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International Journal of
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Critical ethnography: The


reflexive turn
Douglas E. Foley
Published online: 25 Nov 2010.

To cite this article: Douglas E. Foley (2002) Critical ethnography: The reflexive
turn, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 15:4, 469-490, DOI:
10.1080/09518390210145534
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QUALITATIVE STUDIES IN EDUCATION, 2002, VOL. 15, NO. 5, 469 490

Critical ethnography: the reexive turn


DOUGLAS E. FOLEY

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University of Texas, Austin

This paper explores the recent debates on ethnographic writing by explicating four types of
reexivity: confessional, theoretical, textual, and deconstructive. It then illustrates how the
author has incorporated such reexive practices into his recent ethnographies. The paper
generally advocates blending autobiography and ethnography into a ``cultural Marxist standpoint. This perspective also draws upon multiple epistemologies and feminist notions of science,
and it highlights the importance of writing in ordinary language. Such narrative experimentation aims to replace the old scientic ethnographic realist narrative style with a more reexive
realist narrative style. The author argues that reexive epistemological and narrative practices
will make ethnography a more engaging, useful, public storytelling genre.

Introduction
Many ethnographer s claim we are living in an ``experimental moment (Journal of
Contemporary Ethnography, 1999; Marcus & Fischer, 1986). Some of us have been living
that experimental moment for years. Writing scientic ethnographies for a few anthropologists has always seemed to me like a colossal waste of ``labor power. Initially,
adopting a more political notion of science called ``critical ethnography (Carspecken,
1996) made writing ethnographies feel less alienating. But after producing two
cultural critiques rooted in Marxism (Foley et al., 1989; Foley, 1990), I began experimenting with ways to make ethnography a more accessible, engaging, public genre. As
we shall see, that led to some reexive epistemological and narrative practices that
traditional ethnographer s might consider subjective and unscientic.
Most contemporary ethnographer s will be familiar with the discussion that follows.
There are already several excellent how-to-do it methods books (Co ey, 1999; Davies,
1999) that advocate reexive eld practices and texts. This rumination on my experimentation with the ethnographi c genre adds, I hope, to these debates. The next
section presents some reections on critical ethnography . The subsequent section
denes four distinct, yet complimentary, reexive practices that transform the idea
of scientic ethnography. The nal section describes a hybrid narrative style that
emerged from such reexive practices. In retrospect, developing my own narrative
style and voice was what nally made me feel more at home in the academic knowledge-production factory.

Some reections on critical ethnograph y


When I became an ethnographer in the 1960s, very few American anthropologists
actually thought of themselves as critical ethnographers . Various apolitical types of
cultural analysis dominated cultural anthropology at Stanford and elsewhere. Those
International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education ISSN 09518398 print/ISSN 13665898 online # 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd
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DOI: 10.1080/09518390210145534

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graduate students who were Students for Democratic Society (SDS) and antiwar
activists chafed under this regime. We wanted to do cultural studies that exposed
exploitation and inequality. In that era, the only critical anthropologist s were
Marxist, and they generally studied the so-called undeveloped ``periphery countries
relations with the developed ``core capitalist societies. Radical anthropologist s concentrated mainly on the political economies of tribal societies (Godelier, 1977) and the
impact of colonialism on agricultural economies (Wolfe, 1982). Traditional anthropologists dismissively labeled the study of colonialism and imperialism ``political
science. They worried that such studies abandoned the basic ideals and objective
methodologies of a scientic social science, thus the historic mission of ethnology to
nd the universals of human language and culture. In the 1960s graduate students
championing Marxist anthropolog y were thought of as little more than ideologues.
But events moved swiftly and by the early 1970s legions of American anthropologists had become disillusioned and were ``reinventing the study of contemporary
core societies and cultures (Hymes, 1972). It became commonplace among my peers
to acknowledge that anthropology was founded upon liberal, humanist doctrines of
ameliorism, orientalism, colonialism, and racism. The time-honored charge of ethnology to record and theorize cultural diversity was thrown into doubt. Recording
cultural diversity before Western capitalist expansion destroyed it had reduced
anthropologist s to museum curators of dead and dying cultures. Or worse still, they
were technical advisors to internationa l ``development projects that promoted global
capitalism. Such were the options for would-be radical anthropologist s who wanted to
bring anthropology back home and transform the American empire.
Many of the early anthropologica l studies of marginalized populations in core
capitalist societies mimicked what the Chicago school of sociology had been doing
since the 1920s and 1930s. These sociologists studied ``deviant groups like gangs,
criminals, ethnics, and transvestites. Their goal was to make the culture and plight of
these groups better understood and accepted. But as the 1960s civil rights movements
heated up, some ``activist anthropologists decided to work even more directly for and
with oppressed groups. Rather than being sympathetic storytellers, activist anthropologists sought to produce studies that helped win legal battles, rent strikes, and
various political actions. Such studies had decidedly more political, partisan goals
than the earlier sociological ethnographies . From this perspective critical ethnographers joined ongoing political struggles as pens for hire. My peers who followed this
route became dropouts, journalists, and independent anthropological activists.
Unfortunately, they disappeared from the face of academe, and they never produced
the type of studies that bring tenure.
Those of us who stayed behind in academe did so with enormous guilt. The
progressive labor wing of SDS, who fancied themselves labor organizers, made sure
of that. They sco ed at the idea of producing theoretical tomes for other academics.
To them, such pursuits were thinly disguised intellectual language games to hide
bourgeois careerism. Such pseudoscienti c studies produced little useful knowledge
for transforming society. As the Vietnam War wound down, we antiwar activists were
joined by a new generation of post-1960s social scientists marching to all manner of
isms. When I arrived at the University of Texas in 1970, the self-proclaimed
``progressive faculty was reading French poststructuralist s and deconstructionists .
Initially, our study group though the new ``postmodern perspective was interesting but lacked the transformative political agenda of Marxism. Nevertheless, the

