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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ethnography Otherwise: Interventions in Writing, Photography, and Sound in Mexico and Brazil

  • Author(s): Palau, Karina
  • Advisor(s): Rabasa, Jose
  • et al.

This dissertation takes up the question of what it means to read and practice ethnography otherwise. I study works by Gertrude Duby Blom, Fernando Benítez, and Héctor García of Mexico, as well as Mário de Andrade and Darcy Ribeiro of Brazil, to develop otherwise as both a way of thinking about experimental ethnographic practices and a prompt for re-reading materials produced in an ethnographic mode. Expanding on the idea that ethnographic works are `made, not found,' the chapters draw attention to ways that ethnographies inscribe traces of the multiple parties that participate in their production, while examining a series of twentieth-century ethnographic experiments by figures on the fringes of formal anthropology--an amateur photographer who takes tens of thousands of photographs in Lacandon indigenous communities in Chiapas (Blom); a Brazilian modernista writer and musicologist who approaches fieldwork as a listening practice and positions himself as an apprentice to his informants (Andrade); an ethnologist turned novelist who stages his novel like an unruly ethnographic archive (Ribeiro); and a journalist who sets out to study and document indigenous lifeways in Mexico on an almost epic scale (Benítez).

If critical ethnography scholarship has theorized the inherent ambivalence of ethnographic materials often in terms of a crisis of ethnographic authority and textualization--that is, as a problem of graphing cultures into written texts--then the readings here grapple with the intentionality of ethnographic materials themselves alongside the stories of the people who produce them. These case studies suggest that re-thinking the photographs, recordings, writings, and archives that are made ethnographic involves complicating the ethnographer's position of privilege and noticing what resists or escapes her intentions. Yet they also problematize a way of reading that can reinscribe that position of privilege, a reading practice in which the ethnographer becomes the focal point of ethnographic encounters and the party principally responsible for the making and re-making of ethnographic materials. The chapters that follow bring out a series of ethno-modalities--modes of ethnographic inscription and creation--that move across photography, writing, and audio-recording to consider the messiness of fieldwork, the excess of ethnographic records and archives, and the unpredictability and unruliness of ethnographic objects in terms of what they inscribe and produce.

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