A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[WRITING] “Anthropology as Theoretical Storytelling”

Savage Minds’ Carole McGranahan writes, with examples from her own work on Tibet, about how good anthropology is often also about effective story-telling.

Anthropologists are storytellers. We tell stories: other’s stories, our own stories, stories about other’s stories. But when I think about anthropology and storytelling, I think also of something else, of anthropology as theoretical storytelling.

What is anthropology as theoretical storytelling? Several things. A discipline engaged in explaining, understanding, and interpreting cultural worlds as well as in developing theoretical paradigms large and small for making and making sense of cultural worlds. This is not something new to anthropology. Looking across generations of anthropological scholarship, theoretical storytelling appears repeatedly. From Zora Neale Hurston’s tales and lies to Muchona the Hornet to the Balinese cockfight to Rashīd and Mabrūka and Fayga in Lila Abu-Lughod’s Veiled Sentiments and on and on. Stories stay with us. People stay with us. Esperanza. Adamu Jenitongo. Uma Adang. Gloria. Miss Tiny. Charles and Morley and Nick Thompson. Angela Sidney. Valck. Mr. Otis. Bernadette and Eugenia. Tashi Dhondup. And so many more. Anthropology as theoretical storytelling may be a method of narration by both ethnographer and subject, a means of organizing writing, a way of arguing certain ethnographic points, and an ethnographically-grounded way of approaching theory. This is not then a singular approach or description, but a term that captures a range of anthropological sensibilities and strategies.

As with many before me, in the field I found myself to be a recipient of stories. Yet not all was narrative. Some moments in the field were more staccato or fragmented, confusing or obscure; some were just talk about this or that, about the minutiae of everyday life or about nothing at all (and those are deeply cultural moments indeed). But many days included storytelling, official and not, and almost always told over shared food and drink. Some of these I asked to hear in the context of my research, and others people told me for other reasons known and unknown. Turning these stories into a written ethnography or a spoken one in the classroom involves analytical and narrative labor. This process is about both ideas and story.

More there.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 23, 2015 at 11:31 pm

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