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Salvage Ethnography never ends Barry R.


One of the chief motivators for the development of ethnography, in the American experience, has been the desire to record the histories of non-literate societies before these societies and their cultures became extinct due to the incursions of western civilization and the affects of acculturation. Today, such a noble enterprise is seen as pass in the light of globalization. Besides, except for New Guinea and the Amazon Basin, where are we going to find a primitive tribe to study?

I live in Rhode Island, the home of industrialization in the United States where the waterpower from the Blackstone river provide the energy to build fortunes, and transform an agriculturally based economy into a powerhouse of manufacturing and its concomitant impact on the socio-economic-cultural life in the northeast United States in the 19th century. I am surrounded by the artifacts and architectural remains of that era. I have witnesses the decline o f such great industrial giants as Brown & Shape, Nicolson File, Gorham Silver and many smaller firms that fed and fed off of these companies and industries. Much of this has taken place over the past 40 years and the survivors, those worked for these institutions are, like the veterans of WWII dying off. Yet, except for a few business historians, no one is systematically engaged in salvaging this great period in American culture history and evolution.

In my applied ethnography career as a consultant and business coach I have often found myself engaged in a process of salvage ethnography in order to get a handle of the socio-cultural dynamic that have lead my client to the place we are when I have been engaged to help solve some problem. As any good consultant knows, the presenting problem is rarely the real cause of the problem facing the client. As I am approaching the end of my career I have collected a body of data about this changing period. Yet I have not found any outlet for publishing not interest in this material.

My question is: Has any anthropologist/ethnographer looked into this fruitful area of research? Are There others out there who feel the same about salvaging these dying institutions?