Postmodernism, Deconstructionism,
Postmodernism, Deconstructionism,

Postmodernism, Deconstructionism,

Available Only on StudyHippo
  • Pages: 11 (5339 words)
  • Published: November 2, 2018
Text preview

Postmodernism

In the late 1960’s the social sciences (mainly anthropology and sociology) entered a crisis period in which traditional ways of conducting the study of the Other were re-examined in the context of their association with dominance-submission hierarchies and the objectification of the subjects of study. There was seen to be an association between Western imperialism’s objectification of the Third World and the Western data imperialism’ that objectified the subjects of study. Increasingly social science research was called to task in the creation of new ways of conducting social science research outside of the positivist-empiricist paradigm and conducting research that was relevant and useful to the people studied.

Lyotard questioned the authority of all self-validating theoretical frameworks that were used to legitimize science. He argued that researchers should study the world in its fragmentary state, examining each distinct fragment, rather than creating meta-theories to explain observed cultural phenomenon and argued for the creation of new, temporally appropriate, modes of expression which questions the implied authority of traditional theoretical and methodological constructs (1984). Derrida (1976) questioned the relationship of text and author, challenging the dominance of the latter over the former, offering deconstructionism as an answer to the problem of authorship and interpretation of texts. Clifford (1988)

...

viewed the accepted ethnographic authority as being derived from the privileging of “participant observation” as evidence of the authenticity of the text; the author having gone there, observed the event, and which he objectively reported as fact on his return. Nichols writes: “mobility and travel no longer serve as a symbol for the expansion of one’s moral framework, the discovery of cultural relativity, the heroics of salvage ethnography, the indulgences of secret desires in strange placemovement and travel no longer legitimate, ironically the subjects’ right to disembodied speech, disembodied but master (italics in original text) narratives and mythologies in which the corporeal “I” who speaks dissolves itself in a disembodied, depersonalized, institutional speech of power and knowledge (Nichols 1994:7), in the postmodern context, he argues, “movement and travel become an experience of displacement and dislocation, of social and cultural estrangement, of retrieval, survival, and self-preservation (1994:7).

The Postmodernist view in ethnography, then, questions the basic assumptions underlying the reportage of ethnographic information, noting that reporting ethnography is a distinct action from doing ethnography, though equally important (Clifford and Marcus 1986); that there is not only one single language or style able to convey the elusive truth’ of the universe, in fact there are a multiplicity of reporting modes or voices capable of conveying ethnographic information (Rorty 1982); and thus ethnography should not be based on the conveyed understanding’ of the researcher (which places him or her in a position of privileged interpreter), on a dialogic relationship between the ethnographer and subject in which both participants within the dialogue are an integral part of the study (Marcus and Fisher 1986).

The current debate concerning the validation and reporting of ethnographic material generally takes the form rejection of all theoretical paradigms (Lyotard 1984), the deconstruction of texts (Derrida 1976),

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay
View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay

the removal of the authorial voice and sobriety in style (Marcus and Fisher 1986). Counterpoised to the postmodernists are the traditionalists, such as Geertz, who assert that ethnographic legitimacy is concomitant with the authors narrative ability and rejects the removal of the authorial voice from ethnographic texts. Fontana states that, “traditional ethnographers sought (and continue to seek) to explain a slice of culture by understanding’ the members of that culture”, yet the observations made of the Other are still interpreted within the conceptual framework of the ethnographer and communicated via the ethnographer’s own subjective voice. To what ever degree the ethnographer has participated in the subject culture, what is seen and recorded is still filtered through the ethnographer’s perceptual, conceptual, and communicative paradigms (Fontana 1994). Classical ethnographic film, based, as it is, upon its written sister, the ethnographic monograph, as well as its historical forms – travelogues, romantic historical reconstructions (Curtis, Flaherty), and the early scientific’ salvage ethnographies – suffers from the same criticisms concerning its objectification and essentialization of the cultures it purports to visually represent. The connection between First World and Third World relations of paternalism-dependence’ and powerful-disempowered’ with modes of representation is not insignificant in the discussion of ethnographic film’s current crisis as this is the macro-context in which anthropology/ethnography and ethnographic film developed and exists.

Postmodern ethnography attempts to subvert the dominance-submission hierarchy implicit in the traditional ethnographer-subject relationship through deconstruction of the text and multi-vocality. Going beyond reflexive techniques of drawing attention to the author’s involvement and influence, postmodernists argue that the entire relationship has to be horizontalized so that it becomes a dialogic relationship of communicative exchange and one in which the process of exchange becomes part of the data – and a subject of study (Fontana 1994). In ethnography this crossing of the line’ is most visibly associated with the reflexive ethnographer in the event’ styles of Rouch, Stoller, MacDougal, Myerhoff, and Shostak, the first, third, and fourth also utilizing reflexive elements in their ethnographic films. Though they all broke with the conventions of traditional ethnography, in my opinion Myerhoff and Shostack come closest to the stated goals of postmodern ethnography via there virtually horizontalization of the ethnographer-subject relationship. At this time I am not aware of any ethnographic text which exemplifies the postmodern ideal, though I am aware of the movement in ethnography towards a more prose and narrative based structure.

Deconstructionism

As postmodernism seeks to create new modes of ethnographer-subjects relationships and create access to voices previously unheard, it also seeks to deconstruct textual representations of social phenomenon I order to dissect and reveal the underlying meanings, biases, and preconceptions that structure the ways in which a text conceptualizes its relations to what is described. Closely identified with the philosophical analysis of Derrida, and at once an offshoot and an element of the postmodern critique of social science and humanities, deconstructionism utilizes a methodology directed at the interrogation of texts. It attempts to dissect and reveal the underlying meanings, biases, and preconceptions that structure the way a text is conceptualized in relation to what it purports to describe. Critical to deconstructionism, is the

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay