Ethnography as learning: A wittgensteinian approach to writing ethnographic accounts

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Powerful critiques of anthropology over the last twenty years have sometimes questioned whether ethnography should continue as a central practice for cultural anthropology. Epistemologically, ethnography has made claims to objectivity that ring hollow upon close examination. Politically, ethnography has often presumed a definitional authority that recreates power dynamics that recall anthropology's colonial past. Indeed, some critics have suggested that ethnographic representation is inherently violent. This article, while admitting much justice to these critiques, argues the necessity of preserving the centrality of ethnography within anthropology. It suggests that ethnography should be approached contingently, as a form of learning, rather than absolutely, as a form of representation. It is inspired by the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the ethnography of violence per se. [ethnography, epistemology, violence, Sri Lanka, representation].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalAnthropological Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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