11 April 2010

[Literature] The emergence of multi-sited ethnography

The emergence of multi-sited ethnography by George Marcus is a literature survey from 1995 explaining how ethnography has moved from traditional single-site studies to recent multi-site studies. Marcus details domains that fit multi-sited ethnography and the different methods followed by multi-sited ethnography. [MMOG are perfectly suitable for this kind of methodology; in fact, I think this is the kind of methodology Celia Pearce followed in Communities of Play].

Marcus describes first the two “modes” of ethnographic research:

  • Traditional single-site ethnography studies mostly colonial contexts and focuses on relationships, language and objects to show the emergence of “new cultural forms”.
  • Contemporary multi-sited ethnography has no specific space- or time-frame. This is particularly suitable for migration or media studies. The author argues this method is efficient in revealing “cultural logics so much sought after in anthropology” because it consists of “following connections, relationships and associations” from one site to another.

Three possible methodological issues to multi-sited ethnography are raised by the author:

  • Because ethnography is a close and local study of people, its results can not be extended to characterize the whole system. The goal of multi-sited ethnography is not to establish a global view of the system thanks to local analysis but rather to determine the connections between locales inside the whole system.
  • Being in multiple sites presumably reduces the field knowledge. In fact, Marcus argues that traditional single-sited ethnography that relies on previous work in other locales are actually doing multi-sited ethnography. Mobility does not mean more shallow findings but rather the ability to appreciate movements, transitions and translations between locales.
  • Ethnography relies on the power relationships in taking the subalterns (those dominated) point of view. Multi-sited ethnography does not forget this crucial aspect: it does not simply add local information out of the subaltern focus, and it does not simply compare individuals of different sites. Multi-sited ethnography associates and links individuals in different time and space situations.

Many disciplines use multi-sited ethnography. Media studies research the production by the industry of TV programs and movies but also their reception by the audience. [Games are being integrated little by little into media studies as well.] Media studies also encompass the study of indigenous media production. There are also the reproduction and reproductive technologies (feminist and medical anthropology), epidemiology, new modes of communications (Internet, mobile phones), environmentalism and biotechnology.

A multi-sited ethnographer can base his/her research methodology in focusing on the:

  • People: “Stay with the movements of a particular group”. The most common style.
  • Things: “tracing the circulation of a material object such as commodities, gifts, money, works of art ...”. Quite widespread in capitalist world systems.
  • Metaphor: trace “associations that are most clearly alive in language use and print or visual media”.
  • Plot, story or allegory: “myth analysis”
  • Life or biography: “succession of narrated individual experiences”
  • Conflict: mostly used in the “anthropology of law”, often about mass-media topics of interest.

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