Reflection on storytelling in Anthropology

With the deadline for my book fast approaching, it is nice to be reminded of the importance of storytelling in anthropological writing and analysis:

thick description is narrative. It involves characters, a plot, a storyline, a form, a goal. In thinking about the place of interpretation within anthropology today, it has in some ways been folded almost seamlessly into ethnography. Interpretation is now unmarked, assumed, expected, and is often narrative in form. This has become so true that experimental ethnography is now that which is non-narrative; the pendulum has swung back in the other direction. As a vehicle for theoretical argument, narrative provides both form and content. As Hayden White might say, theoretical storytelling is content and it is form; it is both.

Plus, a useful reminder for those in the field who approach human subjects as objects or “data” to extract, rather than equal partners in knowledge production :

What is defective is how we miss the power of stories and storytellers even as we tell them. We tell stories to get to the point, to make our points. We miss that the stories are the point. They are the getting, and they are the there.


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