Anthropology contra ethnography

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Ethnography aims to describe life as it is lived and experienced, by a people, somewhere, sometime. Anthropology, by contrast, is an inquiry into the conditions and possibilities of human life in the world. Anthropology and ethnography may have much to contribute to one another, but their aims and objectives are different. Ethnography is an end in itself; it is not a means to anthropological ends. Moreover, participant observation is an anthropological way of working, not a method of ethnographic data collection. To study anthropology is to study with people, not to make studies of them; such study is not so much ethnographic as educational. An anthropological education gives us the intellectual means to speculate on the conditions of human life in this world, without our having to pretend that our arguments are distillations of the practical wisdom of those among whom we have worked. Our job is to correspond with them, not to speak for them. Only by acknowledging the speculative nature of anthropological inquiry can we both make our voices heard and properly engage with other disciplines. And only then can we lead the way in forging the universities of the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-26
Number of pages6
JournalHau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2017


  • ethnography
  • anthropology
  • participation
  • observation
  • method
  • education
  • philosophy
  • art
  • university


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