Friday, July 23, 2010

Dugong: A Book's Structure, Ethnographic Books, Academic Books in Humanities, Virtual Worlds as Ethnography

Harbin ethnography:

... In so doing, it allows me to focus on Harbin as a whole, as Malinowski observes: “an Ethnographer who sets out to study only religion, or only technology, or only social organization cuts out an artificial field for inquiry, and he will be seriously handicapped in his work” (Malinowski 1922:11), - in addition to my particular interests here in the Harbin pools, clothing-optionalness, the influences of the 1960s / counterculture and virtuality, both actual and virtual.

A book's structure also influences ways in which information is shared. What does an academic book in the humanities do? In what ways, also, might an actual / virtual ethnography about Harbin Hot Springs, coming into conversation with Tom Boellstorff's book “Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human,” develop and / or transform this? How might an unique field site, and participant-observation research, come into conversation with an academic form to engage the academic form itself? The limitations and structure of an academic genre such as ethnography, and the anthropological paper or monograph, have great value. Anthropologists read Malinowski and other 'classic ethnographers,' for example, in order to learn approaches to ethnography without re-inventing the interpretive, ethnographic 'wheel.' Good ethnographic writing often includes: a guiding question; thesis statement; evocative description of the setting(s); methodology - what did you do and how?; evidence - excerpts from fieldnotes, quotes, information from documents, pictures, diagrams, etc.; data - how many people you interviewed, how many times you visited, how much material you have; portrayal of specific people, using pseudonyms if appropriate; your own positioning in your research; reflexivity - how you're representing all of the above; fairness of presentation, including counter-evidence where it exists and enough data for readers to draw their own conclusions without simply relying on your interpretations; a theoretical component; closure - implications of the research for practice or future study; bibliography; appendix (if relevant) (Dr. Julia Paley in … ). Good, ethnographic, virtual world building for anthropological study at present similarly engages the above elements and adds an aspect interactive multimedia - of group, virtual world building and avatar communication, for example - for ongoing field work, conversations, and the possibility to document developments in novel, digital forms, etc. What this anthropological book does is bring an ethnographic approach to actual Harbin into conversation with virtual Harbin world building to identify complementary new approaches to ethnography, engaging the limitations of the form of good ethnographic writing in the process, and by focusing on humans.

Consequently, I write about both actual and virtual Harbin in a slightly historicized manner, and both in the past and present tenses, and with an eye to the future, too (Le Guin 1985), with the production here of virtual Harbin, for ongoing focus on Harbin life vis-a-vis anthropological participant observation. …

( - July 23, 2010)

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