal rather than an ill Hugh Nolan speaks to posterity; two, the contents of narratives are cleansed of interference and thus aesthetically more pleasing to (one kind of) listeners, and three, Henry, the scholar cum artist, achieves in the medium of sound a product that satisfies the standards of his craftsmanship--combining scholarship and artistry, much as he has done in each one of his printed books.
Many issues, both time-tested and new, simmer in this exchange which ultimately is not so much an argument between opposing points of view, but between different choices of self-realization through folkloristic work. Had they lived in the first part of the nineteenth century, Dan might have burnt the midnight oil alongside Jacob Grimm, compiling evidence toward the second German sound change, or extrapolating the Grammar of Old High German out of fragments of poetry passed down in monasterial manuscripts. On the other side of the room Henry might have drawn from the same inkwell as Wilhelm, finding the right kind of phrase to properly smooth into print Frau Viehmann's oral renderings of folktales--for who knows, she, too, might have suffered from colds: some pictures show her holding a handkerchief. Neither of these choices has greater integrity than the other--though we find throughout the history of our discipline efforts to draw boundaries around what constitutes the right kind of work and the right kind of personal investment.1 Rather, they point to different capacities and ways of realizing them in work and life.2
In editing a cover of orally performed narration, Henry employed the technology customary in our time and cultures. But the intention, in general terms, is age-old: to honor or comment on, to copy or reproduce an extant cultural creation by giving it a new body, a new life, and a new audience, once removed from the "original"--a term we have come to use with as much unease as "tradition." The past two conferences have served in part as a means to probe a breadth of terms that render with descriptive precision what the term tradition (and its mightier cousin "culture") obscures: terms such as copy and cover, translation and interpretation, parody and reenactment, quotation and appropriation, etc., all with differentially shaded meanings, and equally differential loci of production and agency (body, language and mind, memory, etc.). Behind all of them are a technique and a potential technology-techniques of the mind and the body (to reinvoke Marcel Mauss), which we occasionally externalize into mechanical technological gadgets to assist us in the process.
It is not surprising that it was a technological ruse (or gift) that aroused the Henry/Dan exchange. Technology has facilitated the most astounding documentary and analytic breakthroughs in ethnological scholarship, but correspondingly it has also been an ever-present source of disciplinary anxiety. Without audio recording equipment, the Lomaxes (and many others in different corners of the world) could not have undertaken their tremendous documentary projects, and the students of Boas would not have provided us with wax cylinders to fuel the ethnolinguistic imagination up to the present. Parry and Lord would not have solved the Homeric question, the riddle of the singer and the oral-formulaic composition of his tale, without the aid of recording and replay equipment. The theoretical breakthrough into performance with the parallel labors of ethnopoetic transcription and analytic discovery was facilitated by ever more sophisticated recording equipment. Finally, there are the middle-aged scholars who return to the field tapes of their first years in the field and who say, with amazement, "I can hear things on the tapes now that I never noticed when I first worked there."3 Technology allows us to revisit a part of our fieldwork, and it allows us to reevaluate or "edit" our listening capacities of the past from the vantage point of a present that finds our perceptions altered by new experience and intellectual movements. To apply this to the Dan and Henry exchange: is not reshaping one's scholarly questions during repeat hearings of a field recording as much an intervention in the "original" document as is the editing out of coughs and sniffles? The purpose, personal orientation, and audience for each "adjustment" differ, but both are facilitated by technological aids.
A field that carried as part of its ideological beginnings the fear that its subject might vanish due to the corrupting influences of industrialization would naturally eye all mechanical advances with suspicion.4 This anxiety stems, I would argue, from an artificial separation of technological tools and practices into modern and premodern ones, locking the subject to be studied and preserved squarely into the pre-modern mold.5 Given the traumatic impact of industrial technologies on work, production, and thus the entire organization of economic and by extension social life, this sharp differentiation is understandable. But when we step back from these large ramifications, and the problematic issues of access and power associated with them, and allow ourselves for a moment to regard "technology" simply as inventions that extend the capacities of our body and mind, the abyss between the pre-modern, the modern, and the late modern vanishes. Whether we invent a plough to ease the work of tilling the soil, an alphabet, paper and pen to write down our thoughts, or a recording device to preserve performances, the underlying principle remains the same: we ease extant and facilitate new cultural practices.
There are some technological innovations that are more alien and harder to integrate in everyday as well as professional life than others, and each individual grapples with them differently. For my mother, a computer and its communicative possibilities remain uninteresting; for me, life reduced to pencil and paper is a constant test of my patience--but I could do very well without a telephone that tells me who has called in my absence. There are inventions that we never even label with the derogatory label "technological": yet writing and the use it was put to in our field certainly is a technology. Going beyond the reflexive caution and critique raised in Writing Culture (1986), technologies growing out of writing and its administration, such as paper filing systems growing into systematic archival holdings, linked in turn with complex library organizations certainly have had a deep impact on the habits of our professions.6 They deserve our reflexive attention as much as the analytic and creative tasks for which we employ recording and editing equipment.
Witnessing the exchange between Dan and Henry was, finally, a reminder of how slow our field has been in taking up the challenge inherent to the "breakthroughs in technology." There is one Swedish and one German study of how communities and individuals incorporated electricity into everyday life.7 There are but a few folkloristic studies exploring the use of cameras and photographs in social life. I know of one good ethnological study that examines the use and impact of timepieces in work lives, and two exhibit catalogues addressing the role of the telephone. Beyond a masters thesis on Tupperware I am not aware of any thorough ethnography on living with household gadgets from vacuum cleaners to handheld mixers, garbage disposals and pressure cookers, microwaves, toasters, not to speak of electric toothbrushes and flossers, shavers, and blow dryers. There are two ethnological dissertations I know of that deal with the automobile and the social behaviors it has brought forth-there must be more, yet given the enormous amount of life and love associated with cars, the dearth is nonetheless palpable. Yet joggers motivating themselves with sounds out of Walkman surround us, and we witness rituals of gargantuan proportions that are labeled techno raves. Our children cut and trade idiosyncratic CDs with musical selections hunted down on the net. There is no need to go on: today as much as in the 18th century we incorporate whatever technological tool we can afford and master into our lives: they leave a deep imprint in how our mind and body, our entire sensorium experiences being in this world (and our methods and theories equip us as much as ever to carry out meaningful ethnography and analysis of these practices).
