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part of the community laura clawson July 2004. Having spent the summers of 2001 and 2002 doing ‹eldwork among Sacred Harp singers on Sand Mountain (in northeast Alabama), in 2004 I used my local contacts to help Dana, an anthropology graduate student, ‹nd housing for the summer. During a short trip, I was in Dana’s living room with Allison, a singer in her twenties whose father is a respected singing-school teacher and whose family has been singing Sacred Harp for generations. Looking at a stack of videos, CDs, and instructional booklets produced for small-scale sale that various singers had given Dana to help her with her research, I wondered aloud why nobody ever gave me their sale products given that I, too, was studying Sacred Harp. “They just think of you as part of the community,” Allison replied. One of the great temptations of ethnography is to consider oneself a complete insider, someone around whom no editing takes place. The record is littered with people who have in one way or another made too grand a claim in this regard and been shot down. But the temptation persists, and ethnographers of groups that can be glamorized or sentimentalized are often especially eager to see themselves through that lens, to be not just a staid academic but someone grittier and more “real.” Studying a community in which your subjects are in close relationships with each other increases the temptation, offering not only acceptance by individuals but a sense of membership. But how do you and your subjects decide when you are an insider and when you are a researcher? How do 61 you manage your commitments as a community member while maintaining enough independence to produce sound analysis? This issue must be navigated during both the ‹eldwork and writing processes, with each stage involving distinct challenges. At the same time, there are signi‹cant bene‹ts to deep engagement in a community of research subjects. Indeed, the ‹eldworker who does not become suf‹ciently engaged to feel the temptations of belonging is likely to produce work lacking in understanding or empathy. Every ethnographer grapples with these questions, and many methodological pieces have dealt with variations on them. In this chapter, I consider my own experiences through the lens of such earlier work. Though researching a community, and one you are a part of, introduces both complication and richness, I would argue that doing so does not pose unique challenges but rather extends those faced by all ethnographers . The Temptation. In a review essay on Loic Wacquant’s Body and Soul, Paul Stoller draws on his own experience as an ethnographer. Several years ago, I phoned Issi‹ Mayaki, one of my Nigerien friends who lived in New York City. Issi‹, whom I had known for more than 10 years, was one of the principal characters in Money Has No Smell, my ethnography of West African immigrants in New York City . . . When I met new immigrants from Niger who had come to visit their compatriot at his market stall in Harlem, Issi‹ would introduce me as his “brother.” “Paul is one of us,” he liked to say. “He speaks our language and understands our ways.” After several rings, Issi‹’s brother picked up the phone. “This is Paul,” I said introducing myself. “Who is it?” I heard Issi‹ asking in the background. “Paul.” “Oh that’s the white man,” Issi‹ said to his brother, not knowing he had been overheard. “I’ll take it.” Moments later he picked up the receiver . “Paul! How are you, my brother?” (Stoller 2005, 197) This anecdote immediately—and even viscerally—captures the potential embarrassments and disappointments that can be incurred by believing that your relationships with your subjects are uncomplicated. But aside from the momentary dismay such an experience engenders, it also suggests 62 • research confidential a serious intellectual danger: If you believe too strongly in your own insider status, believe that your subjects really do see you as a “brother” like anyone else they call by that title, your analysis and conclusions are likely to be predicated on that erroneous belief. And however close to the subject you are, however genuine the feeling between you, there will be moments when that belief is wrong—either about their feelings toward you or yours toward them. the research project Sacred Harp For my dissertation I conducted participant observation in four communities of Sacred Harp singers. Sacred Harp singing is an a cappella singing tradition practiced...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472026531
Related ISBN
9780472050260
MARC Record
OCLC
646069080
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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