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Ethnographic methods in the
development context
Chandana Mathur
Department of Anthropology
NUI Maynooth
The invention of anthropological
 Bronislaw Malinowski
 Trobriand Islands
 Functional forms of explanation
 Franz Boas
 Among the Kwakiutl of the Pacific North West coast
 Challenged scientific racism by insisting on the
understanding of cultures in their context
“the ethnographic present”
 In the classical monographs of British
structural functionalism, e.g. Evans-Pritchard,
The Nuer
 In Boasian salvage ethnography
Challenges to the politics of
 Anthropology and the colonial encounter
 Feminist anthropology
 James Clifford and George Marcus, Writing
Culture: The Poetics and Politics of
 Also, all along, Marxist anthropologists
remained cognisant of global historical and
political economic processes
Puncturing “ethnographic authority”
 It is true that there has historically been an
unequal power relationship between
anthropologists and their “subjects”, as the
Writing Culture critique points out.
 But can it be solved stylistically, by the
crafting of “new ethnographies”?
Lila Abu-Lughod
 Fieldwork of a dutiful daughter leading to a
remarkable person-centred ethnography
 Writing against culture -- fieldwork by
“halfies” helps dissolve a hard-shelled
notion of culture
My doctoral fieldwork in small-town
How does it fit
 within the ebbs and flows of the discipline as
described here?
 into the context of research in developing
 Adapting classical ethnographic research
methods to formulate an anthropology in
 The fundamental insight of anthropological
political economy: that cultural processes in
our times cannot be understood without
reference to the symbols, structures and
practices of contemporary capitalism
Regarding anthropology and
Too often, the assumption is:
Culture is the missing piece in the
development puzzle, which anthropology
can provide
 This is an underlying assumption of
modernisation theory, from W.W. Rostow’s The
Stages of Economic Growth onwards.
 It is vital to see culture as process, a contested
process at that.
 People are not “culturally programmed robots”
(Abu-Lughod). Contemporary cultural struggles
are best understood in the context of the long
historical process of the making of the Global
Anthropologists have taken on the
concept of development itself
 James Ferguson, The Anti-Politics Machine
 Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development
Ferguson -- fieldwork in Lesotho
 Uses Foucault’s insight that ideas and discourses produce
material consequences.
 The discourse of development has constructed Lesotho as a
creature of the genus ‘less developed country’ with the following
 Aboriginal economy
 Peasant society
 National economy
 Governmentality.
 The Thaba Tseka rural development project is an intervention
based on these assumptions, which has the unintended effect of
extending bureaucratic state power.
Anthropology and Development
The task is to understand cultural struggles
in the context of the development process,
with scepticism about both “culture” and