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November 24, 2006

Who/What is the Lost Ethnographer

Welcome to the Lost Ethnographer.

One of the great dangers of doing ethnography and anthropology is going native. As a scientist anthropologist I have felt that I have been charged with a responsibility to be objective in my observations of a subect culture. To do this requires me to remain detached from the phenomena I have been observing.

As a human being, I find myself constantly challenged to maintain a non-judgemental stance toward the events and behaviors I have been observing and studing. This calls for a cultural relativity that can conflict with my own personal and my native culture's values and beliefs. As an ethographe robserver I find myself at the center of matrix of intertwined social and cultural systems. The demands and contridications that these system impose upon my professional identity as an observercan be ethically challenging.

The matrix is composed of the cultures represented by my profession's culture, my culture of origin, my personal culture, and the subject cultures with whom I am engaged.

This is further compounded because unlike other social/behavioral sciences, the ethnographic methodology requires me to find the appropriate balance of between the participant and observer roles. Being an ethnography is more like good investigative journalism than the laboratory or cybermodeling scientists seen on TV or in the movies.

I have found that deep immersion in the other culture is necessary to more fully understand it in both an objective and subjective sense. The deeper the immersion the greater the chance to penetrate the layers of culture and to gain acceptance. At the same time experience of participating in these deeper levels provide an insight into the reasons behind the behavior. Yet, there is a real danger of losing perspective. A lost ethnographer is the one who teeters on brink of breaking free from the bounds of the profession's culture, and/or totally identifying with the subject culture [ie. going native] or coming ethnocentric [i.e. becoming reactionary clinging to his culture of origin].

The Lost Ethnographer is a blog dedicated to the exploration and understanding of the complexities and challenges of maintaining objectivity while being immersed in a subject culture. The challenge is greatest when one pursues a career outside of the traditional academic context. For the past 30 years, I have studied and practiced the role of the 'applied" professional anthropologist. I am interested in sharing experiences with others who may also been in a similar situation. When have you found yourself teetering? How have you dealt with it?