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unrelenting skepticism of postmodernism, along with the feminist and critical race
critiques, forced us to question further the limits of class analysis.
In response, we turned to a rich tradition of dissent within Marxism and read
German Frankfort critical theorists, and French neo-Marxists , especially Pierre
Bourdieu. We also began exploring the work of a very eclectic group of British
``new left cultural theorists at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies
(CCCS) (Forgaces, 1989). CCCS scholars were interrogating the seminal work of
Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, French Marxist structuralist Luis Althusser,
and British Marxist E.P. Thompson. The anthropologists in our group found the
work of CCCS scholars Paul Willis (1976, 1981) and Stuart Hall (Morely & Chen,
1996) particularly important for renovating anthropologica l concepts of culture. The
story of ``cultural production and ``practice theorists inuence on American
anthropolog y has already been told in some detail (Lave, 1992; Ornter, 1984).
Levinson and Holland (1996) demonstrate that their inuence was particularly strong
in the anthropology/sociology of education.
Put far too simply, the innovation in these two ``neo-Marxist perspectives was a
concept of culture that nally acknowledges class conict and collective agency. The
study of classes as the social relations of production was transformed into the study of
``class cultures with unique, self-valorizing expressive cultural practices and forms. In
these formulations, various sites of cultural contestation and everyday cultural practice were interrogated to better understand societal forces of power, dominance, and
change. Ultimately, most ``cultural Marxists, often in response to feminist and critical race theorists, developed a multiple system of dominance/resistance perspectives
that no longer privileged economic explanations of exploitation. Jamaican Stuart Hall
eventually added poststructuralis t elements to class culture analysis (Morely & Chen,
1996). Various Marxists (Hill, McLaren, Cole, & Rikowski, 1999) have accused Hall
and other ``post-Marxists (Laclau & Mou e, 1985) of lapsing into philosophical
relativism and abandoning the political core of class analysis.
But many American anthropologist s still read Hall as democratizing and expanding rather than abandoning class theory (Foley & Moss, 2000). Defenders of Hall note
that he refocuses Marxian class theory in much the same way Antonio Gramsci (1971)
did. Like Gramsci, he is interested in understanding how the ruling bloc builds civic
consent through the state and its cultural/educative institutions (schools, mass media,
church, voluntary associations, and families). Since an historical ruling blocs ability
to control these cultural institutions through legal and moral force is never secure,
there is always the possibility that the working class may create a progressive, counterhegemonic culture and historical bloc. Consequently, Halls reformulation of class
theory privileges the study of how collective cultural identities are produced through
various cultural struggles.
In this reformulation, Marxs original notion of alienation and objectication
through wage labor has been broadened to include objectifying, alienating, everyday
cultural practices. Various cultural identity groups are reproduced and produce themselves through communicative or expressive cultural practices in various cultural sites.
The stigmatizing discourses about inferior ``cultural others reproduce inequality and
``steal peoples subjectivity and humanity in much the same way that laboring in
commodity-producin g factories does. Cultural identity groups resist stigmatization
and marginalization and ``produce themselves through self-valorizing expressive
cultural forms (Foley, 1990; Gilroy, 1987; Limon, 1994; Pena, 1985, 1999) and
even through commodity consumption (Willis, 1990, 1999).

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The poststructuralis t turn in Halls perspective utilizes Foucaults notions of power


and discourse. Hall contends that understanding the construction of ideological hegemony requires focusing on key conjunctural moments or ``articulations within a
given social formation, e.g., the articulations between various popular discourses
such as nationalism, Catholicism, racism, and classism. Post-Marxist critical ethnographers often do ``critical discourse analyses (Luke, 199596) of how the capitalist
state and its cultural institutions produce a civil society lled with both acquiescence
and cultural struggle. Hall et al.s (1978) own empirical study of how the British state
and media mobilize racist, nationalistic discourses into hegemonic ideologies is an
excellent example of this type of cultural critique. The poststructuralis t idea of a
state administrative surveillance system working through various hegemonic discourses expands and compliments the Marxian notion of economic power. Without
dwelling too much on the di erences between various neo- and post-Marxists , it
su ces to say that these perspectives represent new, useful ways of understanding
and critiquing capitalist culture. Moreover, cultural Marxists generally situate any
analysis of cultural struggle within the existing political economy and capitalist state.
Classic Marxian notions of class struggle are expanded and amplied through cultural
critiques, not abandoned.
Self-proclaimed critical ethnographers who march to the cultural Marxist drummer hope to create a practical, value-laden science that generates the knowledge
needed to foster a democratic society and a critical citizenry. In the Gramscian
(1971) or Freirean (1973) formulations, such knowledge production is part of a
long dialogic consciousness-raisin g process. Such knowledge production should have
an ``emancipatory intent `` (Habermas, 1971) or a ``catalytic validity (Lather, 1991)
that challenges the status quo in some way. Such a value-laden, didactic, practical
social science di ers markedly from a traditional, positivist notion of science.
Positivists generally idealize a neutral, value-free social science that mimics the natural
sciences in method and purpose. In contrast, cultural Marxist ethnographer s often
adopt what philosopher Richard Bernstein (1983) calls a ``practical rationality that
steers a middle course between the extreme objectivism of scientic rationality, and
the extreme subjectivism of antirationalist, antirealist critics of science. As we shall see,
such a practical rationality can be based on rather di erent notions of epistemology
and eldwork.
Characterizing the philosophical assumptions of all critical ethnographer s is
obviously an impossible task. Such ethnographer s now ground their ethnographic
practice in a variety of philosophical perspectives. Nevertheless, perhaps most socalled critical ethnographers still think of themselves as doing intensive empirical
investigation s of everyday, lived cultural reality. They still do at least a year of eldwork using the conventional ethnographic methods of participant observation, key
informants, and interviewing. Such empirical investigations are often founded on the
following general ontological and epistemological assumptions: (1) All cultural groups
produce an intersubjective reality which is both ``inherited and continually constructed and reconstructed as it is lived or practiced. This shared cultural reality is
external in the sense that Bourdieu denes ``habitas (Bourdieu & Waquant, 1992). It
is a distinct, lived historical tradition ``objectied through structuring practices
(laws, public policies, cultural conventions). The habitas of a lived historical tradition
is marked by a collective memory of particular ecological, geo-political, embodied,
spaces/places; (2) a well-trained, reexive investigator can know that historical,
socially constructed reality in a partial, provisional sense through an intensive, experi-

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ential encounter with people who live by these cultural constructions of reality; and
(3) a reexive investigator, who has experienced this unfamiliar cultural space and has
dialogued with its practitioners, can portray this cultural space and its people in a
provisionally accurate manner. This is an admittedly a very cryptic representation of
the philosophical foundations of contemporary critical ethnography . But these are a
set of assumptions to which I, and perhaps many critical ethnographers , subscribe.
After writing several critical ethnographies from this general perspective, I began
incorporating more feminist, postmodern, and autoethnographi c practices.
Oversimplifying greatly, these various critiques seemed to boil down to a more modest
notion of the social sciences. To make ethnography at least quasi-objective, one has to
become much more reexive about all ethnographi c practices from eld relations
and interpretive practices to producing texts. Since reexivity is a very slippery term,
the following section di erentiates between various types of reexivity, and a subsequent section illustrates these practices with examples from my ethnographic texts.

The reexive ideal and its many guises


According to philosopher Hillary Lawson (1985), from the Greeks on, most thinkers
have practiced some form of reexivity. From the early 1900s through the 1950s,
however, a particularly unreexive style of social scientic research, founded upon
logical positivism, took root in the United States. By the 1970s American anthropologists were reading various philosophical critiques of positivism. The initial anthropological response was quite varied, but one inuential special issue of Semiotica edited
by Barbara Babcock (1980) is particularly noteworthy. The notion of reexivity
guiding that collection rests heavily on George Herbert Meads modernist, symbolic
interactionist perspective. For Babcock, reexivity is the capacity of language and of
thought of any system of signication to turn or bend back upon itself, thus
becoming an object to itself. Directing ones gaze at ones own experience makes it
possible to regard oneself as ``other. Through a constant mirroring of the self, one
eventually becomes reexive about the situated, socially constructed nature of the self,
and by extension, the other. In this formulation, the self is a multiple, constructed self
that is always becoming and never quite xed, and the ethnographic productions of
such a self and the ``cultural other are always historically and culturally contingent.
Babcock warns her anthropologica l colleagues that such self-referential reections
tend to generate an ``epistemological paradox. Turning in on oneself in a critical
manner tends to produce awareness that there are no absolute distinctions between
what is ``real and what is ``ction, between the ``self and the ``other.
Methodologically , this means that we are forced to explore the selfother relationships
of eldwork critically if we are to produce more discriminating, defensible interpretations. In Babcocks modernist formulation of reexivity there remains a degree of
optimism that the road to quasi-objective knowledge claims is through a reexive,
self-critical awareness of our limits as interpreters. It is only through being reexive
that we explode our fantasies about ethnographic texts being copies of reality. We also
deate any fantasies we hold about absolute truth and objectivity.
George Marcus (1998) labels this form of reexivity ``confessional and claims
such interrogations of subjectivity have become fairly standard in contemporary
American ethnography . Barbara Tedlock (1991) notes that so-called confessional
reexivity actually began before postmodernism with the publication of

