If you’ve gotten this far, it is obvious that this ethnography is unconventional and maybe unlike any other ethnography that you have encountered before. I have chosen to present my ethnographic research in a wordpress format that incorporates visual and audio data with the textual analysis and description of conventional ethnography.
My departure from a conventional ethnographic essay or book stems from several inadequacies of the traditional anthropological textual form. As an undergraduate student, my peers and I frequently commiserate about how the amount and type of work that we have to do on a weekly basis, much of it being academic readings. Uncertain of our career paths, undergraduates can be very critical of academia until we find a major or goal that satisfies our wants and needs.
First and foremost, my fellow anthropology students and I find that academic jargon makes ethnography too often inaccessible for both many first-year students as well as larger audiences outside of academia. I understand that there are times when sophisticated, scientific nomenclature can be necessary for being clear and concise, however many ethnographers too often rely on academic jargon to get across ideas that can be said in simpler terms. This type of overly sophisticated (borderline pretentious) writing requires a quality higher education to for translation. Anthropologists like to believe that their work can somehow benefit the subject of study rather than being exploitative. However, if the people involved in the study cannot understand the ethnography because of a language barrier (especially if that language barrier is from layman’s English to PhD. English), the work can become further removed from the reality of people we build our careers off of.
Second, the media of academic journals and books are only accessible to those people wealthy enough to purchase them or people connected to academic libraries and similar institutions. As soon as I graduate in a month or so, I will no longer have access to the types of scholarly writing and information that is afforded to those either enrolled or employed in a college or university. I could buy these books and journals but we all know how expensive these publications are.
Fourth, academic jargon strips the textual analysis of the emotion so often involved with the people we study. Emotion is an everyday and universal human phenomena that people express either through simple language or without language at all. The academic jargon of conventional ethnography fails to convey the emotions felt and experienced in our fieldwork. Although I believe that written language never can truly or completely represent the way humans feel, the conventional written language of ethnography falls too short of a proper thick description. Recent writers in anthropology like Renato Rosaldo have begun to write ethnography in ways that explicitly and intentionally grapple with emotions like grief (Rosaldo 2013). By incorporating creative forms of writing as well as less formal language, ethnography comes closer to representing the emotional forces that an anthropologist encounters during their fieldwork.
Lastly, text as a singular mode of representation limits the ways in which readers can approach ethnography. Being that food is a central aspect of my fieldwork, a multi-sensual approach is best. Text fails to properly describe the smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and feel of the events that I study. Recent ethnography like David E. Sutton’s Secrets of a Greek Kitchen (Sutton 2014) incorporate references to YouTube videos that the reader can then watch on their computer. The videos in addition to printed photographs give readers sights and sounds to supplement the textual analysis on the page.
Using the wordpress format addresses many of these issues. All somebody needs to read the project is access to the internet. My subjects (who are my friends and family) can visit the site anytime to either read for themselves or show to anyone else who is interested. I did not need connections with a publisher to make the site and get my ideas out to a public audience. Thankfully, Professor Mary Beth Mills holds me to the high standard expected of a college student. I also write in more casual prose to let my work better reflect the casual, familial settings that my fieldwork focused on.
You will notice that I incorporated hyperlinks into the text of my project. These hyperlinks are attached to photos and audio clips that should provide readers the multi-sensual experience that I am striving for. If I had video clips (or any way of transmitting smells and tastes through the computer screen) to further supplement the project, I would use them. However, I find that the way that photos and audio clips isolate sight and sound respectively can sometimes give readers a more focused and concentrated experience, rather than the overstimulation of experiencing textual, visual, and audio media simultaneously as one would with a video playing beside the text. As readers click on the hyperlinks, they get a focused audio or visual representation of the dinner and also are able to engage with the project on their own terms. I hope that using the hyperlinks has the effect of making readers feel as if they themselves are investigating these materials, what I believe would be a more immersive ethnographic experience.