Tragic stories of border crossings are often central to accounts of migration, and as ethnographers we are privy to stories of clandestine crossings, painful separations, and unspeakable loss. In the process of writing, ethnographers make these stories central to their own arguments and in so doing, those crossings, separations, and losses become knowable, imaginable, and part of a larger story of global interconnectedness and inequality. Ethnographers of migration write about those who cross borders, who become stuck within borders, or who are forcibly moved across borders because of deportation. Ethnographers thus position themselves at the crossroads of being activists, storytellers, and academics, even as they also locate their informants’ narratives along trajectories of tragedy and possibility.
This paper explores intersecting narratives of loss and possibility through the experiences of undocumented Peruvian migrant workers who find previously unimaginable possibilities for migration and love despite—and often because of—their inability to remain in South Korea. In this global space, Peruvians are surrounded by people in transit and are inspired to create long-term plans that would be difficult, if not impossible, were they documented and permanent—such as entering into hurried romantic relationships with other migrants. Forging temporarily permanent legal ties in Korea (such as marrying other undocumented foreigners) can have tragic results, such as when marriages dissolve and one partner disappears with the children into the global realm where the other has no legal or financial means to follow. Through re-telling the narrative, both the migrant and ethnographer locate points of possibility and opportunity, and give voice to otherwise undocumented global stories.
In seeking to balance the demands of social science research with complex ethical and political commitments, ethnographers often find themselves caught in a series of double binds. This is particularly true when we are asked to testify in court on behalf of subjects criminalized by the state. I explore how these tensions play out in settings where right and wrong cannot be clearly distinguished in anthropological terms but are demanded in legal or political terms. I consider the narrative strategies that anthropologists employ in an effort to produce social-legal knowledge from our ethnographic research that would satisfy the demands of the court, while simultaneously deploying analytical strategies that can account for multiple realities and conflicting truths. I consider my own participation in these overlapping and often incommensurate projects through a particular ethnographic and legal case in which I was implicated as researcher and as a witness for the defense.
This article presents a narrative of urban mobility and desire, and critically examines recent ethnographic approaches to subjectivity and "becoming" among rural–urban migrants and in urban life. Lately, ethnographic approaches to urban lives have emphasized mobility over fixity and sought to describe possibility and potential, even in cases of extreme abjection, in part inspired by the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. I examine the strengths of this "vitalist" approach to urban ethnography through an extended analysis of a fragmentary narrative of urban mobility, setting it in a wider context of political change in Delhi to show that both the reality and the interpretation of these events depend upon the prior occupation and affective shaping of distinctive urban places, or milieux, and the ongoing conceptual structuring and discursive elaboration of political meanings. I argue that such affective structures and urban mediations deserve more attention in ethnographic accounts of migratory desire and becoming.
This article considers the parallels between ethnographic work and refugee advocacy to show how these knowledge forms seek and yet fail to represent "refugee voices." The predicaments of refugees in Greece have recently captured the attention of the world owing to Greece’s crucial position in the 2015 "European refugee crisis," but Greece has long been on the frontlines of refugee reception in the EU. Based on ethnographic research conducted between 2005 and 2013, I analyze the ethnographic logics attached to European advocacy projects surrounding refugees in Greece. I explore their use of tragic tropes, and I argue that ethnographers employ similar tactics to carve out space for marginalized voices. I argue that the representational practices of ethnography and advocacy alike are haunted by various "ghosts": traces of silenced subjects who index both the limits and possibilities of representation. I argue, ultimately, for a humbling of the ethnographer: for a careful consideration of the power of not knowing in our work, and for recognition of the overlaps between ethnographic knowledge and dominant formations of power.
This autoethnography describes the process of inquiry that led to the development of a series of ethnodramas that evoke teachers’ experience in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). I discuss the methods I used to conduct a set of interviews with two groups of elementary school teachers in CPS: beginning teachers who had never worked a classroom as a full-time job and accomplished teachers who spent many years of their lives teaching students of color. I discuss the use of arts-based research methods to engage with these data, and I describe the interpretive journey I undertook as I wrote and produced ethnodramas about CPS teachers’ experience. A major dilemma for my analysis was communicating the structural inequalities that shaped the teachers’ narratives, particularly the Chicago system’s inability to create working conditions necessary to support the retention and professional development of teachers in the city’s high poverty schools. I describe how the conversation and inner dialogue generated by arts-based methods helped me recognize different patterns within the data, and inspired me to reframe my interpretation. In the conclusion, I discuss the limits of my approach as a researcher and an artist. Excerpts from two playscripts are woven throughout the article to convey the commitment that guided the teachers’ work and to evoke the social forces that shaped life in their classrooms.
This essay is an account of how young people, deeply committed to sustainability, struggle to live according to their beliefs. In light of a growing population, limited arable land, and possible food shortages, an organization known as Students for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA) responds to the threat of industrial agriculture. These students strive to do what is good for the earth, good for their bodies, and good for their community. They do so by revering food and creating a set of practices that distinguish them as believers in sustainable agriculture. Still, practical difficulties of everyday life make it difficult for them to live by the rules they create. As students living in a wealthy country, contending with environmental degradation, SSA’ers attempt to negotiate their moral commitments with what they can effectually realize. To align their practices with their articulated morals, SSA’ers make alternative consumption choices. Like others who struggle to live according to a set of principles that run counter to what is easy and convenient, these students strive to live true to their beliefs. They try to avoid losses in moral strength, and they repent for situations in which their actions contradict the rules that govern their moral world.
