The Ethnographic Work

Over the course of this semester I have been working with a student on an ethnography looking at the local transit systems of a small scale city. The work has been kind of difficult since the playing field is so radically different from the larger ones. While working through this semester, I have been confronted with the idea of protecting the identity of those who you study, which I absolutely understand how important this is, but I wonder how far one must truly go. I think of the study done by Bourgois on crack dealers, how does someone study a group that is involved in illegal activity and not manage to somehow incriminate them in the process? I have watched the majority of the presentations from my Urban Theory and Ethnography class and notice that many of the students go almost overboard in attempting to obscure the area they are working with "In a certain town..." is okay for a paper that is being read by a wider audience, but when you are in the same class as your audience and we all did projects in the same area, is that type of phrasing honestly necessary? I'm forced to wonder if the way we do this matter of confidentiality needs to be looked at and discussed. Can we honestly relate a study about a city that has been fabricated as a composite? Can we just change the names and locations and say that is okay, isn't that just a fiction? The Ethnographic form of writing has taken a lot of heat for years now as academics used to make bank on the stories of "natives". Then let's not even get into how the postmodern movement did a severe shake down of every single anthropologist's work (granted that is such a gross over-simplification you are a very accurate reader!) The question becomes what do we do with the beast of ethnography now? As many other disciplines move into more technological realms, I wonder what anthropology will do. For instance, do forums count as interviews? Can we just place our works online for a general audience without breaking the often ambiguous rules and ethnics of the social science discipline. I remember in my theories class last semester talking about the current trends in anthropology and coming to the conclusion that there hasn't been much happening in the creation or critiques of theories. What's up with that?

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