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Malinowskis (1967) surprisingly frank diary. Many mini-diaries and personal


journals (Dumont, 1978; Dwyer, 1982; Frielich, 1970; Golde, 1970; Spindler, 1970;
Rabinow, 1977), and several important theoretical reections quickly followed
(Crapanzano, 1980; Dwyer, 1982; Fabian, 1983). Important questions were raised
about not only selfother eld relationships but also ethical and political questions on
the colonial nature of anthropological scholarship. Tedlock argues that during the
1970s and 1980s such confessional reections were only permissible, however, after one
had published separate formal scientic realist ethnography . Anthropologists of that
era were essentially keeping two sets of books and writing in a somewhat schizophrenic
manner.
Marginalized feminist (Abu-Lughod, 1991; Behar, 1993, 1996; Behar & Gordon,
1995; Krieger, 1991) and native ethnographer s (Gwaltney, 1980; Hanyano, 1979;
Narayan, 1993) began incorporating such reections into their formal ethnographies.
Some have labeled these highly subjective, mixed-genre texts ``autoethnography, i.e.,
a blend of autobiograph y and ethnography (Reed-Danahay , 1997). This collection
conveys well the wide variety of ethnographic practices subsumed under this rubric.
On one end of the continuum is Carolyn Elliss (1995) heartfelt, intensely personal
study of her relationship with a dying loved one, and on the other end is my broad, less
intimate community study of WhiteIndian race relations in my hometown (Foley,
1995). Whatever their di erences, most autoethnographer s are openly subjective.
They seek to undermine grandiose authorial claims of speaking in a rational, valuefree, objective, universalizing voice. From this perspective, the author is a living,
contradictory , vulnerable, evolving multiple self, who speaks in a partial, subjective,
culture-bound voice. Some of my favorite so-called confessional pieces are from the
pens of Ruth Behar (1993, 1996), Carolyn Ellis (1995), Susan Krieger (1991), Dorrine
Kondo (1990), and Renato Rosaldo (1989). As we shall see, what autoethnographer s
generally advocate is related to but goes well beyond Marcuss ideal type called
``confessional reexivity.
Cuban-American anthropologis t Ruth Behar (1996) practices this type of reexivity in a particularly intense manner, and she has sought to explain her practice more
than most autoethnographer s have. Behar says quite provocatively, ``Anthropology
that does not break your heart is not worth doing. She entreats ethnographer s to be
much more emotionally open, thus vulnerable, observers and interpreters or ``witnesses as she prefers to call it. To her ethnography is a long, irreversible voyage
through a tunnel with no apparent exit. Hence, anyone presumptuou s enough to
retell the stories about others must surrender to the intractableness of reality. They
must nd a way of witnessing that is neither cold nor afraid to reveal what she calls the
hidden dialectic between connection and otherness. Behar insists that exploring the
selfother tunnel requires emotion. To break with objectivism, she draws upon heartfelt autobiographica l memories and her feelings of sorrow, shame, fear, loathing, guilt,
vanity, and self-deception.
Behars reformulation is strongly reminiscent of what earlier existential sociologists
(Douglas & Johnson, 1977) were advocating. The ethnographer is much more willing to utilize introspection, intuition, and personal memories. Like earlier phenomenological sociologists (Schutz, 1964), she acknowledges the inseparability of theoretical
language and constructs from everyday language and thought. Consequently, she
utilizes her commonsense understanding of life as much as she uses the abstract
theoretical constructs of her discipline. This addition of, for lack of a better word, a
more artistic way of knowing is a fusion of disciplinary epistemologies. Unlike many

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``scientic ethnographers, Behar, and perhaps most autoethnographers , are unwilling to privilege the rational over the emotional. Doing so reproduces the old Cartesian
mindbody dualism, which leaves us subscribing to a series of unfortunate dichotomies: sciencehumanities, objectivesubjective, rationalintuitive, and malefemale.
A closely related reformulation of epistemological assumptions has also emerged
out of feminist (Harding, 1998), racial (Collins, 1990), indigenous (Tuhiwami Smith,
1999) and borderland (Villenas & Foley, 2002) standpoint theories. Such calls for a
more situated, embodied way of knowing emphasize an analytic standpoint rooted in
the solidarity and sensibility that cultural and class struggles often produce. Many
white middle-class autoethnographer s (Ellis & Bochner, 1996, 2001) tend to valorize
generalized notions of emotion, intuition, and aesthetics as their ground of knowing
rather than their historical experiences with economic, cultural, racial, and gender
struggles. As more scholars of color incorporate autobiographical practices into their
ethnographies , they will almost certainly challenge mainstream autoethnographer s in
much the same way the feminists of color challenged feminism. For me, standpoint
theory in its various guises helps historicize the somewhat abstract calls to be more
intuitive and poetic.
Leaving aside di erences between standpoint theory and autoethnography , it
would seem that both perspectives are advocating a more intuitive, experiential
way of knowing. Consequently, both challenge the positivistic ideal of developing
and relying upon universal second-order scientic metalanguages. Autoethnographer s
of all strips valorize ordinary, connotative language over scientic, denotative language. They rely on the literary language of metaphor, irony, parody, satire as much
as they rely on social scientic metalanguages . Using a much more robust, embodied,
situated language allows autoethnographi c interpreters to engage more fully the
intractability of life. It allows them to evoke the richness and complexity of everyday
life through complex symbolic language and dramatic, personal stories. As various
autoethnographer s have explained, the act of writing itself becomes a way of being
and knowing.
Traditional, theoretical ethnographers are quick to dismiss autoethnograph y as a
self-indulgent, narcissistic ``diary disease (Geertz, 1988), or excessively subjective,
shallow ``textual reexivity (Bourdieu & Waquant, 1992). Indeed, it is hard to
imagine grand theorists like Geertz and Bourdieu representing themselves as experiencing cultural others in a vulnerable, emotional, embodied manner. Most accomplished authoethnographer s would probably agree that highly autobiographica l
reexive practices, in the hands of an unskilled or egocentric practitioner, can degenerate into self-serving, narcissistic, heroic portrayals of the ethnographer.
Incorporating much more of the researchers personal self and utilizing a more artistic,
a ective way of knowing is not without problems. But as Phil Carspecken (1996) and
Andrew Sparks (2002) note, retaining the idea of a self/author in dialogue with
cultural others positions the researcher in important ways. First, being a dialogic
knower or witness to a cultural scene positions the ethnographer as a much less
imperial, authoritative learner. Second, it obligates the researcher to embrace her/
his personal indebtedness and responsibility towards other individuals. As we shall see,
being a knower/witness with a personal, cultural history (a very modernist notion) is
quite di erent from being a detached theoretical, scientic knower (Bourdieu &
Waquant, 1992) or a detached poetic, postmodern knower (Tyler, 1986).
To create his second ideal type of reexivity, Marcus draws a sharp dichotomy
between the subjective, ``confessional reexivity of feminists and the more objective,

