Mary Steedly’s “Eating an Elephant” is a previously unpublished paper that Steedly originally delivered as a lecture. This essay offers insight into her ethnographic praxis as an observer, listener, and writer, making it the perfect prelude to the keyword essays in this memorial collection that constitute a multi-voiced appreciation of Steedly by her colleagues and students. “Eating an Elephant” demonstrates Steedly’s extraordinary ability to draw rich insights from apparently insignificant, yet “telltale,” details. The essay showcases Steedly’s skill as a crafter of narratives, both distinctively authored and characteristically replete with other people’s voices. In its reference to Orwell’s autobiographical short story “Shooting an Elephant,” it reflects Steedly’s openness to literature as a source of insight and inspiration. Finally, it displays her sense of humor and her refusal to elevate the story of Indonesia’s independence struggle from its grounding in mud, hunger, death, confusion, and absurdity.


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pp. 17-30
Launched on MUSE
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