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    Revisits:AnOutlineofaTheory

    ofReflexiveEthnography

    MichaelBurawoy

    University of California, Berkeley

    This paper explores the ethnographic technique of the focused revisitrare in soci-ology but common in anthropology when an ethnographer returns to the site of aprevious study. Discrepancies between earlier and later accounts can be attributed

    to differences in: (1) the relation of observer to participant, (2) theory brought to thefield by the ethnographer, (3) internal processes within the field site itself, or (4)forces external to the field site. Focused revisits tend to settle on one or another ofthese four explanations, giving rise to four types of focused revisits. Using examples,the limits of each type of focused revisit are explored with a view to developing areflexive ethnography that combines all four approaches. The principles of the fo-

    cused revisit are then extended to rolling, punctuated, heuristic, archeological, andvaledictory revisits. In centering attention on ethnography-as-revisit sociologistsdirectly confront the dilemmas of participating in the world they studya world thatundergoes (real) historical change that can only be grasped using a (constructed)theoretical lens.

    cipline of anthropology. After four decadesof expansion, starting in the 1950s, there arenow many more anthropologists swarmingover the globe. They come not only fromWestern centers but also from ex-colonies.They are ever more skeptical of positive sci-ence, and embrace the interpretive turn, it-self pioneered by Geertz, that gives pride ofplace to culture as narrative and text. Wheneverything changes, from the small and im-mediate to the vast and abstractthe objectof study, the world immediately around it, thestudent, the world immediately around him,and the wider world around them boththere seems to be no place to stand so as to

    ackingbackwardand forwardthrough 40 years of field work, Clifford

    Geertz (1995) describes how changes in thetwo towns he studied, Pare in Indonesia andSefrou in Morocco, cannot be separated fromtheir nation statesthe one beleaguered by asuccession of political contestations and theother the product of dissolving structures.These two states, in turn, cannot be separatedfrom competing and transmogrifying worldhegemonies that entangle anthropologists aswell as their subjects. Just as Geertzs fieldsites have been reconfigured, so has the dis-

    Direct all correspondence to MichaelBurawoy, Department of Sociology, Universityof California, Berkeley, CA 94720 ([email protected]). This paper was launchedin a dissertation seminar where it received spir-ited criticism from Bill Hayes, Linus Huang,Rachel Sherman, and Michelle Williams. Sincethen I have taken it on the road and picked upcomments and suggestions from many, includingJulia Adams, Philip Bock, Patricia Clough,Mitchell Duneier, Steve Epstein, Jim Ferguson,Mara Patricia Fernndez-Kelly, MarionFourcade-Gourinchas, Herb Gans, Tom Gieryn,Teresa Gowan, Richard Grinker, Lynne Haney,Gillian Hart, Mike Hout, Jennifer Johnson-

    AmericanSociologicalReview,2003,Vol.68(October:645679) 645

    Hanks, Gail Kligman, Louise Lamphere, SteveLopez, Ruth Milkman, Sabina Neem, SherryOrtner, Mary Pattillo, Melvin Pollner, LeslieSalzinger, Ida Susser, Joan Vincent, LocWacquant, Ron Weitzer, and Erik Wright. I alsothank the four ASR reviewers, in particular DianeVaughan, whose inspired commentary led to ma-jor revisions, and Reviewer D, whose persistentcritical interventions kept my argument on aneven keel. This venture was made possible by ayear at Academys Arcadia, the Russell SageFoundation, to which revisits are rightly, butsadly, barred.

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    locate just what has altered and how (Geertz1995:2). This is the challenge of the ethno-graphic revisit: to disentangle movements ofthe external world from the researchers ownshifting involvement with that same world,all the while recognizing that the two are notindependent.

