Tractatus Methodologico-Ethnographicus: A Short Introduction to the Anthropological Study of Worlds

Entering a world is to actvate it.

The Tractatus Methodologico-Ethnographicus: A Short Introduction to the Anthropological Study of Worlds is an open access/creative commons introductory text on ethnography created by Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Bob Simpson. This free guide introduces ethnographic inquiry as the study of worlds – people’s lived realities – and how we might go about trying to understand these worlds and narrate them to others. Despite what Bob Simpson himself describes as a “rather pompous title”, this text is easy to follow, arranged as a series of short numbered paragraphs that break down the process of ‘doing’ ethnography and thinking about worlds. It is an ideal primer that would work well for introductory workshops or undergraduate classes to explain what social and cultural anthropologists do.

As Bob Simpson explains,

Getting to grips with the craft of ethnographic writing is the point at which social anthropology really comes alive for undergraduates. This is even more the case when they try to write it for themselves.  In recent years, however, there has been a growing tension between the enthusiasm that undergraduates have for producing ethnography on the one hand and, on the other, the difficulties they have in getting to the point where they can actually gather the raw materials out of which ethnography is made [and this is not limited to undergraduates either].  The need to navigate ethics approval, consent requirements, data protection, and much else that gravitates against the naturalistic and improvisatory tenor of anthropological fieldwork, can eviscerate the ethnographic project.  

As a response to these developments, I (along with Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner) produced EthNav, a tool hosted by the Association of Social Anthropologists, to navigate the increasingly complex landscape of oversight and regulation within which social anthropologists find themselves.

The Tractatus Methodologico-Ethnographicus complements EthNav in that it attempts to provide a short and simple primer which lays out the essential elements that go into the production of an ethnography.  Needless to say, mine is one particular take on the relationship between method and theory as these relate to ethnography but hopefully it is one that will engage and stimulate students to think about what is going on when they encounter ethnographic praxis for the first time. Tony Wilson, the Mancunium broadcaster and record producer described praxis as “doing something, and then only afterwards, finding out why you did it” which is very much the spirit in which I approach things in this guide.

Bob Simpson, Emeritus Professor, Durham University.
There are multiple ways in which we might narrate a world.

The text consists of six short, easy to digest chapters, covering assumptions about where ethnography should be done and what can or cannot be discovered, before moving on to the practicalities of entering the field, recording and interpreting data. As no prior knowledge of anthropology is required and all new words are fully explained, the text serves as a self-contained primer for doing ethnographic research. Further explorations, particularly regarding ethics, can then be found in the free EthNav resources.

The Tractatus Methodologico-Ethnographicus: A Short Introduction to the Anthropological Study of Worlds is freely available here.

Header Image : Pexels by Mo

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