Ethnological research is ultimately as enmeshed in these continual transformations, as is the rest of the life world. Yet beyond Erika Brady's The Spiral Way (1998), there are hardly any efforts to follow up on the challenge that Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett posed in her presidential address at AFS in Jacksonville, 1992.M "The tool is the topic," she told us then, and what Dan and Henry's exchange demonstrated beyond anything else is the necessity to follow up on this challenge, both in the reflexive, historiographic accompaniment of our field, and in tackling homo technologicus in addition to homo nostalgicus.8 The healthy Hugh Nolan may satisfy nostalgia for narration by the fireside, but he is facilitated by the crafty use of the microchip.
Acknowledgment: the thoughts in these few pages build in part on the
collaborative paper "Invisibilities" that Lee
Haring and I presented at the Take/Cover conference in 2001 and on our
See below for responses to "Being an Ethnologist in a World of Technology." © Regina Bendix 2002
1. During the Second Nature conference in 2000, a somewhat less open but clearly equally strongly felt exchange occurred between Dell Hymes and Dick Bauman, where the choices made by Franz Boas came under scrutiny. For the rest of the audience, the specific issue at hand was not particularly clear, but it was obvious that it was the integrity of Boas, the scholar, at a particular juncture that was being scrutinized.[back]
2. Efforts to establish codes of ethics for research are, in this regard, both necessary and immensely complex, as the cases published by the AAA demonstrate. Aside from the intersection with law, health and safety, and the marketplace, there is the intersection with who we are ourselves, and how we realize the opportunities and responsibilities of intersubjectivity in our own being. [back]
3.Thus was noted in conversation with a former Penn colleague who shall remain unnamed, not least because it is a shared phenomenon.[back]
4.Hermann Bausinger published the German original of Folk Culture in a World of Technology (trans. Elke Dettmer, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990) in 1961; a work that broke the magic spell that had kept folkloristic/ethnological research confined to cultural margins "not yet touched" by modernity's transforming influence. He invited Volkskundler and ethnologists to study the whole complexity of the life world as it is lived, with technological innovations, ideologically celebrated relics from the past, and, in further elaborations in work by Bausinger himself, as well as Konrad Köstlin and others, traditionalization of scholarly dicta about folklife. [back]
5. The number of essays and studies that have shown ethnography, folklore and ethnology to be thoroughly modern projects, bearing their inventors suffering with the loss and nostalgia for the pre-modern has been steadily rising. --From Roger Abrahams' "Phantoms of Romantic Nationalism" (Journal of American Folklore 1993) to Konrad Köstlin's work since the 1980s and his "Passion for the Whole" (Journal of American Folklore, 1998), to various case studies, especially regarding the "invention" and commoditization of tradition.[back]
6.On this issue, see Kenneth Dauber: Bureaucratizing the Ethnographer's Magic. In: Current Anthropology 36(1996), S. 75-95. The historical ethnography of museums and exhibitions, including Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's Destination Culture (1998), have over the past two decades certainly delivered a great deal of insight into the ideologies and technologies of exhibition and the ways in which they have contributed to the shaping of ethnological knowledge production. Collection and exhibition are perhaps more remarkable technologies than filing and indexing, but the habits instilled by the latter have left a huge imprint as well.[back]
7.I will be glad to supply bibliographic references for these and the following topics at a point at a later time. Remind me.[back]
8.There have of course been efforts in this direction, such as the German Volkskunde Society meeting in 1991, entitled "The Industrialized Human." Yet the slant tends to often be one of regarding human and culture as victims of technology, rather than seeking the balance in understanding the constant creativity inherent to cultural production. A poignant quick scene in the 1980s movie Witness comes to mind, where the patriarch in the Amish family--though adhering to the denial of new technology in most ways--zips around the kitchen on an office chair with wheels. They are surely wheels with ball bearings, invented much later than the carriage wheels on an Amish buggy, but they are a witty, permissible way to bypass the rigors of a society that has committed to living rather than simply studying and remembering the ideology of the modern/pre-modern split.[back]
Back to t h e SOUNDING BOARD
Autoethnography in the Digital Now
- from Brian Gregory:
Regina Bendix raises issues central to ethnological practice in an age of technology. She questions why there are so few close studies of how individuals incorporate new household technologies into their everyday lives, and here I'd like to briefly consider a related question--how do we gain an understanding of the cultural reception of different types of "products" that a range of ethnological projects produce?
A couple of things I've been working on lately have focused my thoughts on the aesthetics of documentary expression. Specifically, I've been thinking about the 1930s and broad cultural phenomena--radio programs, reconstructed architectural environments (Greenfield Village, Colonial Williamsburg), and "themed" sites of automobile tourism-- which sought in various ways to simulate "traditional" physical environments using (then) new forms of technology.
One project has involved a kind of close ethnographic reading of how listeners in the 1930s responded to the Renfro Valley Barn Dance radio program, which was broadcast from an "authentic" reconstructed Appalachian community purpose-built next to the new Dixie Highway. I argue (based mainly on an analysis of listener correspondence) that individual listeners quite easily toggled between impulses for modernity and tradition in the emerging commodified popular culture, in complex ways that nonetheless still tend to flummox academics who sometimes insist on either/or.
Listening closely to the aural cultural landscape of 1930s North America, I hear a moment when a magical new technology--national broadcast of network radio--was just making its way into parlors and living rooms through increasingly-affordable consumer products (cabinet radios.) The listeners whose voices I attempt to hear seem at once amazed by new technologies--specifically, radio broadcasts and automobile tourism. But listeners are most interested in the capacity of these new things to deliver what they consider "traditional" cultural products--"hillbilly" music and the experience of re-constructed mountain homeplaces. (In the case of Renfro Valley, both are the product of a proficient, self-trained but eminently serious autoethnographer, John Lair, whose life and work are explored in recent work by Michael Ann Williams.)
And yet: the magic of radio, it seems, was rarely enough. Listeners desired and longed for--in letters profuse and often poignant--a material experience of their aural encounter. The trade in Renfro Valley "Keepsakes" books was brisk, with listeners commenting upon how much thumbing through the pages of black and white photographs of their favorite performers enhanced their experience of the radio broadcast. And the ultimate locus of desire: to actually visit the Renfro Valley complex itself, to go to a live broadcast in a "real barn in the hills of old Kentucky," to perhaps stay overnight, even, in a "real" log cabin.
Historical analogies are always messy, but nonetheless, a comparison can be made to the digital now.
Folklorists have both commented upon and been at the center of the overwhelming, immediate documentary impulse that the events of 9/11 have unleashed. Some claim the scale of documentary response is unprecedented. (The historian Kenneth Jackson, for one, makes that claim, Vessels of a City's Grief, New York Times, Metro Section p. 1, 3/8/2002.)
And yet: the massive documentary impulse occurred just at the moment when digital imaging technology had become firmly established and broadly accessible. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's recent work, presented March 6, 2002 here at Penn (and included as an Opening Chord on this board), documents some of the emergent digital/visual forms related to 9/11: the color-photocopy "missing" poster, the instant website shrine, the massive circulation through e-mail of digital 9/11 images. (See www.sas.upenn.edu/folklore/bkg.html)
If broadly accessible technologies for digital documentation are now widely available through inexpensive consumer electronics products, what then, is the fate of the ethnographer? It seems, indeed, that there is still a role: folklorists are called upon to "help" document and preserve vernacular shrines, interpret them to the public, and re-frame and enshrine them in galleries and museums. (The New York Times article mentioned above, for example, discusses City Lore's collaboration with the New-York Historical Society's new exhibit, Missing: Streetscape of a City in Mourning.)
It seems we are living undeniably within the era of autoethnography that John Dorst identified as particularly emblematic of late consumer capitalism. What is the ethnographer's particular expertise in this digital world, and how does our work relate to the spontaneous digital autoethnographies that sprout up all around us?
And still, it seems, we live in a world where the digital encounter itself is rarely enough: website shrines and e-traded images have a place in the culture, but the candlelight vigil and the desire to experience, palpably, the physical landscape of trauma seems hardly to have been diminished--the longing for material encounter as great, perhaps greater, than it was before.
Technologies of Collection
- from Amy Horowitz and Amy Shuman:
In response to Regina's call for studies of technologies of collection, we offer some general comments and reflections from our researches. While we agree with Regina that separation between modern and pre-modern technologies can be artificial, our own researches support the need for understanding how particular technological changes can be breakthroughs that create a before and after in the consciousness and practices of cultural groups. One of our questions is, can we, as Regina proposes, "step back from these large ramifications, and the problematic issues of access and power associated with them and allow ourselves for a moment to regard 'technology' simply as inventions that extend the capacities of our body and mind"? Our work focuses precisely on those problematic issues of access and power afforded by technological change, specifically the impact of the invention of the cassette and cassette duplicating technologies of the early 1970s for disenfranchised Israeli musicians in Amy Horowitz's work and the maintenance of artisan traditions for organizing work and transmitting knowledge despite the invention of industrial technologies such as pneumatic tools and diamond saws, in Amy Shuman's work with Italian stone carvers.
We are especially interested in the intersection between technologies that reshape our research methodologies and technologies that provide opportunities for revoicing in the communities we study. We situate our discussion of re-voicing within the larger discourse of using the past (both transmission and tradition) as a means for staking/defending claims to territory, identity, or other rights. Several of the posts to the Sounding Board have suggested links between copy-imitation-cover, the technologies of reproduction, and the rights to represent.
We might at this point shift our post to respond to Lee Haring's discussion for a moment since his comments on copying are relevant here, and then back to Regina's responses to the discussion between Henry Glassie and Dan Ben Amos about who owns the rights to the materials we collect. We would at least like to suggest the idea of multiple voices in a dialogue here. Regina's post revoices not only the discussion between Henry and Dan but also the relationships between Henry Glassie and the materials he collected from Hugh Nolan and the Grimm brothers and their collections. To that list, we would like to add the difficult decisions Barre Toelken faced when he realized that recordings he had collected might not be protected, as he had promised to protect them, when they were no longer in his possession. Protecting texts on a page was less complex than protecting recordings that might be heard in the wrong season. Barre chose to return and destroy tape recordings of Native American stories that were to be told and heard only in the winter months rather than leave them to an archive where those requests might not be honored. (Interestingly, in an as yet unpublished chapter of this decision, Barre has learned that the tapes he returned were not destroyed, and the storytellers have their own ideas about ownership of stories and ownership of recordings.
In our conversations about the Sounding Board posts, we have situated the problem of technologies, copies, and the ethics of representation within a discussion of entitlement more generally, both as a focus of our research (for example, Galit Hasan Rokem's concept of volatile ventriloquy) and as a critique of our research practices. Speaking for others is a given in ethnographic research. Folklorists are self-defined ventriloquists (to the extent that we inscribe the voices of our research associates within our own academic representations-see Susan Ritchie's essay in Western Folklore, 1992), and part of our task is to take account of the power differential between those who have access to speak and those who do not, whether access refers to legal or media resources. Our intentions, whether to use our speaking to promote the interests of those we study or to remain neutral in the contest over access, can never be assumed to be effective. When we strive to promote others' interests, we may do harm or make no difference, and when we attempt to be neutral, our presence may make a difference in the power differential. In today's climate of engaged and interested ethnographic research, we need to be especially wary of scholarly claims to empower our subjects when our work may also reconsolidate their position on the margins.
Each discipline has its own way of managing the relationship between ethics and accuracy in representation. Most often, in both the sciences and social sciences, ethical questions are made secondary to questions about accuracy and validity. Those disciplines that privilege what they call the objectivity of the researcher assume the possibility of separating questions of ethics from questions of accuracy. Ethnographic research, especially in recent decades, includes the subjectivity of the researcher in evaluations of accuracy. For folklorists, both questions of accuracy and questions of ethics are about fidelity and entitlement. We are concerned about fidelity first in the sense of truthful representations and second in the sense of loyalty. (Here again, we might switch to Lee's post, in response to his reference to "fidelity to the spirit of Omar." We claim to be making ethical choices, to do the right thing by the people we study or who collaborate with us in our documentations, but we have conflicting loyalties, in which we have obligations both to the people we study and to our discipline, not to mention the complexity of fidelities made possible by copying. Kirin Narayan describes this well in Storytellers, Saints and Scoundrels: the Swamiji informs his assembled students of the message of the story he is telling and suggests that Kirin is there not to hear the spiritual message of the story but to gather information for a dissertation. She protests, because she sees herself in both roles. The very fact that this story is in her book underscores her recognition of the complexity of our sometimes competing obligations to our discipline and to the people we study.
By making fidelities, loyalties, and other obligations and opportunities (such as Deborah Kapchan's possessions and Dory Noyes' inhabitations) the focus of the revoicing inquiry, we have shifted the ground from copies, imitations, and fakery (direct lines of transmission that create traceable genealogies of the sort that support authenticity claims) to multiple voicings, overlapping tracks, and blurred genres.
When Zahava Ben (one of the disenfranchised Israeli singers who came up through the cassette ranks) re-embodies the iconic Umm Kulthum and thereby reupholsters a rural Egyptian Muslim singer in Moroccan Israeli garb, is she an infidel? How do we carve up her loyalties and obligations? How do we divvy up her ethnic/regional/aesthetic affinities and her national/religious loyalties? Is she voicing/over the very disputed territory on which she stands?
When Italian artisans export their unsigned "hand-made" copies as part of the colonialist territorialization of "new" but already inhabited worlds, where are their voices? And how is the folklorist's documentation of this cultural practice different than other reclamations of voice that claim a liberatory or celebratory motive?
These are just examples from our conversations that challenged our models for thinking about what we came to call the ethno-technologies of representation and reproduction. Questions of fidelity took us back to technology, and especially the technologies of reproduction, from high fidelity to infidelity. (Consider the [virgin]mother/[reproductive]master/[bastard] copies.) Our contribution experiments with multiple (webbed) responses that overlap intersecting calls from singular posts.
- from Deborah Kapchan
"Homo technologicus and homo nostalgicus: False Cadence or False Dichotomy?"
Regina's revoicing of the Ben-Amos/Glassie debate provides a strident chord (what we might call a "false cadence", that irresolute harmony that impels us into the future by creating desire for balance) to begin our discussions. Regina recalls that studying creativity has always involved the ethnographer in analysis of the mediating structures that body forth the voice, especially when it is the ethnographer that controls the mediations. (Horowitz and Shuman echo this.) We have never, that is, not studied technology. Indeed. Yet in calling for more attention to "homo technologicus in addition to homo nostalgicus", Regina participates in creating the very constructions that she critiques: for in this formulation, technology itself becomes the "authentic" of the moment (Gregory's "digital now"), a somehow truer and more honest way of being in the world. The concern with what might be called the "authenticity of technology" (and its power dimensions) is punctuated in the responses as well, keyed by such words as "fidelity," "loyalty" and "infidelity".
These anxieties are, I suggest, disciplinary, since the distinction between "a world of technology" and the world writ large scarcely makes sense outside of academic philosophizing (differential access in the "digital divide" notwithstanding).
In Tristes Tropiques (1955), Lévi-Strauss notes that as a student he gave up philosophy for anthropology because the former relied on a predictable intellective method that, he said, consisted "in contrasting two traditional views of the question" and eventually dismissing both "as equally inadequate, thanks to a third view which reveals the incomplete character of the first two. ...Such an exercise," he says, "soon becomes purely verbal, depending, as it does, on a certain skill in punning, which replaces thought: assonance, similarity in sound and ambiguity gradually come to form the basis of those brilliantly ingenious intellectual shifts which are thought to be the sign of sound philosophizing" (1055:51). Anthropology, on the other hand (what we might equate with the state of "being an ethnologist in a world of technology"), represented, for Lévi-Strauss, "a way of escape" from a "gratuitous intellectual game" (55). For Lévi-Strauss, being an ethnologist was akin to being a musician or a mathematician -- it was a skill, and "one of the few genuine vocations", despite the fact that the ethnologist "acquires a kind of chronic rootlessness; eventually, he comes to feel at home nowhere, and he remains psychologically maimed."
Lévi-Strauss implies that the ethnographer might use this vocational infirmity to socially productive aims, though he leaves it to his heirs to figure out how exactly this might be done.
False cadences are "false" because they promise closure but create only imbalance, tension, but (most importantly) the desire for resolution. It is this desire that keeps debates (and disciplines) alive. Homo technologicus and homo nostalgicus might be considered a false cadence in this regard, or simply a false dichotomy. The more important question is, does this distinction provide any fuel whatsoever to propel us into a viable future?
- from Kimberly J. Lau, University of Utah
What a World of Technology Makes Possible: Toward a Performance Ethnography
(Excerpted and revised from the first chapter of my project on experimental ethnography)
I want to follow up on Regina's cogent meditation on "being an ethnologist in a world of technology" by asking how technological advances in publishing and textual production might bear on one of our most basic forms of transmission, namely ethnography. That is, how might we "play" with textual layout to achieve a type of "performative" ethnography mindful of the politics of identity and representation?
This question arises (though somewhat belatedly) from one posed by Roger Abrahams in his 1999 AFS paper, "After Identity." In that paper, Roger discussed the ways in which the rather fast and loose use of the term "identity" across the disciplines basically rendered it useless; moreover, he urged us to consider what, exactly, might happen "after identity," thus articulating the matrix of entangled problems--identity, locality, difference, representation--at the heart of folkloristics. I want to begin to address this question by drawing on Elspeth Probyn's reconceptualization of "identity" in terms of "belongings" that index particular desires (1996). Theorizing against the fixed categories of identity that reinforce hierarchies of difference, Probyn seeks, more movement among and between categories as a means of capturing a greater sense of fluid, and necessarily singular, identity: "In the face of the fixity of the categorical logic of identity, I seek to instill some of the movement that the wish to belong carries, to consider more closely the movement of and between categories...I argue for singularity in order to capture some of the ways in which we continually move inbetween categories of specificity" (1996: 9). Probyn's "inbetween-ness" helps us begin to destabilize the dominant notions of identity-both academic and popular--that do damage through their fixity.
If we fail to follow Roger's (and Probyn's) lead in questioning what our work might look like after identity is deconstructed as a category and a concept, then we continue to participate in the cultural processes which offer consumption--in the form of commodified and depoliticized, though perhaps political-seeming, vernacular productions--as a valid substitute for political discourse and political action. If we continue to allow ourselves to rely on the easy analytical paradigm of identity, then we continue to participate in the depoliticization of highly political lives. Bringing interdisciplinary methodologies and theories to bear on our study of cultural practice is itself a first act of opposition that resists common intellectual urges to order seemingly disorderly processes and productions. What I want to suggest, then, is that we follow Stuart Hall (1980) and Donna Haraway (1988) in thinking of theoretical contestation and interpretive difference as a paradigm--and not a problem--for our research and, especially, the presentation of our research.
I want to locate the project of performative ethnography, then, in the middle of interdisciplinary conversations about difference and identity as well as among debates about the possibility of destabilizing scholarly authority while prioritizing grounded epistemologies.
Performance Ethnography: Theory and Methodology Inbetween
My larger experiment with performance ethnography brings diverse intellectual and artistic traditions into intimate contact with each other in the hopes that such introductions will inspire fruitful experiments in textual play and production. Thus, performance studies, experimental shape poetry, dada and surrealist collage and philosophy, and political performance art might all serve as theoretical orientations and paradigms for experiments in ethnographic writing and display. Strange bedfellows though they be, they also prove stimulating partners in thought and thus may encourage us to reach beyond our standard acts of representation to embrace new textual and theoretical ventures.
The relatively new field of performance studies provides a rich starting point for these experiments in ethnographic representations. Performance studies--more often a theoretical and methodological orientation than an academic discipline--exists in the convergence of a wide range of intellectual traditions from fields like theater studies, performing arts, folkloristics, anthropology, sociolinguistics, communications, and gender studies. As a theoretical project, performance studies reorients textual/discursive models and suggests that performance is a useful paradigm for understanding particular acts of communication in specific historic and cultural contexts. Thus, identities like class, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, for instance, are constantly performed bodily and linguistically, both anew and citationally, in an ongoing, shifting manner, and this approach to everyday cultural practices departs sharply from a textual model which necessarily understands such practices and events in a more static, structured way.
Methodologically, performance studies has a rather subversive edge in its tendency toward the temporary destruction of meaning and the consequent nonsense and confusion that ensues. The aim, obviously, is not simply nonsense for the sake of nonsense but, rather, nonsense that calls attention to the regimes of sensibility and the orders of thought that structure our understandings of what it means to mean (as Susan Stewart has demonstrated so well in her early work, Nonsense). Marvin Carlson describes Roger Callois' term "vertigo" from Callois' theory of play as allied with performance studies methodologies in his own excellent and thorough work, Performance: A Critical Introduction (1996): "Caillois describes this ["vertigo"] as 'an attempt to destroy momentarily the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind.' The emphasis here is upon subversion, the destruction of 'stability,' the turning of 'lucidity' to 'panic,' brought about by a foregrounding of physical sensation, an awareness of the body set free from the normal structures of control and meaning" (26). Both the methodological and the theoretical aims of performance studies are to exploit the spaces--of identity, of practice, of thought--that exist between more structured, stable categories, and as with Probyn's "inbetween-ness", this liminality is precisely what attracts me to the emergent field. Here, then, identity moves from a certain fixity to an active, constantly shifting, somewhat radical contingency; likewise, representations of cultural practices and everyday performances aspire to a similar momentariness, a fleeting glimpse of meaning but not one with any concrete, categorical, translateable referents.
The appeal for and application to ethnography, given the politics of representation and identity discussed (so briefly) above, are plenty. Dwight Conquergood, an anthropologist and activist widely acknowledged to be one of the founders of the field of performance studies, has worked toward "performance ethnography," a form of ethnography that attempts to defy the textualist bias of the academy while creating openings for the performance of research and scholarship. "Clos[ing] the space between text and performance" (Conquergood 1998: 25) forces us to push the boundaries of conventional representation with new intellectual praxis and practices that both call into question the ideological motivations for our academic traditions of scholarship and move us toward modes of articulation that continually foreground the fact that our current modes of representation structure our understandings of the people and practices we describe.
Exactly how we accommodate scholarly research in the form of performance is the crucial question, especially given the publication demands--the textual requirements--of most academic departments. As an intermediate step between textuality and performance, I want to look to postmodern performance art as a potential model, and here I am expanding on Conquergood's ideas which do not advocate abandoning textuality but rather call for an ethnography that exists between performance and text. Carlson makes explicit the parallels between postmodern performance art and performance studies that link the two through shared theoretical and methodological concerns: "Performance art, a complex and constantly shifting field in its own right, becomes much more so when one tries to take into accountthe dense web of interconnections that exists between it and ideas of performance developed in other fields and between it and the many intellectual, cultural, and social concerns that are raised by almost any contemporary performance project. Among them are what it means to be postmodern, the quest for a contemporary subjectivity and identity, the relation of art to structures of power, the varying challenges of gender, race, and ethnicity, to name only some of the most visible of these" (1996: 7).