Based upon five years of observant participation, I examine how participants justify their engagement with the controversial but increasing popular practice of mixed martial arts. Several themes emerge: necessity ("it is a violent world"), sociobiological discourse, emulating the exotic, spiritual teachings, alienation from consumer society, and the body as a project. These themes suggest that this pain-filled-practice is more than simply a site of exercise or sport, and in fact reveals complicated, gendered narratives about the broader social lives and struggles of the men who participate in the practice. I argue that the ambiguously defined field and the feeling of being out-of-place encourage identity exploration. This becomes an important part of the allure as the participants craft stories that provide meaning for the physical training. I conclude with reflections on how meaning is constructed in embodied cultural forms and on the value of these often-ignored forms for making sense of social life.
In this article, I examine how a group of LGBT Christians explained Christianity. Based on more than 36 months of fieldwork in a southeastern LGBT Christian church, I analyze how a group of LGBT Christians, responding to sexual and religious stigma, justified their Christian belief and practice by (1) denying abnormality, (2) appealing to emotions, and (3) claiming self-sacrifice. In conclusion, I draw out implications for understanding how members of subordinate groups justify seemingly normative behaviors, and some consequences these actions have for the reproduction of inequality.
Comparing two Midwest new destination communities, we identify key ways that local residents actively make sense of, and enact, community response for Latino immigrant newcomers. Our findings show that, over time, local actors privilege preexisting institutional ideals in ways that justify waning support for ongoing newcomer needs. We conclude with discussion of how empirical work in the "inhabited institutions" framework can help specify the sense-making processes of local actors that can serve to reaffirm the legitimacy of prevailing institutions and limit the long-term sustainability of integrative effort. We also discuss the potential that the inhabited institutions framework offers our understanding of newcomer incorporation into new destination communities.
This article theorizes and performs an analytic and evocative autoethnography about participation in the Rude Boy subculture in Singapore in the 2000s. Relying on critical pedagogy and a performative conception of subcultural theory, we analyze the second author’s past self as a Rude Boy through a collaborative narrative that emerged out of a university course–based research project on youth subcultures. Our narrative, which includes the reproduction of field notes, reflective journals, interviews, and dialogue between the authors, is intended to simultaneously question the assumed dichotomy between analytic and evocative autoethnographic forms and to highlight the potential for a critical pedagogy that brings teachers and students together to create new understandings of the self. The article also highlights the personal and pedagogical outcomes of dealing academically with a subcultural past and extends a dialogic approach to studying subcultural participation and experience.
This study examines the activities of a local group of Critical Mass (cycling) enthusiasts to inquire into the aspirations for their participation. The research employs a multimethod, ethnographic approach to explicate the identity work associated with the enthusiasts’ involvement in the phenomenon and local activism. Drawing from sociological perspectives on identity convergence and identity formation processes, the analysis finds that the core group of participants assume heavy leadership roles in Critical Mass in part to enhance their personal identity as political activists. The article also details the form and function of Critical Mass as a type of cultural movement to contextualize the analysis. The article seeks to contribute to the literature on identity convergence, suggesting some collective action participants seek opportunities to enact and affirm collective identities important to their personal self-conception. Implications of the research for the study of identity formation processes within the context of cultural movements are discussed.
In this article I show that the ethnographer can be a heuristic source of comparison. I reflexively discuss the ways in which I learnt from the problems behind my comparative ethnography of everyday representations of Roma in both a Romanian and an Italian city. As a priori detecting a homogeneous group called Roma in Europe can be problematic, my comparison lacked the necessary condition of similarity between the two contexts. Once I came back from the field, I understood how my differently perceived selves influenced my informants’ articulations of their own representations of local Roma. This and further observations made me understand that I had not carried out a comparison; rather, I established a series of "partial connections" through "juxtaposition." In the Conclusion, I encourage more reflexive research on the heuristic validity of taking ourselves-ethnographers as heuristic units of comparison.
Children play a part in family food shopping, but their roles are often underestimated. In contrast to earlier studies focusing on "who wins" in parent/child negotiations, in this study I focus on emotional and cooperative ways of negotiating food in the supermarket. Through unobtrusive observation of Danish and American parent/child groups, I found that children—even from a very young age—also appear interested in and knowledgeable about healthy eating. Just as importantly, I observed parents not only being sensible and focused on healthy eating but also immersed in habits and desire, at times bending their own rules and using their notion of health arbitrarily. The concepts of "healthy" and "unhealthy" were used to decipher food in collaborative ways, and health was a core concept that parents tended to use negatively and children positively. Both children and parents must be considered as competent and incompetent consumers to understand family food negotiations.
This article examines the rise and fall of collective moral identity by two groups of unequally positioned teachers in a new school for immigrant and refugee students who were learning English. One group was composed of predominately white, US-born tenured teaching professionals. The other consisted of racially and ethnically diverse, foreign-born teachers who were participating in a cultural exchange program and had temporary visas to work in the United States for one to three years. Using participant observation and in-depth interviewing, I show how school administrators and organizational arrangements fostered the development of a shared moral identity that allowed teachers to see themselves as virtuous—if beleaguered—professionals who were doing important work. Although their identity work helped bridge cultural differences and promoted feelings of closeness between the groups, it did so by deflecting and masking inequalities in their structural positions. I show how these inequalities and the reluctance of teachers and school administrators to acknowledge them ultimately eroded their sense of solidarity and undermined their efforts to maintain a shared moral identity.
This article discusses the concept of zikui harabim (granting merit to the many) and attempts to show how it motivates and animates the religious renewal movements in Judaism (the teshuvah movements). I argue that zikui harabim is produced by "cycles of teshuva" in which the "repentant" person engages in facilitating the "return" of others to religious practice, even before he or she has undertaken the rigorous observance of religious commandments. I suggest that calculating rationality, often considered one of the hallmarks of modernity, is manifest in the teshuvah movement, as many teshuvah clients and entrepreneurs regard commandments, implicitly and explicitly, as a kind of currency they can amass for their own benefit. By so doing, I demonstrate how zikui harabim embeds a modern-capitalist logic, thereby showing how modernity manifests itself in religious revivalism.