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``theoretical reexivity of Pierre Bourdieu. Put too simply, Bourdieus grand project
is to replace reigning macrosociologica l perspectives such as systems theory and functionalism with an alternative, foundational perspective. Somewhat like earlier phenomenological and ethnomethodologica l sociologists, he too is advocating a return to
the study of everyday life and ``ethnopractices. For Bourdieu, an ``epistemologically
reexive sociologist grounds her theoretical constructs in the everyday cultural practices of the subjects. Such a move replaces abstract armchair theorizing about everyday life with an experiential, abductive (deductive and inductive) way of knowing. An
abductive ethnographer must tack back and forth mentally between her concrete eld
experience and her abstract theoretical explanations of that experience. In the end,
``theoretical reexivity should produce a reasonably objective, authoritativ e account
of the cultural other.
Where Bourdieu di ers radically with autoethnographer s is in his aversion to their
existential notion of an experiential, intuitive, introspective knower. Like other French
poststructuralis t thinkers, he distances himself from existentialist or Hegelian notions
of consciousness and an autonomous self. But, unlike most poststructuralis t thinkers,
Bourdieu does not reduce the self, subjectivity, and authors to mere ``e ects of
discourses. His concept of the self or subjectivity retains a much stronger notion of
individual agency in relation to dominating structures (Holland, Lachicotte Jr.,
Skinner, & Cain, 1998). Although Bourdieu does not have as robust a notion of
collective agency as Marx does, his perspective of cultural actors enacting, breaking,
and improvising on the normative rules of a given setting is very grounded and
historical. Ultimately, practice theory has a much stronger, more sociological notion
of subjectivity, consciousness, and individual agency that most postmodern theories
do.
Given Bourdieus more sociological notion of self, he calls upon sociologists to be
reexive in a di erent way than existentialist and phenomenological social scientists
are reexive. He argues that a truly reexive sociology must also make transparent
how they, as members of a vast academic knowledge-productio n process, produce
truth claims and facts. Bourdieu calls this a ``sociology of sociology that uncovers
or ``objectivates the inuence of the scientic ``eld on the interpreting self. To
produce a local account of knowledge production, an ethnographer must pay particular attention to how the practices and discourses of his/her own discipline a ect
what and how he/she thinks and writes. Woolgar and Latours (1978) exhaustive
ethnographic study of a biomechanical laboratory illustrates nicely how to pay
more attention to the ``eld of knowledge production. They demonstrat e how deeply
embedded the physical scientists and the ethnographer s are in the local relationships
and politics of the laboratory and their disciplinary specialty. In this type of reexivity, the author also consciously situates her representational practices within the
disciplines of past knowledge constructions. Such an interpretive move makes transparent the socially constructed, historically situated nature of the authors ``facts,
thus the partiality of their truth claims. Autoethnographers rarely do a sociological
critique of the eld of production of their texts. They tend to explore psychological
matters or feelings more than the sociological, structural conditions of their interpretations.
Practice and cultural production perspectives also generally have stronger notions
of agency (praxis) and structure (history) than many autoethnographer s and postmodern ethnographers have. They either focus on how classes of people negotiate,
assimilate, and transform their lived, structured, historical reality or on the collective

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agency of groups. This more historical, political notion of reality is emphasized more
than in autoethnographi c and postmodern perspectives. Most cultural Marxists also
subscribe to a more constructivis t ontology that historical cultural forms and practices
exist, as a phenomenologis t would say, ``beyond the horizon or consciousness of
ordinary people. To map these cultural constructions, ethnographic knowers are
``epistemologically reexive in a least two ways. First, they must critically analyze
the disciplinary and discursive historical context that shapes them and their interpretations. Second, they must practice a systematic, disciplined abductive process of theory development within and against the discursive traditions of a discipline(s).
From this perspective, the rational social scientist knows reality through the power
of her/his conceptual framework. The abductive process that conjoins theory and
empirical eldwork eventually produces constructs or heuristic devices used for mapping and representing (``objectivating ) the taken-for-grante d cultural and political
practices observed. Any abstract metalanguage used to map said reality, e.g., ``class
formation, ``taste culture, ``ideological hegemony is best understood as conditional
constructions grounded in historical ``articulations (Morely & Chen, 1996) or
``practices (Bourdieu & Waquant, 1992). Consequently, these mappings are always
approximate and subject to reformulation and debate within the eld of production.
Yet no matter how provisional a construct or explanation may be, it functions as a lens
or heuristic device which maps cultural practices and spaces much like cartographer s
map physical space.
A neo-Marxist abductive ethnographi c knower does not generally utilize her/his
artistic, intuitive, introspective sensibilities the way an existential autoethnographe r
might. He/she is more inclined to privilege the rational, theoretical, scientic perspective. Paul Williss earlier work on profane and working-class culture is somewhat of an
exception (Willis, 1976, 1981). His working-class background and training in the
humanities is much more apparent than in his later theoretical reections on cultural
consumption (Willis, 1999). In contrast, autoethnographer s tend to be more personal
and literary and less explicitly theoretical. But as previously noted, some autoethno graphers do try to hold these two seemingly contradictory ways of knowing in tension.
They try to utilize both a scientic and a more artistic way of knowing. Being situated,
embodied, historical selves/characters in the text, they are far less likely to disappear
behind a grand rational, theoretical framework or, as we shall see, a grand antitheoretical postmodern call for poetics.
The third and nal ideal type highlighted in Marcuss (1994) typology is the more
postmodern notion ``intertextual reexivity. The most obvious type of intertextual
reexivity practiced by many scholars is historiography . Most narrative historians
have been trained to pore over and classify the di erences between interpretations
by historical period or era. The rhetorical interplay between di erent texts and interpretations is deconstructed, and such deconstructions become the basis and justication for reinterpreting past conventional wisdoms and knowledge claims. Many
ethnographer s develop intertextual sensibility, but as Johannes Fabian (1983) points
out, they are prone to valorize the present and lapse into the timeless, authoritativ e
narrative style of the ``ethnographic present. Such practices may make ethnographers somewhat less intertextually reexive than historians generally are.
Intertextual reexivity also refers to the rhetorical use of representationa l practices. The early postmodern critiques of ethnography (Cli ord, 1988; Marcus &
Fischer, 1986) called upon ethnographers to be much more self-conscious about
their narrative and representationa l practices. These critiques highlighted the limits

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of scientic realists texts and call upon ethnographer s to be much more experimental
narratively. Robert Stams (1985) exploration of literary and cinematic texts provides
a good introduction to how modernist artists have manipulated the conventions of
their genres. A nice example of how artists build reexivity into their texts is Francois
Tru auts Day for Night (Stam, 1985). The movie is about making a movie, thus seeks
to make its narrative practice transparent. It creates what deconstructionist s call an
``aporia, a gap or uncertainty that the movie is really a copy of life. Like Latour and
Woolgars theoretically reexive account of the scientic laboratory, Day for Night
blurs the taken-for-grante d narrative conventions of the genre; consequently, it calls
into question our assumptions about fact/ction, natural/constructed, and truth/
falsity. But Marcuss ideal type, ``textual reexivity, although somewhat postmodern,
fails to convey a more radical notion of reexivity that Kamala Visweswaran (1994)
aptly labels ``deconstructive reexivity.

