Improvising Theory: Process and Temporality in Ethnographic Fieldwork

Paperback | July 15, 2007

byAllaine Cerwonka

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Scholars have long recognized that ethnographic method is bound up with the construction of theory in ways that are difficult to teach. The reason, Allaine Cerwonka and Liisa H. Malkki argue, is that ethnographic theorization is essentially improvisatory in nature, conducted in real time and in necessarily unpredictable social situations. In a unique account of, and critical reflection on, the process of theoretical improvisation in ethnographic research, they demonstrate how both objects of analysis, and our ways of knowing and explaining them, are created and discovered in the give and take of real life, in all its unpredictability and immediacy.

Improvising Theory centers on the year-long correspondence between Cerwonka, then a graduate student in political science conducting research in Australia, and her anthropologist mentor, Malkki. Through regular e-mail exchanges, Malkki attempted to teach Cerwonka, then new to the discipline, the basic tools and subtle intuition needed for anthropological fieldwork. The result is a strikingly original dissection of the processual ethics and politics of method in ethnography.

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Scholars have long recognized that ethnographic method is bound up with the construction of theory in ways that are difficult to teach. The reason, Allaine Cerwonka and Liisa H. Malkki argue, is that ethnographic theorization is essentially improvisatory in nature, conducted in real time and in necessarily unpredictable social situatio...

Allaine Cerwonka is associate professor in and chair of the Gender Studies Department at Central European University, Budapest, and author of Native to the Nation: Disciplining Landscapes and Bodies in Australia. Liisa H. Malkki is associate professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University and author of Purity and Exile: Viole...

other books by Allaine Cerwonka

Format:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.6 inPublished:July 15, 2007Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226100316

ISBN - 13:9780226100319

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments                            

Nervous Conditions: The Stakes in Interdisciplinary Research          
Allaine Cerwonka
 
Fulbright Proposal                                                                
 
Fieldwork Correspondence                                                                    
Allaine Cerwonka
Liisa Malkki
 
Tradition and Improvisation in Ethnographic Field Research                
Liisa Malkki
 
References                                       
Index                                                   

Editorial Reviews

"An invigorating and energizing read, perhaps most especially for graduate students and those who guide them. . . . Improvising Theory captures as well as anything--and better than most--the truly social and interactive nature of knowledge production. . . . [Cerwonka] and Malkki have aptly demonstrated that method and theory are always deeply intertwined, and that it is the frustrations as well as the joys of fieldwork that ultimately lead us to achieve our most valuable insights."