Luxville, a neighborhood in lower Manhattan in New York City, is mostly white, native, and wealthy. But when taking the workforce into account it is far more diverse, with immigrants filling most of the personal service jobs. Conventional assumption suggests that residents and immigrant service workers in Luxville would have little interpersonal contact, never mind sense of community, with one another. However, context-specific factors have aided the cultivation of a definition of community there that is unexpectedly inclusive of local immigrant workers, giving both immigrants and residents a sense of belonging. This paper, which is based on extensive ethnographic research, explores factors that create this inclusive community. The degree to which immigrants are incorporated in the neighborhood, however, is minimal, as they occupy a stratified and marginalized position. Immigrants’ belonging, therefore, is largely symbolic.
Much work has been done in recent decades to emphasize the need in ethnographic writing to grapple with questions of authorship, perspective, aesthetics, emotional resonance, and style. Various forms of reflexive ethnographic writing, and especially autoethnography, have opened up new expressive avenues. In this article, I argue that a figure who is at present poorly known in English-language social scientific circles, the French ethnographer, poet, and writer Michel Leiris (1901–1990), pushes this kind of autobiographical ethnographic writing forward in powerful ways. In brief, Leiris offers a powerfully effective method (which I call poésie auto-socioanalytique) that ties subjective experience into a larger objective structural framework via a method that (1) focuses on cultural meaning in an autobiographical experiential framework, that is, from the inside, (2) is expressly concerned with the role that language itself plays in meaning and memory, and (3) examines extraordinary situations in which one stands, temporarily, outside the normal interactional world in an existential frame of peculiar intensity and effervescence (the ek-static), and uses the Durkheimian conception of the sacred–profane opposition, along with the binary differentiation of the sacred into pure and impure varieties, as a structural theoretical tool for these descriptions. He makes an important contribution to ongoing discussions in the disciplines of cultural anthropology and cultural sociology concerning the interpretation and description of cultural meaning.
The number of older adults living alone in Western societies has steadily increased. Despite this trend, little is known about the overall experience of this population. In this article, I examine the condition of living alone in old age in urban America by drawing upon two years of participant observation and ethnographic interviews with older Americans living alone, as well as with participant observation. Findings contribute to the literature on inequality, with particular attention to the theory of cumulative disadvantage over the life course. First I reveal the reasons that make living alone in old age a unique condition. Then I discuss four profiles of older adults living alone based on observed empirical patterns: the resourceful, the precarious, the segregated, and the gated elite. A comparison of these profiles suggests that intra-cohort inequalities stem from the combination of resources available and degree of intergenerational integration.
The recording studio has been somewhat neglected as a site for ethnographic fieldwork in the field of ethno-musicology and, moreover, the majority of published studies tend to overlook the specific concerns faced by the researcher within these contexts. Music recording studios can be places of creativity, artistry, and collaboration, but they often also involve challenging, intimidating, and fractious relations. Given that recording studios are, first and foremost, concerned with documenting musicians’ performances, we discuss the concerns of getting studio interactions "on record" in terms of access, social relations, and methods of data collection. This article reflects on some of the issues we faced when conducting our fieldwork within British music recording facilities and makes suggestions based on strategies that we employed to address these issues.
This paper examines how a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Christians resurrected patriarchal patterns of gender inequality in their local church. On the basis of more than 450 hours of fieldwork, we analyze how a group of lesbian and gay members collaborated with a new pastor to transform an egalitarian, inclusive, and democratic organization into one characterized by the elevation of men and the subordination of women via restricting leadership to men, instituting a gendered division of labor, and discrediting women dissidents. In so doing, the pastor and his supporters, regardless of their intentions, collaboratively reproduced patriarchal practices that facilitated the subordination of women. We conclude by suggesting that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between gains for LGBT organizations and gains for women, and we outline implications for understanding how retrenchment from egalitarian practice can undo gender-equality gains.
Doing PhD is a "black box." While inputs, outputs, and milestones are visible, there is a sizeable gap in our understanding of candidates’ lived experiences. This may cause some academic advisors to erroneously assume their students’ experiences are necessarily comparable to their own, and to proceed accordingly. But lived experiences vary enormously, and this autoethnographic study aims to problematize and pluralize the PhD experience by offering a look into the "black box" of one mature-age distance-education student’s lived experience in Australia. Methodologically, the paper innovates by blending reflective, autoethnographic writing with critical analysis of contemporary, self-authored travel zines (akin to low-tech blogging). This exemplifies a suggested middle way between Anderson’s evocative and analytic dichotomy in autoethnography. While the candidate’s development of criticality and confidence are evident, the zines also document confidence-crushing anxiety and burnout as underexplored embodied effects of PhD study, and intersections of candidature and embodiment are also considered.
Drawing on a participant observation at a 2011 slut walk, I use elements of autoethnography to investigate issues and divisions in contemporary feminism. Slut walks emerged as a form of feminist protest early in 2011 when a police officer remarked that women should stop dressing like sluts if they did not want to be victimized, spurring a global mobilization promoting ideas such as "sexual profiling" and "slut shaming." As quickly as the slut walks spread, critiques also emerged. In this essay, I explore the critiques of claiming slut as an empowering identity through my own experiences. I present five scenarios from the protest as a way of examining ideas such as "inverted" generational disidentification, the legitimization of patriarchal and feminist gazes, the articulation and silencing of women’s and girls’ sexual desire, social movement spillover, and the continuation of racial divides in North American feminism.
Research on new immigrant incorporation and schooling inequalities has almost entirely neglected the experiences of schooling for children of immigrants in new destinations. Additionally, while the ethnographic literature on children of immigrants focuses on high school students, recent studies show that patterns of minority achievement deficit become set in significant ways by middle school. Using participant observation, this study investigates the experiences of immigrant and second-generation Mexican American youth in a small-town Pacific Northwest junior high school in order to understand their low academic achievement when compared with the U.S.-born Anglo youth at the school. Building on the segmented assimilation model and stratification literature on minority youth in school, this study finds that the school community marginalizes Mexican American students. This study highlights how marginalization in school for Mexican American youth is not limited to the urban high school setting, and that school factors across different contexts persist in creating academic disadvantage for Mexican American youth and especially for boys.
