Hypermedia and the Future of Ethnography

Essay Excerpt

Writers are forced into a linear sequential mode, and are compelled to choose which aspects of a total experience are to be placed first, second, third, etc. The only way to vitalize interconnections that are nonsequential,or multi-sequential, is to refer back to previous pages. Where the connections between phenomena are as interrelated as they are in human communities, the job of orchestrating even a limited degree of interconnectivity in the written medium is a struggleat best. The situation is all the worse for a reader, who is at the mercy of an author's ability to guide him or her through the maze of possibilities. It is usually next to impossible to do one's own exploration of relationships, especially since restrictions on space make it inevitable that significant chunks of primary information be omitted. The writer of an ethnographic text is thus induced to seek prestige by selecting one path through the material and dramatizing its significance. Data that support the design are chosen for inclusion; other materials are pruned away in the interests of brevity. The reader is forced into a passive mode, dependent upon the writer's literary skills for a tour of this new territory. One is helpless to explore questions that might be of special interest to oneself, to seek other avenues of connection. And furthermore, one is summarily deprived of the richness of experience the ethnographer encountered. At most, the written word, in the hands of a true artist, can excite one's imagination, but since ethnographies are necessarily limited in scope, much of the context required for an experiential re-creation cannot be provided. (Howard, 305)

About the Author

Alan Howard is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

"I received all my university degrees from Stanford; a B.A. in Sociology (1955), an M.A. in Anthropology (1959), and a PhD. in Anthropology (1962). My research has been concentrated in Polynesia, particularly on the island of Rotuma (Fiji). I also conducted a three-year study of an Hawaiian-American community on Oahu in the 1960s. In recent years my wife, Jan Rensel, and I have been studying the Rotuman diaspora, including Rotuman communities in Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and Hawai'i. I came to Hawai'i in 1963 and have been here ever since."

His research interests include: political economy, socialization, cultural identity, transnationalism, Polynesian ethnology, ethnographic film and video, virtual communities. His current research has focused on Rotuman communities around the globe. He is especially interested in the problem of maintaining a globally scattered culture, and the role that cyberspace can play in providing arenas for virtual communities. He has been devoting a good deal of time to constructing and maintaining a web site for the pan-Rotuman community as a location for electronic interaction. 

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