Accepted paper:

Vanishing dwellings: the ethnological gaze re-visited


Karin Gustavsson (Lund University)

Paper short abstract:

Studying how archival records such as texts, drawings and photographs were created complicates the picture of dwellings in the past. Exploring the ethnological gaze of field-workers in the first decades of the 20th century sheds new light on both rural homesteads and past practices of ethnologists.

Paper long abstract:

In the first decades of the 20th Century, ethnologist stormed the countrysides of European countries in the hope of "saving" a peasant culture considered to be on the brink of extinction. The aim was not only to preserve the memory of something vanishing but also to produce material for future research. These young fieldworkers created drawings, descriptions and photographs under the instructions and guidance of older colleagues; adhering to strict rules of that time of scientific objectivity and impartiality. Today, it is obvious that the perceived scientific objectivity that guided the etnological fieldworkers was an ideal rather than reality. The fieldworkers had to make choices in the field of what to document and how. One criteria stood out: what was considered old enough, and therefore authentic, was documented. Other reasons can also be found. The people who did the field work in Sweden were mostly from bourgeois families and thus brought up in quite different physical and mental milieu in comparison to the rural homesteads they documented. The ideal bourgeoise home at that time consisted of dual spheres; a stage where status was performed publicly, and as a contrast a parallel private sphere were no visitors were let in. The rural homesteads did not have this duality, here the home as a whole was public. What kind of expectations did those fieldworkers bring with them to the field when confronted with rural homesteads so far away from their own experiencies? How did their own preconceptions about homesteads influence their selections?

panel Arch03
Dwelling in the cultural archives II: policies and archive practices