Drawing from eleven months of ethnographic fieldwork, this article examines the distinctive interplay between the urban landscape, children living on the street, and outreach organizations in the downtown area of Lima, Peru. Outreach organizations, discourses surrounding children on the street, and research play a significant role in shaping the streetscape, and in the creation and maintenance of a street child identity. Merging Soja’s theory of Thirdsapce with theories of identity development and performance, I examine the lives of adolescents on the street and the spaces in which children explore, adopt, and develop an attachment to street life and a street child identity.
Parkinson’s disease is a disabling, chronic condition with an uncertain trajectory. It disrupts taken-for-granted routines and biographical expectations among sufferers and spousal caregivers alike. Biographical disruption and biographical work are guiding frameworks among researchers studying the experiences of people with chronic illness. Time is a fundamental component of biographical trajectories, but little research explicitly engages George Herbert Mead’s nonlinear theory of time to make sense of biographies. Using qualitative interviews with eight caregivers and participant observation with a Parkinson’s support group, this paper shows how Mead’s conception of time allows for a fluid, processual understanding of biography. My research suggests that caregivers do biographical and time work when a spouse is ill. They reinterpret the past, present, and future to sustain biographical continuity and a meaningful sense of self and other.
How do individuals maintain a sense of efficacy and purpose in the face of high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty? In research on medical uncertainty, sociologists often discuss the strategies health practitioners employ to control uncertainties relating to diagnosis and treatment. Over six months of ethnographic field work at an autism-only therapy school, we observed seventy-five students and forty-seven instructors and formally interviewed ten instructors and four parents. While other studies on medical uncertainty have focused on controls over external circumstances, we demonstrate that another management strategy is for individuals to perform ethical work on themselves in order to adjust how they conduct themselves in uncertain situations. Despite the ambiguity of both the autism diagnosis and the therapeutic method employed at the school, instructors are able to maintain a sense of efficacy and to recognize themselves as "doing floortime" by transforming themselves to become "child directed."
The evangelical crisis pregnancy center (CPC) movement demonstrates both low rates of success and robust support from evangelicals. I draw upon three theoretical frameworks—subcultural identity, organizational solidarity, and doing religion—to explain this seeming paradox. Data stem from a study of this pro-life/antiabortion movement and include fieldwork observations in seven CPCs, thirty-eight semistructured interviews, and analysis of primary and secondary documents. Empirically, evangelicals’ commitment to CPCs is tied to three aspects of subcultural identity: emphasis on intrinsic meanings of success, solidarity among evangelical organizations, and understandings of activism as an identity marker. These findings suggest that evangelicals are doing religion through their activism, making action and identity mutually reinforcing, and insulating activists from forces that might otherwise hinder religious identity. Theoretically, these results indicate that subcultural identity theory should be modified to acknowledge organizational solidarity as a form of religious action and the mutually reinforcing relationship between action and identity as the process of doing religion.
Often scholars identify the cocaine industry as a principal source of violence and conflict in different parts of urban and rural Latin America. As the ethnographical research in the Peruvian Upper Huallaga demonstrated, the mere presence of an illicit economy, in itself, does not always cause violence. In the Upper Huallaga’s rural areas, new Peruvian small-scale firmas established forms of power and domination. This article provides a broader understanding of the relationship within the local cocaine industry between those running it (the drugs bosses or patrones) and the population. It focuses on the realities of life in these villages, where the cocaine trade, far from being only an economical system, dominated social relationships and networks. Most incidents of violence were closely related to the diminishing cocaine industry, but were also related to the actions or the lack of actions of the state security forces.
In this article, I explore the characteristics of the informal social hierarchy within the skateboard subculture as well as how the elite members maintain their power and status within the subculture. Drawing from Fox’s detailed mapping of the punk subculture and Thornton’s reworking of Bourdieu’s cultural capital, I investigate how skateboarders distinguish themselves from the "mainstream" and from one another. The informal social hierarchy of skateboarding is a continuum that stretches from the outsiders to the core, and various identities mark distinctive statuses or levels of "authenticity" along this continuum. Focusing on how one gains status within the subculture, I argue that through socialization elite skateboarders are able to reproduce beyond their finite numbers, reproduce the dominant understanding of "authenticity," and maintain the current hierarchical structure within the subculture.
Propelled by the globalization of work opportunities in the Global South, thousands of Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) 1.5- and second-generation migrants are "returning" to Vietnam to find skilled work. Through a global ethnography in urban Ho Chi Minh City, this article illustrates how these diasporic "returnees" negotiate their contentious relationship with their nonmigrating, often poorer extended family. My research contributes to the migrant gift giving and reciprocity literature by examining the many ways that "return" migration can create tensions and ambiguity within existing transnational family remittance relationships across borders. The increased presence of diasporic "return" migrants also prompts scholars to reconsider the durability of transnational family ties across the generations, as face-to-face encounters reveal how class, generation, age hierarchy, and gender can create micro-level axes of difference and distancing.
Responsibilization has been seen as a major technique for society’s governing of troublesome youth, yet few previous studies have investigated responsibilization in practice. This article explores a behavior modification program at a youth detention home, specifically how involved self-assessment practices can be conceptualized as a responsibilization strategy (aimed at producing free and self-governing subjects). The study documents and explicates this complex discursive setting, where responsibilization practices are combined with rigorous control. Drawing on video-ethnographic methods, the analyses explore how responsibilization is attempted and resisted in interaction. Institutional rules and manuals were used by residents both to enact resistance and to position themselves as responsibilized, in which self-assessment practices make out a kind of technology of the self (Foucault). Further, the study concludes that both staff and residents at times strategically positioned residents as children, something that ultimately could be conceptualized as both parties jointly enacting resistance in response to the dilemmatic discursive setting.