Consistent with Carlson's description and contrary to the more explicitly political performance art of the 1960's wherein the "message" was intended to be somewhat didactic, postmodern performance resists overtly political messages in favor of commenting more subtly on the very nature of art, performance, and representation. Drawing attention to the fact and act of representation is a fundamental part of the "message," intended to challenge audiences to rethink conventional ideas about the cultural work that art does. In similar fashion, performance ethnography--even that represented in text--can aspire to similar ends where the text itself performs both the theory it posits and the methodological choices underpinning that theory.
In the space between text and performance where I hope to mimic postmodern performance art in my own acts of representation, James Clifford's historical analysis of the relationship between ethnography and avant-garde experimental art, particularly dada and surrealism, provides useful direction (1988). Clifford makes explicit the ways in which "ethnographic juxtaposition" and the use of photographs to "[create] the order of an unfinished collage rather than that of a unified organism" (1988: 132-133), for instance, "[denote] a radical questioning of norms" (129) and "provoke this defamiliarization" (133). While Clifford theorizes a new form of ethnography, indeed a performative ethnography akin to Conquergood's, he does not go so far as to produce that ethnography. Thus, my larger project is an attempt to expand Clifford's theoretical comments on experimental ethnography by producing a textual experiment capable of revealing its own theoretical motivations. With Clifford, I want to "break up the book's prevailing tone, hoping in this way to manifest the rhetoric of my accounts. I prefer sharply focused pictures, composed in ways that show the frame or lens" (13, emphasis mine).
Multiplicity, Multivocality, and Textual Enactment
While ethnographers have been experimenting with multivocality and dialogic form for some time now (e.g., Jackson 1986, Mills 1991, Ellis and Bochner 1996), I want to frame my thoughts on multivocality in relation to Luce Irigaray's essay, "This Sex which is Not One" (1997 ), an inspired consideration of language, desire, and women's multiplicity. Irigaray's metaphor of multiplicity is grounded in biology, linked to women's lips, a metaphor with a double entendre at its heart. Through the metaphor of the lips, Irigaray problematizes language (that spoken through one set of lips) and desire (that established, though only in part, through the other) and the ways in which they write the body through their complex relation to patriarchal constructs, controls, and limitations.
For Irigaray, the metaphor of the lips is also important because of what it suggests about nearness, about a contact and a caressing that never fuses: "Woman 'touches herself' all the time, and moreover no one can forbid her to do so, for her genitals are formed of two lips in continuous contact. Thus, within herself, she is already two--but not divisible into one(s)--that caress each other" (249). Implicit in the idea of nearness, in the infinite contact and caress that never closes, that never possesses, is a critique of the intimate relations between patriarchy and capitalism, a critique of the ruling economy of ideas that posits women's sexuality as a possession to be had, a sort of logic that continually gestures back to the "one"--whether that be the belief in language as singular or a belief about the primacy of the penis: "Nearness so pronounced that it makes all discrimination of identity, and thus all forms of property, impossible. Woman derives pleasure from what is so near that she cannot have it, nor have herself. . .This puts into question all prevailing economies: their calculations are irremediably stymied by woman's pleasure, as it increases indefinitely from its passage in and through the other" (254-255, emphasis in the original).
In response to such patriarchal capitalist economies of logic, Irigaray offers the idea of woman as multiple, woman with "sex organs more or less everywhere" (252), in an attempt to re-envision and rearticulate woman not as lacking a penis (as Freud understood her) but rather as possessing a plural sexuality: "the geography of her pleasure is far more diversified, more multiple in its difference, more complex, more subtle, than is commonly imagined--in an imaginary rather too narrowly focused on sameness" (252-253). "An imaginary rather too narrowly focused on sameness" derives precisely from the economy of ideas in which woman is defined in comparison to man--for instance, Freud's classic statement, "We are now obliged to recognize that the little girl is a little man (1965 : 118)--and Irigaray wants to posit another possibility in the plural, a possibility that both accounts for and rejects the (mis)perception of woman as having an insatiable sexual hunger; rather, such a (mis)perception results from the patriarchal imaginary that focuses on "the one": "it" [women's desire] really involves a different economy more than anything else, one that upsets the linearity of a project, undermines the goal-object of desire, diffuses the polarization toward a single pleasure, disconcerts fidelity to a single discourse" (253). Multiplicity matters, and in more ways than one.
To move from Irigaray's "This Sex which is Not One" to these ethnographic experiments in which the "text is not one" is to produce a kind of feminist mirroring, a writing that enacts, on some level, some of the linguistic play and feminine desire that Irigaray inspires. In experimenting with multiple textualities, I seek to place different voices and different narratives near to each other, an open, approaching nearness that resists the "linearity of a project," that resists cohesion and a sense of closure, of containable knowledge, of singular meaning that more conventional scholarship implies. In the same way that desire, and thus pleasure, exists in the infinite approach for Irigaray, I want to suggest that meaning might exist, in part, in the spaces between the dominant narratives. Thus, in this case, we might locate meaning not just among the different narratives but also beyond-in their intertextuality.
Through experimental performance ethnography, then, I hope that multivocality, textual fragmentation, and non-standard formats might inspire enough disorientation to force us out of passive reading habits wherein texts are consumed without much conscious consideration of the multilayered framing(s) that structure them. Publishing technologies have made possible a new method of ethnographic writing and representation that might capture the "collage" or "pastiche" effect of postmodernity, and my experiments with both ethnography and autoethnography are attempts to continually denaturalize the frame. A reader who perseveres beyond the initial nuisance of having the narrative she's reading interrupted by other competing narratives might find that the constant starts and stops raise questions of authority, motivation, dominance, and voice. I am hoping that the constant disruptions will continually move the reader in and out of different frames, opening up different perspectives on the same subject, necessarily fragmented.
