Ethnosense: A “young ethnographers” project
I’m delighted to have just become aware of a relatively new blogging project that a group of “young ethnographers” have set up. At least one of these is a former student of the MAA program, Carlos Palacios, who is now doing his PhD at Macquarie Uni’s Centre for Research on Social Inclusion (CRSI).
The project is called “Ethnosense” and seems to be a group of students who have experienced working in cross-cultural settings. They don’t all necessarily seem to be anthropology students, but they share an enthusiasm for the power of ethnography, and fieldwork-like experiences more generally, to a new appreciation of difference. With a sort of evangelical enthusiasm their blog sets out to convey to the uninitiated the possibilities of doing ethnography, the insights it provides as well as some of the pitfalls. As the title of the blog suggests, the key is not learning a methodology by rote, but developing a particular sensibility to cultural difference.
An ethno-sense is something that you cannot develop in a quick trip to a developing country or in a short course of intercultural communication. It’s an integral understanding of why people do what they do in a certain way and not in other – especially when it’s not done in our way – an understanding that is most of the times either unspoken, hidden or encoded across multiple layers of cultural meaning and social life. Languages, customs, rituals and manners all belong to a cultural code that is hard to penetrate and that takes time to learn.
So, you must be thinking, “ethnographic sounds complicated”, and to a certain degree it is. Not everyone has an ethno-sense. An ethno-sense is more than understanding another culture, it’s also understanding that one’s common sense is part of a culture, as strange and particular as any other. But it is still possible for anyone to develop such a sensibility. Currently, many people are in fact doing that through different cross-cultural programs of international aid, development tourism, volunteering abroad, educational tours, etc. And even if you have not gone through any of this sort of programs, but you have been able to reflect critically about what is considered to be “normal” among your peers, if you have thought at some point that your own customs, routines, beliefs and even values are somewhat peculiar or even exotic, in other words, if you have been able to defamiliarize your own culture, then, you have for sure started to develop an ethno-sense.
Most of the posts seem to be written from the perspective of personal experience, reflections on the process of cultural immersion and disengagement and so on. As a method of both working through their own experiences and giving readers a “sense” of what it is to do anthropology, I think it’s a really great project.
One small gripe that I have with the project is that the posters generally make use of their online tags or pseudonyms rather than being up front about who they are. Maybe they’re taking a leaf out of Third Tone Devil or Ali Adolf Wu’s book, but I would really like to see them using their real IDs. They’re writing good, interesting stuff there and should be proud to put their real names to it. Just saying.