While a growing body of literature addresses the experience of migrant women’s involvement in self-employment, this work has focused on relatively few groups and has emphasized gender to the neglect of other contextual factors, such as family, class and ethnic resources, structures of opportunity and the nature of migrants’ relations with networks in countries of origin and settlement. In this article, I draw on multi-sited ethnography to explore Vietnamese, Russian-speaking Jewish, and Israeli women immigrants’ patterns of self-employment. Results suggest that contrary to being an end in itself, in most cases self-employment is simply a strategy that immigrant women engage in to obtain income while coping with an array of opportunities, impediments, and obligations framed by the structure of opportunities and disadvantages as well as transnational concerns.
An impressive array of literature acknowledges the role of family members, friends, neighbors, and community institutions as rich resources of social capital which poor African American parents utilize in the collective socialization of their children. How parents access, mobilize, and deploy family and community-based social capital in resource-deprived communities for the social benefit of their children has been well documented. Yet, little is known about the challenges poor parents face raising troubled youth, particularly African American boys, when they are unable to generate social capital within their social network of family members, friends, neighbors, and community institutions to assist with raising their children. How do low-income African American parents raise troubled youth in disadvantaged communities when there are few resources of social support to draw upon? What strategies do parents use when they have exhausted and depleted their social capital? Drawing on three years of ethnographic field observations and multiple in-depth interviews with parents of pre-delinquent African American boys, this article examines how African American parents living in an impoverished African American community in New York City rely on the juvenile justice system, particularly juvenile confinement, as a parenting strategy. The findings suggest the need for alternatives to juvenile confinement and additional social support resources that can assist parents with parenting troubled youth.
Drawing on fieldwork developed between 2003 and 2011, this article examines the expansion of genetically modified (GM) crops in Argentina and its consequences, namely, cases of pesticide drifts affecting rural communities. I compare cases in which peasants in northern Argentina protested against pesticide drifts (in 2003) to cases in which they did not react contentiously when facing environmental contamination (2009). I analyze these cases to address three issues that have not received enough attention in the scholarship on GM crops: First, the articulation of multiple scales, ranging from global to local; second, the variation within subordinate actors and their responses, oscillating between resistance and adaptation; and third, the environmental problems brought about by agricultural biotechnology, specifically the use of agrochemicals and its negative consequences. An ethnographic approach to GM crops can shed light on how the global project of agricultural biotechnology looks like when seen "from the ground."
This paper begins from a paradox. In the 1980s and 1990s, women became increasingly mobile, especially in the developing world. Scholars generally attribute this shift to global economic pressure or to the spread of (Western) gender egalitarianism. Yet, in some places, women gained mobility just as local institutions extended policies excluding them or segregating them from men. Here, we look at two such cases: first, how women of Tehran, Iran, became the majority of bus riders just as the city segregated public transportation, and second, how women in the rural, Mexican village of San Pedro came to predominate among emigrants to the United States, even as they were excluded from participating in village politics. We use what we call "linked ethnographies" to put these two cases into dialogue. While attending to the particularities of each site, we find that in both, women gained mobility through the very policies that appeared to confine or exclude them. We call these policies "patriarchal accommodations." They were patriarchal, because they enshrined formal gender difference associated with male dominance. They were accommodations, because they adapted existing standards of "appropriate" masculinity and femininity to global economic pressure, enabling women to work, study, and consume. We argue that patriarchal accommodations may facilitate women’s entry into the public sphere, particularly in non-Western regimes.
This article examines the relations between the characteristics of a space and the phenomenology of its residents, as well as the unique influence of the space on the social relations and the actions undertaken by the individuals and groups in it. It is based on ethnographies and in-depth interviews conducted at the Israeli ultra-orthodox town of Immanuel, which made the headlines on account of the ethnic selection carried out there, a scandal known as the "Israeli Brown Affair." The ethnographic findings point to the dramatic heterogeneity of Immanuel’s population and to the quite overt disregard that the different groups show one another. In the interviews, Immanuel was explicitly defined as an "other place," and a dialectic was reported between the invisibility of the space (referred to as its being "terra non grata") and its visibility at times of crisis (terror attacks and ethnic selection). The interviews also highlighted the "paradoxicality" of the space (the simultaneous presence of cultural discrimination alongside expressions of resistance). In order to attain a nuanced understanding of space at Immanuel, Foucault’s (1986) concept of heterotopia is introduced. Moreover, given the different interpretations of the space offered by members of the different groups, the concept of multiple heterotopias is posited. The conclusion points to the complex relations between space, heterogeneity, and everyday life.
The creation of this poem came about as I attempted to conflate both the predominantly African refugees’ experience in Sicily, those to which things happen, with that of the researcher, the one who watches, waits, and records. Many of the refugees endure seemingly endless and horrendous sea voyages to arrive on the island. One can see the refugees everywhere, in so many different settings, as they attempt to negotiate their new home. One never really belongs. Neither they nor I. The title of the poem is the Italian word for "flag" and is my attempt to show the reality of the new arrivals: they will learn the Italian language and develop additional loyalties, while remaining true to their homeland. The disenfranchised, the forgotten, and the displaced are the predominant themes in my work and if one looks closely, one can see it everywhere. For this poem, I sifted through copious amounts of data and extracted themes, recorded bits of overheard conversation, read "official " reports of what is being done for the refugees by agencies contracted to do so and then connected them with my own feelings of my work. This is a pastiche or bricolage reflecting the fragmented process of not only recording the daily mental and physical situation of the refugees, but my own insecurities and, sometimes, guilt in doing so. Laurel Richardson has spoken of (lyric) poetry’s ability to "concretize emotions, feelings and moods—the most private kind of feelings—so as to create experience itself to another person." My aim is to explicate my and the refugees experience(s) in the most truthful and artful way possible.
