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  • Inter-area Ethnography:A Latin Americanist in Japan
  • Michelle Bigenho

For some time now anthropologists have been engaged in critical discussions about the multisited nature of their fieldwork (Marcus 1995; Starn 1999; Gupta and Ferguson 1997), discussions that emerge along with the demands that anthropology grasp the interactions of a globalized world (Appadurai 1990; Ebron 2002: 2-5; Gupta and Ferguson 2002; Hannerz 2002 [1989]; Meisch 2002: 5-7). Anthropologists have also examined how knowledge associated with particular places emerges through geographic lenses of specialization, either as culture areas or as institutionally-funded area studies programs (Appadurai 1986; Fardon 1990; Lederman 1998; Thomas 1991:317; Gupta and Ferguson 1997: 8; Herzfeld 2001: 42). In this article, I examine what happens when multisited fieldwork leads to encounters with multiple area studies and culture area lenses. While conducting research on the intercultural nexus of Bolivian music in Japan, I experienced a particularly jarring moment of fieldwork that led me to reflect on what I call inter-area ethnography. My purpose is not to assess the advantages and disadvantages of area studies and culture areas, but rather to apply a reflexive turn to the inter-area fieldwork that emerged in this multisited research. [End Page 667]

While my own training locates me within Latin American studies, my language and area training in Japan, East Asia or Asia, can hardly be considered on equal grounds. My reference to inter-area ethnography, therefore, does not assume an equality in the level of training within the different area studies' lenses. In fact, as the details of my story will show, the uneven-ness of my language training for Japan led precisely to an ethnographic "ah hah" moment. Thinking reflexively about my position as a Latin Americanist doing work in Japan puts into a different light at least two issues related to anthropology of Latin America: the study of nationalist sentiments and the anthropologist's position in politically engaged scholarship. In the following section I will describe the inter-area moment that provoked these reflections, focussing on the importance of translation in that process, and on my position as a US citizen performing Bolivian music in Japan. I will follow this by locating my subject position in relation to Latin American and Andean studies. I will then distinguish this training from my entrance into fieldwork as a "gringa" in Japan. Finally, I will discuss how this inter-area moment provides a different angle through which to consider Latin Americanist anthropology's relation to politically engaged scholarship. While there is nothing new about multisitedness, critiques of area studies, a politics of engagement in Latin American anthropology, and reflexivity about all of the above, my emphasis on inter-area ethnography brings them all together in ways that productively disrupt some standard methodological assumptions of the discipline and implicit assumptions about uniformity in area studies' constructs.

An Inter-area Moment: The Productiveness of Translation

I began a research project on Bolivian music in Japan when a semester leave from my teaching duties coincided with a Bolivian band's tour. I joined the group for a three-month tour, picking up on ten years of previous performing and recording as a violinist with this ensemble. On a small bus we traveled as a group of nine: five Bolivian musicians, one Japanese musician, one US musician (myself), a Japanese sound engineer, and a Japanese manager. We traveled from northernmost Hokkaido all the way to the southern island of Okinawa, and in 88 days we gave 75 performances, most of them within Japanese schools. For the duration of the tour, I wore the hats of an anthropologist and of a musician who was expected to be foreign. Of course, I was not the "real" foreigner the Japanese expected—not a Bolivian. On the tour we had little time to be tourists. But on one of those rare days when we had no performances, and simply had [End Page 668] to arrive at the place of the next day's commitments, we took time to stop at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The first part of the exhibit displayed details about Japan's pre-World War II imperialism. At one point, the Japanese sound...


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