Part of the reading group discussion on lying, and specifically of ‘ten lies of ethnography’, by Gary Fine, published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and Peter Metcalf’s book took place last Friday in Amsterdam (Dina, Sarah and Anne). The discussion will continue here…
Metcalf’s book struck us all as a classic, a book to read and to reread, a book that would engage us in different ways at different times in our work. Not only is this book eminently well written, each of its sections is layered, bringing together a compelling narrative, an entry into debates in post-modern ethnography literature, as well as illustrating the links to be constructed between fieldwork and conceptual debates. This part of the discussion also led us to wonder: What is it about this book that makes it so ‘good to think with’, in dealing with issues of truth and epistemology?
We also found that issues of language and truth (How is writing a research plan lying?, asked Dina, or how can we think of ‘truth as a language game’, as Sarah formulated it) were perhaps least explicitly dealt with in the book–though we did find ways to extrapolate from its contents as to how Metcalf might address such issues.
Another theme we discussed was the evolution of the relationship to the field, over the course of one’s career. We also wondered: At what point can one write such a book? When, and on what basis, can a scholar engage in this kind of writing?
The disappearing field was also striking in this account. How often do we hear that the pace of technological change is a particular challenge for ethnographers of contemporary culture? In the case of Borneo, ways of life are not standing still either, and this sense of urgency and fast-pace of internet researchers rather felt like a particular conceit, when reading Metcalfe’s descriptions of change.
We also briefly talked about Fine’s piece which considers ten ‘values’ that ethnographers are meant to enact, and related it to our discussion of Metcalfs’ book, in terms of the value of values. Enacting such values might take a different form in different settings (ie what it means to be honest can vary…). We also debated the following: what is at stake in maintaining or breaching such values?
These are some highlights of the discussion, with the questions underlying the discussion foregrounded–looking forward to hearing from the all readers on these or other points.