Tirohanga Whānui (Abstract): Traditional knowledge systems have been at the core of our existence as indigenous peoples since time immemorial. As an oral/aural-based society, our ancestors frequently engaged in opportunities to not only test their knowledge at different times and in different situations but also to recall knowledge through the art of story-telling. This paper seeks to (re)position autoethnography from an indigenous perspective. This will be achieved by referring to autoethnography as a culturally informed research practice that is not only explicit to Māori ways of knowing but can be readily validated and legitimated as an authentic "Native" method of inquiry. Grounded within a resistance-based discourse, indigenous autoethnography aims to address issues of social justice and to develop social change by engaging indigenous researchers in rediscovering their own voices as "culturally liberating human-beings." Implicit in this process is also the desire to ground one’s sense of "self" in what remains "sacred" to us as indigenous peoples in the world we live, and in the way we choose to construct our identity, as Māori.
The Red Hat Society (RHS) is a relatively new and international women’s network that offers "fun" and "friendship" specifically for women over fifty. Its members, the Red Hatters, are easily recognized in the streets by their red hats and otherwise purple attire, giving the RHS its unique flavor of leisure combined with expressive public performance. In this article, we use interviews and observations to study how the fun experiences aimed at by the RHS are articulated with negotiations of gender and age. Our analysis directed us toward a contradictory and multilayered expression of feminism and femininity entrenched in RHS performance. While some of the Red Hatters explicitly identified with feminism using RHS performance as a means to "undo" gender, others identified more with traditional femininity, using it to "do" gender instead. We introduce the concept of "radical femininity" to show how the Red Hatters continuously negotiate the volatile space between these two broad societal discourses that position women in contradictory ways. Furthermore, we show how Red Hatters draw upon fantasy as embodied in play to negotiate this space.
The precise ways in which we go about the mundane, repetitive, social actions of everyday life are central concerns of ethnographers and theorists working within the traditions of the sociology of the mundane and sociological phenomenology. In this article, we utilize insights derived from sociological phenomenology and the newly developing field of sensory sociology to investigate a particular, mundane, and embodied social practice, that of training for distance running in specific places: our favored running routes. For, despite a growing body of ethnographic studies of particular sports, little analytic attention has been devoted to the actual, concrete practices of "doing" or "producing" sporting activity, particularly from a sensory ethnographic perspective. Drawing upon data from a 2-year joint autoethnographic research project, here we explore the visual dimension, focusing upon three key themes in relation to our runners’ visualization of, respectively, (1) hazardous places, (2) performance places, (3) the time–space–place nexus.
Despite a well-established literature on the sociology of sex work and sociology of sex and place, currently we know very little about how and why sex workers choose to work on the streets that they do. Using the case study of a city in upstate New York and drawing upon Michel de Certeau’s (1984) theory of spatial patterns, this study builds on these literatures by discussing the importance of place and space in relation to sex work, namely how and why sex workers choose their locations for business. Data are drawn from semistructured interviews with female and male sex workers, police officers, and an outreach worker. The findings reveal the ways in which these spaces of street sex work are reworked by sex workers in response to strategies imposed by the police, community residents, and others. Within these spaces, sex workers employ a number of tactics to maximize business and minimize detection, arrest, and violence from clients and other sex workers. Directions for future research are also discussed.
It is commonly assumed that successful ethnographers strive for insider status and avoid being regarded as an outsider. Very often and especially within criminology, an ethnographer’s ability to gain the trust of research participants is linked to his or her degree of similarity to them, particularly with respect to gender. By describing the research dynamics between an all-male group of second-generation immigrants in Frankfurt/Germany, the "gatekeepers" and myself—a female researcher of different socioeconomic and ethnic background—I suggest that being an outsider in general and a female in particular is not a liability one necessarily needs to overcome. I propose that achieving status as an outsider trusted with "inside knowledge" may provide the ethnographer with a different perspective and different data than that potentially afforded by insider status.
This paper examines transition rituals and activities of Norwegian Russ (youth graduating from high school). Drawing on observations, archival and in-depth interview data collected over six years, we make two important findings. First, through their creative participation in traditional rituals Russ develop and share their own collective identity while also contributing to civic society more generally. Second, intergenerational relations play a central role in the Russ experience and through their activities with younger children and adults Russ reflect on their own temporal positions in the generational order. Our analysis contributes to better understanding of the changing nature of the symbolic value of Russ in Norwegian society, debate about the growing commercialization of youth traditions and activities in a global economy, and the complexity of the liminal aspect of rites of transition.
Ethnographers have long been concerned with how individuals and groups live out life in social spaces. As the Internet increasingly frames lived experiences, researchers need to consider how to integrate data from online spaces into "traditional" ethnographic research. Drawing from two ethnographic studies, we explain how online spaces were needed to more fully understand the physical environments and issues we studied. In addition to discussing how we were led online, we present ethnographic data to demonstrate the epistemological importance of considering online spaces. While traditional methods of ethnography (i.e., in-person observations and informal interviews) continue to be useful, researchers need to reconceptualize space as well as what counts as valuable interactions, and how existing (and new) tools can be used to collect data. We argue that studying a group of people in their "natural habitat" now includes their "online habitat." We conclude with a call for ethnographers to consider how digital spaces inform the study of physical communities and social interactions.