The postmodern notion of ``deconstructiv e reexivity


Most antifoundational postmodern thinkers would argue that the three aforementioned types of reexivity still do not break su ciently with modernist epistemological
assumptions and scientic ideals. To these critics, the recent concern over reexivity is
little more than a very old positivist longing for an objective, foundational social
science. Philosopher Hillary Lawsons (1985) discussion of antifoundationa l reexivity
highlights how Nietsche, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Derrida initiated full-scale
attacks on the modernist ideal of providing a reliable epistemology for the ``factual
disciplines of social science and history. For many years antifoundationalist s have
argued that a scientic epistemology based on ordinary language is susceptible to
what philosophers call the ``liars paradox.
To illustrate the liars paradox, Lawson tells the story of the Cretan prophet
Epimenides who observed, ``All Cretans are liars. Epmenides did so to demonstrate
that categorical knowledge claims invariably falsify themselves. In this particular case,
we have a Cretan asserting that it is true that all Cretans are liars. If all Cretans are
liars, how is it possible that one Cretan can be telling the truth about all Cretans being
liars? This truth claim, like all absolute truth claims is based on an either/or logic that
invariably degenerates into a paradoxical, contradictory knowledge claim.
Recent deconstructionist s like Derrida have used semiotics to restate this radical
form of skepticism. He points out that all signication systems invariably generate
such logical paradoxes. The moment we imagine ourselves representing external
reality through purportedly rational constructs, we lose sight of these constructs
commonsense, metaphorical character. When we deconstruct our allegedly objective
theoretical constructs, i.e., subject them to a rigorous rhetorical analysis, they turn out
to be full of hierarchical preferences expressed through their either/or logic.
Conceptual distinctions like bourgeoisproletariat, malefemale, blackwhite inevitably ``defer or displace meaning, i.e., x meaning in a way that is contrary to the way
webs of signication work. Signication systems generate an endless, indeterminate
play of signiers that never produce one xed meaning but rather analogical distinctions based on paradoxical both/and logic.
Since our invented linguistic categories are always caught up in webs of signication and the ceaseless play of signiers, our attempts at logically, rationally stabilizing
inherently unstable, ambiguous conceptual distinctions are doomed to fail. Radical

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postmodernists argue that our best hope may be to abandon our desire to know in any
absolute sense and to make grand, foundational constructs and knowledge claims.
According to deconstructionists , the best way out of this linguistic/semiotic quagmire
is actually to embrace the paradoxical , analogical both/and logic of signication
systems. As we shall see, some postmodern ethnographers embrace the more analogical logic of poetic images rather than either/or dichotomies. As Rosenau (1992) suggests, one could read this philosophical position as skeptical to the point of nihilism
and relativism. Or one could read it as a radical skepticism that constantly searches for
a deeper, less ideological, more realistic position than the so-called realists.
Postmodern ethnographer Patti Lather (2001) advocates this more radical, antifoundational position in what she considers a constructive manner. She stresses the
need to open up rather than foreclose analytic categories and advocates exploring the
aporias or indeterminate character of all representationa l attempts. She highlights the
deep commitment of postmodern thinkers to indeterminate, evocative, poetic accounts
of experience or reality. As Lather puts it, being theoretical is actually about ``getting
lost and building on the ``ruins of knowledge rather than assuredly mapping and
discovering reality. To be ``theoretically reexive, in the deconstructive sense, is to be
radically skeptical about the stability and utility of all theoretical constructs, thus all
attempts by scientists to mimic or visually map reality. From her perspective, autoethnographer s often use postmodern rhetoric to justify their poetic, evocative texts,
but they continue to use modernist, realist notions of the self, author, voice, text, and
science. What, then, does a more postmodern notion of author and text look like?
Steven Tylers (1986, pp. 125126) inuential essay on authorless, evocative postmodern texts articulates in detail an alternative to realist ethnographies :
A post-modern ethnography is a cooperatively evolved text consisting of fragments of discourse intended to evoke in the minds of both reader and writer an
emergent fantasy of a possible world of commonsense reality, and thus to provoke an aesthetic integration that will have a therapeutic e ect. It is, in a word,
poetry not in its textual form, but in its return to the original context and
function of poetry, which by means of its performative break with everyday
speech, evoked memories of the ethos of the community, thereby provoked
hearers to act ethically.
Tylers explanation of what it means to evoke reality like a poet emphasizes the need
to abandon the visualist metaphor of scientic discourses. When an ethnographer
evokes rather than explains the lived reality of others, he/she refrains from all monologic, rational attempts to map, explain, classify, and describe social facts/reality.
According to Tyler, a fragmented, polyphoni c text operates like poetic metaphors
do. Metaphoric representations shift the burden of making meaning to the reader,
or as Tyler puts it, create a paradoxical, dialogic encounter between authortext
reader. It is this encounter, not the authors explicit subjectivity or theoretical virtuosity, that produces meaning. It is in this sense that the postmodern ethnographer
abolishes the self or author so central to modernist texts.
Illustrating what this sort of deconstructive reexivity looks like textually is di cult because few ethnographies are thoroughly postmodern . Contrary to popular
stereotypes, full-blown postmodern ethnographies (Dorst 1989; Gomez-Pena, 1996;
Lather & Smithies, 1997; Stewart, 1996) are neither relativistic nor nihilistic. They
often make rather strong political and cultural critiques, but they are not poetic in the
modernist, realist sense. There is no author-poet waxing autobiographicall y about his

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relationships, life, and the landscape (Foley, 1998; Foley & Moss, 2000). Perhaps a
closer analogy might be the impressionist painter or poet who intuitively arranges
light and color and shapes or words in disjunctive, unexpected ways. For example,
Lather and Smithies (1997) attempt to do this through a pastiche or collage of
factoids, unmediated voices, footnoted authorial reections, and visual/verbal images
of angels. Somewhat like painters/poets, they deploy the ambiguous, polyvocal metaphor of angels found in Western mythology to ``evoke the meaning of the AIDS crises
for their HIV-positive subjects. Ultimately, the reader encounters their artistic juxtaposition of human voices, factoids about AIDS, and the angel metaphors. This paradoxical encounter of authortextreader evokes meaning without explicitly
representing in a realist, mimetic sense who these women are or how they cope
with their disease. The only realist dimension of the text is its portrayal of a focus
group of HIV-positive women sharing what they consider their ``true stories.
Other postmodern ethnographer s seem to practice deconstructive reexivity
through very explicit rhetorical analysis of textual images (Norris, 1982). Typically,
the cultural critic/author ``lays ruin to or deconstructs an unstable, ambiguous hierarchy of ideas or concepts in popular and/or academic discourses. Kathleen Stewart
(1996) does such a deconstruction when she portrays how academics and journalists
typically represent poor white Appalachians and the region as ``the other America.
The text presents troubling, powerful images of many outsiders stereotyping
Appalachia. It also contrasts the way eloquent, poetic Appalachians construct their
own reality through memories and plain talk. Stewart creates a collage of
Appalachian talk and memory of place that ``evokes rather than explains and
maps what she aptly calls ``a space at the side of the road in America. Again, the
reader is left to make sense of a relentlessly deconstructive, somewhat disjunctive text
that also includes a good deal of theoretical discussion. Stewart lls her text with
disclaimers about any ethnographer, including her ever ``getting it right, ever producing a denitive, true account. Such methodological ruminations and her deconstruction of others texts actually make Stewart a much more explicit author than
Lather and Smithies are. Nevertheless, both of these postmodern ethnographies seem
to be good examples of Tylers (1986) ideal of a more authorless, evocative text
produced in conjunction with research subjects and readers.
Having rejected ethnography as a scientic, objective enterprise, thoroughly postmodern ethnographer s have trouble representing their epistemology as rational, technical, systematic, or abductive. Having renounced modernist notions of the self,
author, and realist narrative forms, they cannot easily represent their epistemology
as introspective , intuitive, and experiential. Stripped of any trustworthy way of knowing, the more fundamentalist postmodern view (Lather & Smithies, 1997; Tyler,
1986) seems to fall back on the abstract ideal of being more like artists than empirical
social scientists. This formulation creates considerable rhetorical distance from the
modernist dream of scientists telling true stories about the cultural other. It also
whittles the author function down to the ambiguous notion of evocative poetic texts.
Yet as hard as I try, I cannot imagine entirely authorless texts, or entirely evocative, poetic ethnographies. And it would seem that many practicing feminist poststructuralist and postcolonial ethnographer s cannot either (Behar, 1996; Ellis, 1995;
Pillow, n.d.; St. Pierre & Pillow, 2000; Villenas, 1996). Many of these new ethnographers are actually producing very eclectic texts with many modernist elements. Some
authors situate themselves as characters in the text that have personal and cultural
histories. Others explicitly deploy theoretical constructs and make explicit knowledge

