Which way round? Some thoughts on second lives of ethnographic writings
(Goethe University Frankfurt and Free University of Bolzano)
Paper short abstract:
This paper pleads for a multifaceted collaborative relationship with 'old' ethnographies. Avoiding the beaten tracks of contemporary views and terminologies, they seem to hold a particular potential for generating novel perspectives on contemporary issues.
Paper long abstract:
Since planning my initial fieldwork, ethnographies for which the authors had gathered the material during the 1930s-1940s, the earliest possible period for the location in question, and other authors during the 1960's and 1970's had played a significant role for my own understanding and writing during the 2000s. The German Lutheran missionaries, Georg Vicedom and Hermann Strauss, had followed in the footsteps of the Australian explorers of the Papua New Guinea Highlands, eventually staying for several decades. Both of them published substantial ethnographies. Thirty years later, two British anthropologists worked in the area, publishing several ethnographies in the 1970's. Sustaining an indeed collaborative relationship with these 'old' and 'middle aged' ethnographies, when preparing my research, while staying in the region and especially after returning was crucial for my relationship with the place and its people. It not only provided the possibility of comparing particular details, of getting a sense of time and its transformations and of perceiving different perspectives on events or practices, but also constantly allowed me to rethink my own approach to the data. This contribution also pays attention to another aspect: the continuous potential of 'old' ethnographies to generate new perspectives and ideas. What one reads and 'sees' in these ethnographies depends as much on the reader himself than on the material and one might ask how much of the discipline's innovation and regeneration is due to inspiration coming from 'young(er)' eyes on 'old(er)' writings.
What to do with 'old' anthropology? Zeitgeist, knowledge and time