In this article, we investigate interactional processes—the gendered construction and negotiation of creditable identities—that lend themselves to differential sentencing outcomes. Based on observations in two courts in North Carolina, we argue that defense attorneys attempt to construct identities of defendants as worthy of leniency. They do so by developing gendered narratives that cast men as good workers, good providers, and as victims of the actions of others and women as good mothers/caretakers and dependent. These identity talk strategies enable defense attorneys, often with the help of their clients, to negotiate the identity of criminal defendants and mitigate the consequences of being labeled. This creates tangible incentives (i.e., nonactive or lesser sentences) for defendants to cooperate in these gendered performances, but has the unintended consequence of reproducing the hegemonic gender order.
This paper examines weddings, which are rife with gendered conventions, as a window into processes of gender (re)production. More specifically, it addresses the theoretical question of the relationships among dimensions of gender—individual, interactional, and institutional—via ethnographic data evidencing both consistency and contradiction among levels. While there is evidence that the institutional dimension is reflected in individuals’ assumptions regarding what a wedding should be, and this leads to reproduction of convention in the interactional dimension, I also find ways in which the institutional dimension is inconsistent with individuals’ understandings and their gendered relationships. I identify these inconsistencies as "visibility cues" that make assumptions evident and allow for alternative gender performances. In all, this research answers calls for a more complex understanding of gender as multidimensional and provides an analytic tool for continuing this work, while utilizing a micro-level focus that complements existing studies of the inequality inherent in the American "white wedding."
Based on thirty months of ethnographic fieldwork in a violence-ridden, low-income district located in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, this article examines the state’s presence at the urban margins and its relationships to widespread depacification of poor people’s daily life. Contrary to descriptions of destitute urban areas in the Americas as either governance voids deserted by the state or militarized spaces firmly controlled by the state’s iron fist, this article argues that law enforcement in Buenos Aires’s high-poverty zones is intermittent, selective, and contradictory. By putting the state’s fractured presence at the urban margins under the ethnographic microscope, the article reveals its key role in the perpetuation of the violence it is presumed to prevent.
"Friendship as method" is a relatively underexplored—and often unacknowledged—method, even within ethnographic inquiry. In this article, we consider the use of friendship as method in general, and situate this in relation to a specific ethnographic research project, which examined the lived experience of asthma amongst sports participants. The study involved researching individuals with whom the principal researcher had prior existing friendships. Via forms of confessional tales we explore some of the challenges encountered when attempting to negotiate the demands of the dual researcher-friend role, particularly during in-depth interviews. To illustrate our analysis, four sets of tales are examined, cohering around issues of: (1) attachment and when to "let go"; (2) interactional "game-play"; (3) "rescuing" participants; and (4) the need for researcher self-care when "things get too much." The need to guard against merger with research participants-as-friends is also addressed. In analysing the tales, we draw upon insights derived from symbolic interactional analyses and in particular upon Goffman’s theoretical frameworks on interactional encounters.
Transitioning from single to married or married to divorced has notable effects on women’s sexuality. In some cases, transitions lead to greater sexual subjectivity by enhancing women’s sexual confidence and sense of entitlement to pleasure. In others, transitions inhibit women’s sexual agency and women feel disconnected from their sexual selves. In this paper, I explore how marriage and divorce function as turning points in women’s construction of sexuality. Based on in-depth interviews with seventy-one heterosexual women, I examine how they experience marriage, separation, and divorce and how their interactions with husbands inhibit or bolster their sexual self-confidence and understandings. My findings reveal that relationships and significant others had the greatest impact on women’s sexual subjectivity. Generation influenced whether or not marriage was a turning point in women’s sexuality and divorce sometimes led to increased sexual subjectivity. Furthermore, women who entered relationships with cumulative disadvantages because of previous negative sexual experiences defined relationship transitions as turning points in their sexuality.
In their studies of doctors and hospitals, ethnographers have shown that medicine is practiced in local contexts. They have not, however, fully explored the processes involved when medical practitioners move between clinical settings. This article contributes to the study of medical work by looking at the adjustments international medical graduates must make to practice in Australian hospitals. These doctors are interesting to study ethnographically because, like many skilled migrants, they encounter workplaces similar, and simultaneously unfamiliar, to those they have known before. Drawing on the work of Merleau-Ponty, I develop the concept of "adjustment" as a movement between habit and the moment. My findings reveal how adjustment is both discursive and bodily, tied up with status and performance. Also, by focusing on the adjustments of migrant doctors, my study highlights the taken-for-granted aspects of medical practice and the environmentally situated nature of medical work.
Swift transport used to be the predominant way ambulance services provided care. During the past few decades, advanced information and communication technologies have increased the amount of patient information that ambulance crews can transmit to hospitals. The ambulance service has thus, in principle, been transformed from a swift transport unit into a complex information-gathering unit. The new telemedicine technologies available to crews are linked to demands concerning organizational changes and alterations in work procedures that challenge traditional ways of providing "good" ambulance care. In this article, we draw on both ethnographic observations and concepts from the field of science and technology studies to demonstrate how established work practices and complex local situations format the ambulance crews’ use of information-gathering technologies. We highlight how ambulance crews employ strategies of localization, including taming and deliberate nonuse of telemedicine technologies, to align these technologies with their established stance about how everyday ambulance care is best implemented.
This article uses data from a four-year ethnographic study of off-road driving enthusiasts to investigate the potential of leisure consumption to organize collective action. I analyze a serious-leisure community’s efforts to secure a place in the future for the culture of its constituency and suggest that this collective action reflects the increasing significance of consumption as a foundation of personal and collective identity in contemporary society. These Jeep people perceived themselves as facing negative stereotypes that constituted an existential threat to their personal and collective identities, which demanded access to natural areas for their maintenance and articulation. Drawing on theoretical insights from literatures on community, consumption, and the identity politics of new social movements, I analyze Jeepers’ efforts to overcome negative stereotypes through identity work and impression management in the public realm. My findings offer empirical support to theoretical claims that new forms of community can foster benefits to individuals and groups that are similar—and perhaps functionally equivalent—to those generated by traditional forms of community; these off-road driving enthusiasts challenge pessimistic assumptions about the capacity of leisure consumption to inspire the commitment and public-sphere activity characteristic of "genuine" communities.
