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Record Type: Review   ID: 171

The End(s) of Ethnography: From Realism to Social Criticism

Clough, Patricia Ticineto

 This is both a poststructural criticism qualitative methodology and, in particular, of ethnographic narrative in anthropology and especially sociology. She set out to educate sociologists concerning the "so-called crisis of representation and the deconstruction of the subject" (p. xi) and their relevance to sociology. Her aim is to provide "a critical reading of the ethnographic tradition in sociology that explores the way ethnographic writing functions in the construction of the authority of sociological discourse," including the communication technologies of the mass media that the ethnographic tradition inscribes. She goes so far as to argue that not only can so-called empirical social science never provide understanding that is not mediated, but the realist narrativity it professes to provide is the result of "projected or displaced unconscious sexual desire" (p. xiii). In other words, the so-called factuality of ethnographic narratives is influenced by gender. On the back cover Norman K. Denzin says "it articulates a feminist imagination for the social sciences." She devotes a chapter each to the sociological approaches of Herbert Blumer, Howard Becker, and Erving Goffman, arguing that they were unconsciously informed by mass media communication technologies, such as "cinematic realism, an emotional realism (of television), and a commercial realism (of computer simulation)" (p. 8). The methodologies of these three I have considered as much more applicable to drawing out the meaning of exceptional experiences than the evidential/legalistic approach used by psychical researchers and ufologists, for example. This book presents a much different viewpoint of their work. In between these chapters are chapters on pre-oedipal narratives of Steven Spielberg and Toni Morrison and a chapter entitled "The Figure of Women in the Naturalist Machine." I cannot pretend to understand this book but I certainly can recommend it as a stimulus to thinking in new ways about much that we (i.e., anyone), not only ethnographers, take for granted. In closing, she calls for "a social criticism that gives up on data collection and instead offers rereadings of representations in every form of information processing, empirical science, literature, film, television, and computer simulation" (p. 137). Obviously included here are EHE autobiographies and ecperiential accounts. If I come to apply Clough’s argument to the latter, I will certainly make it known in this Journal!
Publisher Information:Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992. xiii + 142p. Chap. Bibl; Ind: 139-142
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