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claims based on data. For example, Kirby Mosss (2002) ``deconstructionist


ethnography of the white working class utilizes his African-American sensibility
and a realist narrative to deconstruct the notions of racial and class privilege. In
short, the new wave of ``postmodern ethnographers does not seem to follow the
dictates of Tylers perspective (1987) as closely as Lather or Stewart do.
In my own case, I was only able to go so far down the road of experimentation.
Once you strip ethnographies of their allegorical force and their evidentiary claims,
ethnographic texts must rise and fall on their artistic, literary virtuosity. Like most
social scientists, I have doubts about being able to produce a genuinely evocative,
poetic text. Consequently, I fell back on a realist storytelling style that is based on
``data, thus still makes evidentiary claims. When these texts were written, I had few
explicit ideas about types of reexivity or narrative styles. Looking back through my
typology, my recent ethnographies are neither scientic realist texts nor postmodern
antirealist text. What follows is how I tried to make my ethnographic texts more
personal and reexive, thus more open, accessible, and public.

Some reections on the production of ethnographic texts


In a recent ethnography , Learning capitalist culture (LCC) (1990), I portray how a
South Texas high school stages the deployment of di erent kinds of linguistic capital.
The study highlights how middle-class Chicano students use deceptive and dehumanizing bourgeois speech styles to achieve school success, yet retain their ethnic distinctiveness and pride. Conversely, working-class Chicanos deploy nonstandar d English
and nonbourgeois manners and are labeled, punished, and pushed out of school. Their
lack of communicative competence in deceptive speech preserves their working-class
language, thus increases their chances of failing. Theoretically, this work represents an
extension of Marxs notion of alienated labor and Lukacss (1971) reication thesis
into the domain of everyday language or ``communicative or expressive labor.
Narratively, LCC breaks more thoroughl y with the language of scientic ethnography than Peones to politicos (Foley, Mota, Post, & Lozano, 1989) did. To avoid
jargon-lled descriptions of football, dating, and academic work, my theoretical/interpretive perspective is placed in an appendix. This narrative move violates a sacred
convention of scientic realist narratives: the textual unity of a running theoretical
commentary of ``thickly described everyday cultural practices. In addition, my interpretive perspective is presented in an autobiographica l style. Personal class experiences are juxtaposed with academic readings. There is no pretense that I am
deploying an abstract, universalistic scientic theory without personal roots. I represent myself as a proud working-class, ``organic intellectual (Gramsci, 1971) doing a
cultural critique of class cultures.
In addition, vignettes of my interactions with kids and teachers are sprinkled
throughout the text. They help convey that the narrative was mutually produced.
There is no pretense that I am standing above or outside the experience and simply
recording it. The text generally has what John Van Mannen (1988) calls an ``impressionist rst-person style. The story of how youth learn capitalist culture is told with a
healthy dose of metaphor, irony, parody, and satire. Specic events and actual
personal encounters are reported rather than composite typications of events and
characters. Such an extensive use of ordinary language narrative practices makes the
story very accessible to nonacademi c readers.

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Nevertheless, the tone and voice of LCC is still very analytic and striving to make
transcendent statements. The text is tightly structured around a unied theoretical
perspective and its strong knowledge claims. One small South Texas is writ large as
American culture in general. Key constructs like ``impression management, ``making
out games, and ``bonded sexuality are used to authoritativel y map and explain the
cultural reality of South Texas and America. The text is realist in the sense in which
Lukacs (1962) characterizes 19th-century bourgeois novels. He argues that socialist
intellectuals and 19th-century bourgeois artists and novelists practice critical or
``dialectical realism when they uncover the hidden, dehumanizing reication of
everyday life under capitalism. At the time, I did not describe my narrative practice
as dialectical realism, but in retrospect, my primary goals were similar to those of these
novelists. Like them, I wanted ``to reveal the driving forces of history which are
invisible to actual consciousness. The ordinary language games observed in classrooms, dating, and sports were conceptualized as a kind of linguistic factory that
staged highly ritualized speech events. During these events, humans treated each
other as objects, thus reproduced the logic of capitalism. I, the transcendent ethnographic observer of capitalist ideology, was providing a ``deeper reading of what
most Americans take for granted as fun and fullling.
LCC also begins to use personal memories and an ordinary language voice in a
cautious but explicit manner. I also make my ideological standpoint or interpretive
lens very clear, and I reconstruct Marxist class theory in a reexive manner. There
is, however, relatively little concern over the question of misrepresentation or little
inclination to do a sociology of knowledge critique of my interpretation. In retrospect,
LCC is clearly responding to the initial postmodern critiques of ethnography
(Cli ord, 1988; Marcus & Fischer, 1986). On the other hand, I am still claiming
that LCC is a quasi-objective account based on the epistemological assumptions of
scholars like Bourdieu and Gadamer. Although I remain proud of this two-volume,
16-year study of the Chicano Civil rights movement (Foley, 1990; Foley et al., 1989), I
felt it did not break su ciently with the epistemological and narrative practices of
scientic realism (Marcus & Cushman, 1982). The study made a ``grand theoretical
statement, but it did not expand the genre of ethnographi c storytelling as much as I
had hoped.
My most recent ethnography , The heartland chronicles (Foley, 1995), a study of
WhiteIndian relations in my hometown, remains grounded in an abductive epistemology, and it continues to map the reality of cultural others with metaconstructs .
Like a good cultural Marxist, I use Gramscis notion of hegemony and Foucaults
notion of a discursive regime as heuristic devices to map the cultural struggle between
Whites and Indians over assimilation/cultural survival. I portray my hometown as
awash in ``discursive skirmishes over Indians dying on train-tracks, brawling in bars,
sitting silent in schools, missing football practice, and keeping house poorly. Mesquaki
novelists, historians, journalists, and political cartoonists counter these local White
stories and the assimilationist texts of academics and journalists with their own antiassimilationist texts and oral stories. In addition to highlighting such cultural politics,
Chronicles also includes extensive material on everyday conventional politics. The
Mesquaki civil rights movement is chronicled as a series of barroom ghts, student
walkouts, and American Indian Movement (AIM)-led courthouse demonstrations .
These portrayal s of cultural and conventional politics are presented with no explicit
discussion of the aforementioned theoretical constructs.