In this article, we show what surgical training looks like in situ. Drawing on fieldwork in a London hospital, we explore how a trainer and trainee jointly achieve surgical care when the trainee holds the scalpel. We make this common pedagogic arrangement visible through transcription and analysis of audio- and video-recorded interaction in the operating theater. Through moment-by-moment analysis of the temporal unfolding of action and speech, we show that the actions performed by the trainee with the scalpel serve as mini-gestures, signaling to the trainer where and when the trainee is going to cut. The trainer "reads" these gestures and prompts the trainee to continue or change his course of action through spoken utterances. We use our ethnographic account as a detailed empirical point of reference for reflecting on the challenges and possibilities of surgical education and patient safety in the operating theater.
In this autoethnography I provide a reflective-reflexive account of my search for an(other) identity following my move from my native Bavaria to North West England. It is a story of contradiction and uncertainty, which addresses issues of national identity and cultural adaptation. I offer a human portrait of how I experienced the interaction of agency and structure in my endeavor to become British and how I became embroiled in a moral, ethical, and emotional turmoil of conflicting imperatives. The key themes, through which I make explicit the struggle to create a coherent narrative of my self in relation to experiences of belonging, difference, and attachment in social, cultural, and political spaces, are departure and arrival, border crossing, and a disoriented self in transit. In presenting this multilayered account, I employ the technique of performance frames in the form of three literary categories, epic, drama and lyric, through which I revisit critical events and elucidate the gradual process of bringing my innermost feelings and thoughts to the surface. By weaving a rich tapestry of evocative, analytical, and theoretical materials I make explicit the complexities involved in autoethnographic research. Through inviting others to embark with me on this inner journey, I seek to assist those who find themselves similarly suspended in liminal spaces and to engender empathy and understanding among those who act as hosts toward border crossers like myself. Ultimately, I hope that my autoethnography provides a communicative, potentially subversive space, which invites critical reflection and discussion on the intersectionality of collective identities and thereby promotes individuals’ freedom to choose, negotiate, and translate their cultural identities freely regardless of their cultural, social, or ethnic origins.
Based on my ethnographic research in Contra Costa County, California (CCC), I propose a new way of examining and comparing welfare-to-work programs. I argue that within the confines of welfare reform, the best programs—those with the greatest benefits for recipients—provide welfare-reliant women with significant economic, social, and cultural capital. In addition to making such capital available, these programs deploy the dominant and subjugated capital participants already possess in order to effectively transmit the dominant capital most likely to lead to success in the labor market. I argue that empowering programs, including CCC’s, are successful in transmitting dominant capital to participants, while repressive ones focus on pushing women off the welfare rolls rather than preparing them for "self-sufficiency."
Drawing on participant observation of a high-end restaurant, I examine how work group culture and discourse are formulated through the organization of space and time. To date, scholars have typically divided the study of space and time into two separate fields of inquiry, but the two constructs are intimately integrated. I use a natural ethnographic experiment, observing two different kitchen regimes while keeping the space and occupational pressures constant, to illustrate that groups can arrange time and space according to local cultures. My findings reveal that internally created pressures (i.e., chefs creating constraints via their managerial style) combined with external demands influence both how restaurant workers use the kitchen space during particular moments and what forms of speech they deem acceptable in those spaces and times. My study demonstrates the social organization of time and space, particularly in the context of a restaurant kitchen.
In 2009, Pride came to Dixieville. In this unlikely Southern city, 350 people participated in a Pride march to advocate for improved social conditions for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens. Drawing on ethnographic interviews and observations, I reveal that this march did not fit with the contentious politics model of social movements which defines protest tactics as those that target the state for political/legal change. My findings indicate that the march served primarily as a powerful cultural statement enacted by LGBT community advocates. Guided by Verta Taylor’s framework of contestation, intentionality, and collective identity, I explain why the march participants viewed Pride as the most effective means to advocate for LGBT people despite its dissimilarity with state-targeted tactics. I also demonstrate how Pride answered the specific challenges faced by LGBT people in their city by enacting resistance to what participants understood as a damaging cultural cycle of hostility and invisibility. Finally, I show that this cultural protest tactic had rich symbolic meaning that went beyond the predictions of social movement research. Insights from this research can (and should) be applied to study tactics that target nonstate actors but tend to fall outside the scope of social movement research.
Although prior studies on robbery decision making have explored how offenders manipulate fear in the coercive process, research has paid little attention to the issue as it relates to carjacking. The gap is significant given that carjacking requires offenders to neutralize victims who are inherently mobile and who can use their vehicles as both weapons and shields. Based on qualitative interviews with 24 active carjackers, the present paper explores this issue and the data’s grounded-theoretic significance for coercive decision making in predatory social exchange. In particular, the article examines fear as an essential intervening variable that links threat to compliance. It also explores how offenders manipulate the "severity" dimension of threat to influence the certainty and celerity of compliance. The approach taken here offers an advancement in the study of coercion and a refinement of the compliance generation process itself.
Illicit drug traders are more likely to be victimized because they cannot report crimes committed against them to the police. Their inability to access law is seen as a major precipitating factor in retaliatory violence. But, as we demonstrate, sometimes victimized drug traders do ask for formal mediation. Based on evidence from prior research combined with experiences recounted to us in the course of interviewing twenty-five unincarcerated drug dealers, we propose a typology of how this happens. We suggest that victimized drug traders mobilize the police in four conceptually distinct ways: "BSing"; getting over; criminal concealment; and criminal disclosure. Our typology provides the empirical grounding for future work aimed at theorizing this behavior and for reducing retaliatory violence by enhancing victimized criminals’ access to law. We conclude by discussing the relevance of our "inconvenient" results for the broader ethnographic audience.