    With their detailed ethnographic revisits toclassic sites, the earlier anthropologiststended toward realism, focusing on the dy-namic properties of the world they studied,whereas more recently they have increas-ingly veered in a constructivist direction inwhich the ethnographer becomes the centralfigure. They have found it hard to steer abalanced course. On the other hand, sociolo-gist-ethnographers, grounded theorists inparticular, have simply ducked the challengealtogether. Too often they remain trapped inthe contemporary, riveted to and containedin their sites, from where they bracket ques-tions of historical change, social process,wider contexts, theoretical traditions, as wellas their own relation to the people theystudy. While sociology in general has takena historical turnwhether as a deprovincial-izing aid to social theory or as an analyticalcomparative history with its own mission,whether as historical demography or longi-tudinal survey researchethnography hasbeen slow to emancipate itself from the eter-nal present. My purpose here is to encour-age and consolidate what historical interestthere exists within sociology-as-ethnogra-phy, transporting it from its unconscious pastinto a historicized world by elaborating thenotion of ethnography-as-revisit. This, inturn, lays the foundations for a reflexive eth-nography.1

    Let me define my terms. An ethnographicrevisit occurs when an ethnographer under-takes participant observation, that is, study-ing others in their space and time, with aview to comparing his or her site with thesame one studied at an earlier point in time,whether by him or herself or by someoneelse. This is to be distinguished from an eth-nographic reanalysis, which involves the in-

    terrogation of an already existing ethnogra-phy without any further field work.Colignons (1996) critical reexamination andreinterpretation of Selznicks (1949) TVAand the Grassroots or Franke and Kauls(1978) reexamination of the Hawthornestudies are both examples of reanalyses. Arevisit must also be distinguished from anethnographic update, which brings an earlierstudy up to the present but does not reengageit. Hollingsheads (1975) empirical accountof changes in Elmstown is an update becauseit does not seriously engage with the origi-nal study. Gans (1982) updates The UrbanVillagers, not so much by adding new fielddata as by addressing new literatures onclass and poverty. These are not hard andfast distinctions, but they nonetheless guidemy choice of the ethnographic revisits I ex-amine in this paper.

    There is one final but fundamental distinc-tionthat between revisit and replication.Ethnographers perennially face the criticismthat their research is not trans-personally rep-licablethat one ethnographer will view thefield differently from another.2 To strive forreplicability in this constructivist sense is tostrip ourselves of our prejudices, biases,theories, and so on before entering the fieldand to minimize the impact of our presenceonce we are in the field. Rather than dive intothe pool fully clothed, we stand naked on theside. With the revisit we believe the contrary:There is no way of seeing clearly without atheoretical lens, just as there is no passive,

    1 A reflexive ethnography can also be devel-oped through synchronic comparisonscompar-ing two factories, communities, schools, and soonin different spatial contexts, as well asthrough the diachronic comparisons of the tem-poral revisit that form the basis of this paper.

    2 Or even worse, the same ethnographer willhave divergent interpretations of the sameevents. Thus, Van Maanen (1988) describes hisfield work among police on patrol successivelyas a realist tale that strives for the native pointof view, as a confessional tale that is preoc-cupied with the field workers own experiences,and as an impressionistic (from the paintinggenre of Impressionism) tale that brings the fieldworker and subject into a dynamic relationship.Wolf (1992) similarly presents her field work onshamans in Taiwan in three different ways: asfield notes, as fictional account, and as profes-sional article. While recognizing the importanceof experimental writing and the contributions ofthe postmodern criticism of ethnography, Wolfends up defending the professional article withits rules of evidence and interpretation. Such po-lyphony calls for a vocabulary and frameworkbeyond replication.

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    neutral position. The revisit demands that webe self-conscious and deliberate about thetheories we employ and that we capitalize onthe effects of our interventions. There is also,however, a second meaning of replicationthat concerns not controlling conditions ofresearch, but testing the robustness of find-ings. We replicate a study in order to showthat the findings hold across the widest vari-ety of cases, that to use one of Hughess(1958) examplesthe need to deal with dirtywork applies as much to physicians as jani-tors. Replication means searching for simi-larity across difference. When we revisit,however, our purpose is not to seek con-stancy across two encounters but to under-stand and explain variation, in particular tocomprehend difference over time.

    In short, the ethnographic revisit champi-ons what replication strives, in vain, to re-press. Where replication is concerned withminimizing intervention to control researchconditions and with maximizing the diver-sity of cases to secure the constancy of find-ings, the purpose of the revisit is the exactopposite: to focus on the inescapable dilem-mas of participating in the world we study,on the necessity of bringing theory to thefield, all with a view to developing explana-tions