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Consequently, most reviewers have focused on the texts reexive, narrative style.
And, to my great surprise, Chronicles is often labeled a ``postmodern text, despite its
modernist notions of epistemology and author, and its realist narrative style.
Moreover, it would seem that making the text highly accessible to ordinary readers
made my use of theoretical constructs and political critique inaccessible to academic
readers! No one points out that the text is analyzing the discursive production of the
hegemonic assimilationist discourse. I hope that the following discussion will convey
the idiosyncratic mix of experimental practices used in the Chronicles.

Experimenting with confessional , autobiographica l reexivity


I followed the lead of recent feminist ethnographers who champion using an autobiographical voice (Behar & Gordon, 1995; Oakely & Callaway, 1992; ReedDanahay, 1997). This new style of autobiographica l writing breaks with the old
Western, modernist notion of autobiograph y in several important ways. Gone is the
ction that individuals evolve into a unied self that lives outside history. The new
feminist autobiographe r is much more likely to present a highly reexive portrayal of
the author as a constructed, conicted, multiple-self. Lila Abu-Lughod (1991) argues
forcefully for replacing the language of generalization with a language of ``tactical
humanism. For her, the little-known body of anthropologica l writing by nonprofessional anthropologica l wives exemplies what she calls ``ethnograph y of the
particular.
Chronicles begins with my earliest recollections of Indians and racism and continues
through my teenage years. I recount my romanticized view of Indians, my timidity to
speak out against white school bullies, and my general indi erence to and ignorance of
local racism. Like Behar (1996) I tell several stories that analogize my feelings and
reactions to those of other Whites. In e ect, I am claiming to be a metaphor for some
local Whites who bear no intense malice towards the Mesquaki, but who have little
interest in and knowledge of their way of life. By representing myself as a metaphor for
Whites, it helps me be didactic without being too preachy and moralistic. The
Chronicles is nuanced with personal memories to characterize and situate myself historically and ideologically. The autobiographica l vignettes also help represent how the
ethnographic text was produced through a series of personal encounters. Finally, the
text is openly subjective, and I make judgmental remarks about events and actors.
This allows me to break openly with the usual objectifying scientic voice.
But Chronicles does not go nearly as far as Ellis (1995) and Behar (1993) do in
expressing and using personal emotions and vulnerabilities analytically. There are
many personal and philosophical reasons for my moderation. Heavy primary socialization to be a stoic, taciturn working-class male, and professional socialization to be
an authoritative social critic are at play here. So is the notion of a classic ethnographic
community study and the charge to write about an imagined or real ``cultural other
rather than the self. Behar and Ellis are telling co-constructed life stories (Plummer,
2001) about their relationship with one person. The study of a single relationship over
time probably lends itself to a more intimate tale than the ethnographi c study of a
whole community does. For a variety of reasons, my use of autobiograph y seems
somewhat more limited and perhaps more explicitly methodological than the more
autobiographica l writings of Behar and Ellis.

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In retrospect, the most important autobiographical feature of Chronicles may be its


deep commitment to ordinary language and a highly personal voice. I tried hard to
break with the analytical voice so characteristic of a good academic ethnography by
creating a hybrid voice that blends my regional dialect, ``Iowaese, into my academic
dialect, ``anthropologese. The key to making this narrative fusion was regaining my
Iowa sense of humor. I used this powerful and distinct oral speech style to leaven the
abstract, generalizing, classifying, and typologizing discourse of theoretical anthropology. I narrate and interpret events in an idiosyncratic voice that breaks with the
formal disciplinary discourse for two very di erent reasons. The rst is to resist the
postmodern decree that there are no individual authors, only discursive regimes and
discourses. I speak Marxese, Foucaultese, and Bourdieuese with a strong Iowa accent.
I imagine myself willfully polluting rareed academic discourses with ordinary
language.
Second, by speaking in a hybrid voice, I wanted to try and come down from
Mount Academe. I wanted to bridge the enormous cultural and linguistic gap that
separates academics from ordinary people. In e ect, I wanted to create a kind of
``linguistic reciprocity that transcends the discursive regimes of all academic disciplines. I wanted to demonstrate my respect for and skill in the language of local people
both during the eldwork and in the nal written ethnography . In return, I expect the
local folks, and local folks everywhere, to engage and learn from what is left of my
anthropologica l voice. Countless methodologica l articles have been written about how
researchers develop reciprocity with their informants. We all know how to do little
favors for informants to get information, but most of us still do not have a clue how to
create linguistic reciprocity that honors, and, in some sense, empowers our subjects.
Besides speaking in a hybrid voice, the other key narrative device that might create
linguistic reciprocity is the foregrounding of people, characters, and events over
academic, theoretical commentary. Such a narrative move makes displaying ones
mastery of academic discourses, hence ones cultural capital, secondary to telling a
story about cultural others. Although both LCC and Chronicles have received mainly
positive reviews, it is obvious that colleagues do not quite know what to make of
an ethnographic narrative that uses a hybrid voice and background s theory.
Many ethnographers now advocate writing more popular, personal, and passionate
ethnographies , and they often assign them to their undergraduates ; but professional
preferences for a formal, theory-driven, impersonal academic narrative style persist;
consequently, many young ethnographer s are caught between the dictates of the
discipline to write theory-driven texts and their political desire to write accessible
popular texts. But backgrounding theory does not mean abandoning theory. As I
tried to convey earlier, Chronicles still uses social scientic constructs heuristically,
but they are embedded in the stories and rarely interrupt the narrative ow.

Experimenting with epistemologica l and intertextual reexivity


As previously noted, the text presents an exhaustive account of how local talk and the
texts of white journalists and academics have been discursively constructing the
Indian cultural other for years. By calling attention to a long, systematic historical
process of image construction, a ``cultural mode of production, I am situating my
own representations within a historical eld of knowledge production. This helps
convey that I am one more voice in a long line of White voices. This should suggest

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the possibility that I too may be misrepresenting Mesquaki culture. Perhaps my carefully researched, heartfelt account is still an ``e ect of its eld of production. More
importantly, it is probably not what Mesquakis would write about themselves. And if
situating my representations intertextually fails to convey their constructed nature,
then perhaps a direct ``community review process will. Forty of the key characters
were asked to read and critique a draft of the Chronicles, and the highlights of their
commentary are published in the epilogue. Some locals are quick to point out that I,
like others, have misrepresented Indians and Whites. Several reviewers claim that I
am hopelessly biased and romanticize various events and characters, that my story is
just a story, not an objective, scientic study.
Another way that Chronicles is intertextual or polyvocal is through an extensive,
explicit use of native theories to explain and portray Mesquaki reality. Typically,
ethnographer s rely heavily on the insights of their informants, but they do not always
highlight such collaborations. Rarely do they dethrone the rational, scientic talking
head that announces what various everyday events really mean. In sharp contrast,
Chronicles elevates some Mesquaki stories to the status of formal or ``o cial interpretations. For example, tribal historian Jonas CutCows explanation of the intratribal
debate over assimilation sounded very much like the anthropological notion of ``ethnogenesis (Roosens, 1989). He convinced me that outsiders have consistently misread
the dialogue between tribal ``progressives and ``traditionalists as destructive factionalism. The Mesquaki political system is then christened ``dysfunctional and in need of
democratic White ways. Jonas is portrayed as an ``organic intellectual critiquing
such theories and o ering an alternative, indigenous view.
In addition, the text highlights various encounters with other thoughtful
Mesquakis on culture, politics, and religion. The portrayal of these encounters seeks
to convey how much my ``expert interpretation relies on local knowledge. For example, the Chronicles includes a story about a BIA agent who sought to terminate the
tribal school but died in a mysterious plane crash shortly after leaving the settlement.
Most Mesquakis believe that God terminated the agent who was trying to terminate
their culture. This tale is told somewhat like the magical realist tales of Gabriel Garcia
Marquez. The plane crash was a strange, mysterious occurrence that dees interpretation. For all I know, the Mesquaki version of it is true.