Literary writers and poets have long been playing with textual layout (e.g., Momaday 1969, the poetry of ee cummings, and Hollander's 1991  collection of various poets' shape poems), and folklorists and anthropologists have developed systems of ethnopoetics and have experimented with textual layout as a possible means of approaching oral performance on a written page (e.g, Hymes 1981, Tedlock 1983, Mills 1991). But it hasn't been until more recently that some social scientific and communications researchers have really begun to experiment with textual layout as a way of unhinging their work from a more realist tendency. Patti Lather (1997) touches on precisely this point in describing the logic behind her and her co-researcher's decision to break with traditional textual forms in writing their book (collaboratively with the women they interviewed) on women living with HIV/AIDS: "Rubbing against the sort of stubborn materiality in which Benjamin's interest was a rescuing of philosophy from abstraction, the practices that Chris [her co-researcher] and I developed in our study of women living with HIV/AIDS grew out of our effort to write a K-Mart book [one accessible to all readers] that assembled fragments through which one could read and then reread one's way into some understanding that keeps shifting regarding the work of living with HIV/AIDS. . .the text turns back on itself, putting the authority of its own affirmations in doubt, an undercutting that causes a doubling of meanings that adds to a sense of multivalence and fluidities" (254). Creating such a multivalent and fluid text necessarily decenters the author(s)/researcher(s) in any attempt to write culture and to represent identities as it encourages the coexistence of multiple voices in ways that are not necessarily filtered through the author's/researcher's frame(s) (see Hamera 1996, Austin 1996, Fox 1996, Lather 1997, and Tanaka 1997 for good examples).
To follow Irigaray's lead, once again, I want to suggest a pleasure in multiplicity and openness, both in terms of subjectivity and in terms of meaning. That is, I want us to begin to shift our scholarly paradigms so that we might revel in the denial of singular meaning, the denial of representation as cultural translation. Irigaray's move to render pleasureable Lacan's concept of desire as insatiable is an inspiring act that demands our attention because it resituates pleasure in that never-ending approach, in proximity, in between. We might likewise take a certain pleasure in knowing that knowledge is constitutive, made between and among voices and narratives and interpretations. Multivocality is an especially important mode of writing when we're theorizing (and practicing) representation; the movement toward but not to meaning stands as an important reminder that we must take heed when doing ethnography that (even unintentionally) gives the impression of cultural translation, of transforming something "foreign" or "exotic" or "other" into something understandable. Instead, we must strive to maintain the sense of near comprehension, to glimpse the insights that constantly push us beyond, not to possession or totality but into new and infinitely expanding realms.
Austin, Deborah A. 1996. "Kaleidoscope: The Same and Different." In Composing Ethnography: Alternative Forms of Qualitative Writing, ed. Arthur P. Bochner and Carolyn Ellis. London: SAGE. 206-230.
Bochner, Arthur P. and Carolyn Ellis. 1996. Composing Ethnography: Alternative Forms of Qualitative Writing. London: SAGE.
Carlson, Marvin. 1996. Performance: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge.
Clifford, James and George E. Marcus, eds. 1986. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Clifford, James. 1988. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Conquergood, Dwight. 1998. "Beyond the Text: Toward a Performative Cultural Politics." In The Future of Performance Studies: Visions and Revisions, ed. Sheron J. Dailey. Annandale: National Communication Association. 25-36.
Fox, Karen V. "Silent Voices: A Subversive Reading of Child Sexual Abuse." In Composing Ethnography: Alternative Forms of Qualitative Writing, ed. Arthur P. Bochner and Carolyn Ellis. London: SAGE. 330-356.
Freud, Sigmund. 1965 . "Femininity." New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. New York: W.W. Norton. 112-135.
Hall, Stuart. 1980. "Cultural Studies and the Centre: Some Problematics and Problems." In Culture, Media, Language. (Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-1979). London: Hutchinson, in association with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham.
Hamera, Judith. 1996. "Reconstructing Apsaras from Memory: Six Thoughts." ." In Composing Ethnography: Alternative Forms of Qualitative Writing, ed. Arthur P. Bochner and Carolyn Ellis. London: SAGE. 201-205.
Haraway, Donna. 1988. "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective." Feminist Studies 14: 575-599.
Hollander, John. 1991 . Types of Shape. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Hymes, Dell H. 1981. "In Vain I Tried to Tell You": Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Irigaray, Luce. 1997 . "This Sex Which Is Not One." Reprinted in Writing on the Body: Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory, ed. Katie Conboy, Nadia Medina, and Sarah Stanbury. New York: Columbia University Press. 248-256.
Jackson, Michael. 1986. Barawa and the Ways Birds Fly in the Sky: An Ethnographic Novel. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Lather, Patti. 1997. "Creating a Multilayered Text: Women, AIDS, and Angels." In Representation and the Text: Re-Framing the Narrative Voice, ed. William G. Tierney and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Albany: State University of New York Press. 233-258.
Lincoln, Yvonna S. 1997. "Self, Subject, Audience, Text: Living at the Edge, Writing in the Margins." In Representation and the Text: Re-Framing the Narrative Voice, ed. William G. Tierney and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Albany: State University of New York Press. 37-55.
Mills, Margaret A. 1991. Rhetorics and Politics in Afghan Traditional Storytelling. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Momady, N. Scott. 1969. The Way to Rainy Mountain. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Probyn, Elspeth. 1996. Outside Belongings. New York: Routledge.
Shuman, Amy. 1993. "Dismantling Local Culture." Western Folklore 52 (April): 345-364.
Tanaka, Greg. 1997. "Pico College." In Representation and the Text: Re-Framing the Narrative Voice, ed. William G. Tierney and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Albany: State University of New York Press. 259-304.
Tedlock, Dennis. 1983. The Spoken Word and the Work of Interpretation. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Tierney, William G. and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds. 1997. Representation and the Text: Re-Framing the Narrative Voice. Albany: State U of New York Press.
