Seduced by the Field: Methodological Transgressions in Ethnography

Victoria Hegner


Ethnographic fieldwork is commonly described as a way of gaining data whereby the researcher continually oscillates between being intensely engaged with the people in the "field" and remaining cognitively distant. Within this context, authors of methodological text books caution students and novices of ethnography against a kind of overidentification with the studied protagonists. Overidentification, they argue, diminishes the researcher's analytical competence as well as the capacity of self-reflection. Although this has widely been acknowledged as a methodological dictum, ethnographies of researchers who risked "loosing distance" to "the field" or even "went native," often play key roles in shaping the academic discourse and understanding of the phenomenon under study. I trace how those researchers conceptionalized and thus legitimized their "methodological transgressions." The focus centers on three recent ethnographic studies of neo-pagan witchcraft and of pugilism. By discussing the method of compassion, the concept of the vulnerable observer and the idea of a carnal ethnography, my goal is to question long established and still taught theorems on fieldwork (particularly within the German speaking academic context) and to introduce new methodological debates, and to promote the recently proclaimed "renaissance of ethnography."



methods; fieldwork; carnal ethnography; witchcraft; pugilism; vulnerability; method of compassion; going native; new religiosity


Copyright (c) 2013 Victoria Hegner

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