Experimenting with deconstructiv e reexivity


Unlike some postmodern ethnographies, Chronicles does not purport to deconstruct
taken-for-grante d reality through a disjunctive, evocative, poetic text. Nor does it
deconstruct its metaconcepts through a careful rhetorical analysis. Instead,
Chronicles deconstructs popular and academic images of Indians and Whites with
two modernist narrative devices, allegory and parody. For example, the story of Jay
Whitebreast, the AIM activist, is in many ways the story of every Mesquaki who has
experienced local racism. Whitebreast, a dutiful student and star athlete, drops out of
school and becomes an activist. He is driven to assuage the sting of a scurrilous local
newspaper story about the mysterious death of his drunken mother. Like any loving
son, he rebels against his mother being turned into a humiliating public spectacle.
Various other portrayal s of traditional Mesquaki wakes and adoption ceremonies are
also told in a very personal, nontechnical manner that highlights Mesquaki feelings
and sentiments. It conveys how Mesquakis deal with the loss of their loved ones. There

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are no abstract cultural others present. There is no detailed, pedantic account of the
events sequence and symbols. Various stories about Indian and White ``border crossers who can function in both cultural worlds are also used to disrupt rigid either/or
essentialized racial categories. In the end, such portrayals of Mesquaki politics and
culture deconstruct both rabid racist and arid scientic otherings of Indians.
The other major deconstructive narrative device, parody, is used to disrupt the
notion that it is ``normal for outsiders, including me, to collect and represent traditional Mesquaki culture. Chronicles portrays a steady stream of scientists, literary
types, and journalists vainly searching for authentic Indian culture. It parodies several
di erent types of voyeuristic White searches: the anthropological search for authentic,
ancient religious ceremonies, the journalistic search for sensational stories about dogeating Indians, and the literary search for heightened spirituality among Indians. My
own guilty e ort to see a wake is analogized to other exoticizing or vilifying accounts
of the Indian cultural other. I hope the aforementioned stories disrupt the naturalized
relationship between Mesquaki ``informants and outsiders who write about tribal
life. They call into question whether such portrayal s actually serve the public interest.

Summing up: a reexive realist critical ethnography


Using a typology of reexivity to situate my ethnographi c practice in a complex
academic debate is a risky business. Any deconstructionis t steeped in social theory
could poke holes in the ideal types used to crudely map these debates. Having made
such a sustained, earnest e ort to represent my perspective, I am tempted to revert to
a silly bit of popular culture. One of my favorite banalities on TV was Donnie and
Marie Osmond. Week after week they grinned and cooed, ``Im a little bit country;
Im a little bit rock and roll. In the same vein, I cannot be as fervently postmodern as
Patti Lather, or as boldly autobiographica l as Carolyn Ellis, or as devoutly scientic as
Pierre Bourdieu. I cannot even be a ``real Marxist. After 30 years, perhaps I end up a
little bit Marxist and a little bit postmodern. This became very clear when I tried out
my perspective on old friends of di erent ideological persuasions. Cultural Marxist
Paul Willis said my perspective was philosophically contradictory and too selfindulgent and postmodern for his tastes. At the other end of the spectrum, Patti
Lather says I am too modernist and realist for her postmodern tastes. Such commentaries are enough to provoke a professional identity crisis! Well, not really. In retrospect, perhaps the only thing new in this tortured reection is the way I cobble
together allegedly contradictory perspectives.
Unlike Phil Carspecken (1996), I have little interest in developing a foundational
scientic method for critical ethnography. I am much more interested in expanding
the notion of cultural critique by tapping into the genres of autobiography , new
journalism, travel writing, and ction. Appropriating epistemologies and textual practices from these genres will help us create more public, useful ethnographic storytelling
forms. Such a ``science would still subscribe to extensive, systematic eldwork, and it
would speak from a historically situated standpoint. Such a science would be highly
reexive, which, I have tried to argue, means much more than borrowing a few
narrative nostrums from novelists or postmodern ethnographers . On that score, formerly marginalized feminists and scholars of color seem to be leading the way.
Among other things, reexivity involves holding dichotomies like science
humanities/art in a useful tension. In this regard, I continue to use a quasi-scienti c

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abductive epistemology, or what Paul Willis (1999) now calls an ``ethnographic imagination to know, map, and explain the lived reality of cultural others. But I am also
trying to tap into introspection, intuition, and emotion the way autoethnographer s
(Ellis & Bochner, 1996, 2001) and ethnic (Collins, 1990) and indigenous scholars
(Tuhiwami Smith, 1999) are. Such experimentation does not make me a novelist or
a poet, or a postmodern ethnographer . It does make me an ethnographer who is
trying to use common sense, autobiographica l experiences, ordinary language,
irony, satire, metaphor, and parody to understand everyday life. And for good measure, I have social theory and the at, colorless, denotative language of science in my
interpretive/narrative arsenal as well.
Ideally, this eclectic approach helps produce realist narratives that are much more
accessible and reexive that either scientic realist or surrealist postmodern narratives.
My reasons for trying to create such realist texts are practical and political. I believe
that most academics, including cultural Marxists, acquiesce to the huge cultural gap
between intellectuals and ordinary people. Like many ``native ethnographers on the
fringe of academe, I feel a great need to communicate with ordinary people. Although
I generally agree with the postmodern critique of scientic realism, some postmodernists abandon realism far too quickly. For better or worse, ordinary people understand, enjoy, and consume the deceptively simple realist narrative style. Radically
anti-realist ethnographi c texts may be interesting literary experiments, but they are no
more accessible and engaging than dry, jargon-lled scientic realist texts. Rather, we
should learn from earlier modernist textual experimentation (Stam, 1985; Brecht,
1964) how to create accessible, highly reexive realist cultural critiques.
Writing in a more reexive realist style will not magically democratize the academy or society, but such texts may help ordinary people develop a critical literacy
(Kellner, 1995) about scientic texts and knowledge claims. It might also curb the
hubris of academic knowledge production a little. If an ethnographer uses all the
varieties of reexivity in practice, she really will be forced to give up what Donna
Haraway (1988) calls the ``god-trick of science and utopian thought. No matter how
epistemologicall y reexive and systematic our eldwork is, we must still speak as mere
mortals from various historical, culture-boun d standpoints; we must still make limited,
historically situated knowledge claims. By claiming to be less rather than more, perhaps we can tell stories that ordinary people will actually nd more believable and
useful.

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