- from Regina Bendix:
Response to Deborah Kapchan's response:
The whimsical labels I suggested at the end of my contribution were *not* offered as a dichotomous construct, not least as the nostalgic variant of being human is of an intellectually twice removed order and thus different from the one employing technology. I merely suggested these terms in an ironic nod toward our field's propensity to enjoy such labels and to generate further versions thereof, in a departure from an earlier focus on genre to a focus on practice (e.g. homo narrans). Nor am I interested in reintroducing vocabularies of authenticity or finding loci where authenticity might reside, though it is perfectly obvious that such vocabularies reside comfortably within various realms of technologically enhanced every day life (and ethnographers'documenting the use of such vocabularies and longings does not mean that they themselves are caught in old disciplinary anxieties). My point--and probably my understanding of our field and what might "propel us into a viable future"--is far simpler: "the world writ large" is a world in which technological opportunities were, are and will always be part of cultural practices--both the practices of the groups and individuals whom we study and knowledge producing practices we generate in scholarship. There will be "breaks" of the sort that Amy S. and Amy H. are foregrounding, and they deserve to be examined. The "little world" of scholarship and public practice we reside in is intertwined with this world writ large and what we have to offer to the world writ large (in addition to the labyrinths of scholarly queries which we often produce largely for our own mental satisfaction, legitimation or, to cite Deborah's take on Levi-Strauss, as a means to overcome our "psychological maiming") is reflexive documentation and renarration of segments from the complexity of human existence. Technology is both part of such existence and part of its documentation. Our revoicing in "publication" (print, audio, visual, virtual) and various venues facilitating viewing and partaking (exhibition, staging, apprenticing) can become again part of that complexity. In my initial post I tried to suggest that arguments of the type that we witnessed between Henry and Dan have kept us from fully embracing the breadth of ethnography that Bausinger already called for and that we owe the worlds we inhabit and study.
- from Steve Winick:
One area of ethnological (dare I say folkloristic?) inquiry that Regina has not mentioned, and where technologies of production have been central to many discussions, is the study of music. Twenty-three years ago Kenny Goldstein delivered a paper arguing that the British folksong tradition as we know it today is essentially the product of many "revivals," each of which was brought about by a technological innovation: writing, movable type, offset and gravure printing, wire recorders, phonographs, radio, tapes, video. That Kenny framed this as a common dichotomy (tradition vs. revival) that corresponds to Regina's homo nostalgicus/homo technologicus distinction shows that this division has been treated as real and important in our discipline(s) even if, as Deborah suggests, it is both misleading and analytically useless. Kenny, too, rejected the dichotomy, arguing later that technological developments "have supplemented rather than replaced, reinforced rather than displaced, fed rather than swallowed, the oral tradition."
Kenny did not even think about other, more specifically musical, technologies that affected the same tradition; the invention of the free reed in the nineteenth century, for example, which made concertina and melodeon accompaniment possible and undoubtedly tampered with many a modal ballad tune in the process. The introduction of guitars during the skiffle craze of 1956-1957, that regularized rhythm by introducing the strum. The development of amplification that in the 1970s allowed Scottish musicians to incorporate an emblem of national pride, the Highland Bagpipe, into an acoustic folksong arrangement. All of these, however, are technological topics that British folklore and music scholars have since commented on.
Outside the narrow confines of "folklore," and in the wider world of "ethno-," a key discipline that has not been mentioned so far is ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicologists have studied many technological developments as a natural part of their discipline precisely because they were forced very early to recognize the great truth Deborah offers: that they have always studied technology. One of the first tasks of "comparative musicology" was to create a system for classifying musical instruments so they could be compared across cultures. 19th and early 20th Century organologists like Erich M. Von Hornbostel classified musical instruments primarily according to their technologies of sound production. This has forced ethnomusicologists to grapple with technological development from the discipline's inception. They investigate specific instruments: how has the guitar been adapted to African music, and African music to the guitar; or, as a current Penn PhD candidate is exploring, how has the accordion been adapted to Irish music and Irish music to the accordion? They have had to study electricity: how does the fact of "going electric" affect musical traditions? How is the ringing squeal of feedback interpreted by hard rock musicians and fans? The very technology that opens Regina's musings, the tape recorder, has been the focus of much research: how does the ability to locally produce and distribute cassettes impact musical traditions, the self-presentation of musicians, and the commodification of music associated with capitalist systems? (Horowitz and Shuman allude to their own work in this area, but others have investigated similar questions in other milieux.) We also find the most recent of sound technologies (digital music, MP3s, samples) studied by ethnomusicologists as part of the web of meanings that music creates around us and that we create around music.
I think, in a sense, this is an answer to Deborah's concerns. By over-emphasizing technology, making it the focus of research for its own sake, or just because "no one has done it," we may convert technology into a "truer and more honest way of being in the world," a new authenticity. But studying it as part of the world we are investigating, and as a necessary component of the very behavior that has always interested us...we can scarcely avoid this, and we should instead embrace it. To argue that technology is the primary shaper of our thoughts or our discourse would be to miss the point in one direction, but not to pay specific attention to it would miss the point in the other. This dialogue, for example, is very much dependent for its content and shape on the technologies that are enabling it. So, for instance, I have completely ignored Brian so far, which I would not have done had this been a face-to-face gathering. This is a distinction that an ethnologist would do well to attend to. And this response was written before Kim's response had been posted--except, of course, for this sentence. What then is the relationship among our varied posts, and how do they differ, technologically or otherwise, from other interactions we might have? This is at least a potentially interesting question.
Regina's suggestion that technology has been unduly ignored by ethnologists is thus a sound one, in many contexts. This doesn't mean we all need to run out and study technology now, but it does mean we should attend to the ways in which technological tools--both our informants' and our own--affect the work that they and we produce. Or to use a technological metaphor, we should add another tool to our conceptual kit, if it isn't there already.