The Legacies of Writing Culture and the Near Future of the Ethnographic Form: A Sketch

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This article argues that the most lively contemporary legacy of the 1980s Writing Culture critiques now lie outside, or beyond, conventional texts but, rather, in the forms that are integral to fieldwork itself. Fieldwork today requires a kind of collaborative concept work that stimulates studios, archiving, para-sites, which in turn constitute the most innovative expressions of ethnography, difficult to capture in the traditional genre. [Keywords: archives, collaboration, concept work, para-sites, studios]

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of related essays on ethnography, including Anna Tsing's "The Global Situation" (2008), Allen Chun's "From Text to Context: How Anthropology Makes Its Subjects" (2008), Faye Ginsberg's "Ethnography and American Studies" (2008), George Marcus' "THE END(S) OF ETHNOGRAPHY: Social/Cultural Anthropology's Signature Form of Producing Knowledge in Transition" (2008), and Quetzil E. Castañeda's "Ethnography in the Forest: An Analysis of Ethics in the Morals of Anthropology" (2008).

George Marcus, "1984 SAR Writing Culture Seminar." November 12, 1984.

About the Author

George Marcus (Ph.D., Harvard University, 1976) is an American anthropologist currently located at the University of California Irvine, where he holds the position of Chancellor's Professor and has established the Center for Ethnography. He is also the founder of this journal. Marcus is one of the most well known anthropologists of his time and is known in particular for two books, Writing Culture and Anthropology as Cultural Critique. In the 1990's Marcus edited an eight-volume series of annuals called Late Editions: Cultural Studies for the End of the Century, which documented the diverse social and cultural transitions at the turn of the millennium and gained widespread attention. Marcus' strongly encourages collaborative works and his present area of focus is the ethnography of elites and the research methodologies, specifically ethnography, of social/cultural anthropology.

Related Reading

Fischer, Michael M. J. 2009. Anthropological Futures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Matsutake Worlds Research Group. 2009. "A New Form of Collaboration in Cultural Anthropology." American Ethnologist. 36(2):380–403.

Marcus, George. 2008. "Collaborative Options and Pedagogical Experiment in Anthropological, Research on Experts and Policy Processes." 

Anthropology in Action. 15(2):47–57.

Ong, Aihwa, and Stephen Collier. 2005. Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological. Problems. Oxford: Blackwell.

Strathern, Marilyn. 2004. Commons and Borderlands: Working Papers on Interdisciplinarity, Accountability, and the Flow of Knowledge. Oxford:Sean Kingston.

Taussig, Michael. 1993. Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York: Routledge.


The Asthma Files

UCI Center for Ethnography

The Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion

Ethics, Law, and Social Implication Research Program

Matsutake Worlds Research Group

Savage Minds, Writing Culture at 25

Cultural Anthropology YouTube Channel: Writing Culture at 25


George Marcus: 'Ethnography of and as Prototyping Culture'. Spanish National Research Council, November 4, 2010

Discussion Questions

1. What are some examples of the merging of ethnographic research and methodologies with digital technologies, as discussed and defined by Marcus? How would you compare these to previous ethnographies where digital media was not present or available?

2. What do you think of Marcus' assertion that ethnography has become "circumstantially activist"? Do you think this is a central aspect of ethnography and how should ethnographers grapple with it and resulting issues of reflexivity and objectivity?

3. Marcus defines three exemplars of the "third space" - dynamic archiving; studios, labs, para-sites; and projects within or alongside other projects. Can you give any other exemplars of this third space or of the new forms and practices of ethnography taking place in the digital age?

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