The editors phrased the question I am responding to as: ‘What is happening to the anthropological monograph? tcc, monografias, monografias prontas, dissertação de mestrado e tese de doutorado’. A response in my view requires broadening the scope of the query, since the monograph does not exist by itself in a creative vacuum of research, writing, publishing. Broadening the scope is no less to ask what is happening to the publishing of sociocultural anthropology more generally. So we also should ask in terms of published text, even simplistically, what the fieldwork monograph is not. Most glaringly, the monograph is not the journal article (nor is it the place of the essay in anthropology, which I cannot address here, but which deserves commentary).
The journal article is squeezing and diminishing the presence of the fieldwork monograph. My contention is that at least in English-language anthropology the presence of the fieldwork tcc, monografias, monografias prontas, dissertação de mestrado e tese de doutorado is in serious decline, with profound (in my view, dire) consequences for the intellectual integrity of the discipline. By contrast, journal publishing is mushrooming and flourishing, in consonance with major sea changes in the managerialism of academia and in its relations to government. New journals are mushrooming. Large, indeed huge publishing corporations, some of whose lists include hundreds of journals and more, are responsible for much of this. Today the journal article is the prime currency of publishing transactions among anthropologists and between anthropologists and the institutions that employ them. In this brief comment I want to contrast the fieldwork monograph with the journal article, the latter emerging as the weak inheritor of the former.
In my understanding, the anthropological monograph is a book of roughly 50,000 to 150,000 words devoted to a particular subject, its substance depending in the main on fieldwork. At its best the tcc, monografias, monografias prontas, dissertação de mestrado e tese de doutorado does what I call analytic ethnography. As the book proceeds, ethnography is presented, analysed, discussed. In this the pride of place is given to detailed ethnography, and it is the comprehending of pattern-indetail that enables the anthropologist to weave context, within which analysis and theorising make the most sense. In the past, even the recent past, it is in the monograph form that the great ethnographic and conceptual work of anthropology was written and published. The classic works have been monographs: Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific, Evans-Pritchard’s The Nuer, Benedict’s, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, Kluckhohn’s Navajo Witchcraft, Dumont’s Homo Hierarchicus, Bateson’s Naven are amongst them, as, too, are great reflexive works before the reflexive turn, like Kenneth Read’s The High Valley and Jean Briggs’ Never in Anger. These books, each in its own manner, are deeply analytical journeys into the otherness (with or without the exotic) of social and moral orders, of the variety so mocked and ridiculed by deconstructionists and postmodernists.
The best anthropological tcc, monografias, monografias prontas, dissertação de mestrado e tese de doutorado have a powerful sense of discovery, informed by what Charles Sanders Peirce called the abductive, a logic spurred by surprise (in a way, a logic taken by surprise). Not the theoretical suppositional of the deductive, nor the honed expectedness of the inductive, but discoveries full of surprise for the ethnographer that bewilder, entrance, confuse, encouraging and enticing one to re-feel, rethink, yet with the sense of uncertainty lingering, troubling, perhaps always eluding any finality of closure. This understanding, implicit or not, informed much longer-term fieldwork. Other moral and social orders – not the Other often reduced to inanity through the reflexive turn – were perceived as profoundly complex, and rightly so, regardless of their scale and intensity. And the monograph, its heft and intellectual potential to be made intricate through extensive and intensive ethnography, was the best vehicle for giving form to these complexities. The turn to prefacing studies in terms of globalisation has also enabled the backgrounding and glossing of otherness, and the reduction of intensive complexity to fragmentary ethnographic bites, in keeping with postmodern suppositions of the shattering of and search for identities – national, personal – and relationships.
When I was a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Manchester in the late 1960s, beginning undergraduates were taught to think as anthropologists through intensive readings of classic monographs. A reading was the prelude to re-analysing problematics in the monograph, while staying pretty much within the parameters of the book in terms of ethnographic knowledge and theoretical critique tcc, monografias, monografias prontas, dissertação de mestrado e tese de doutorado.
This approach demanded struggle with detail, with the intricacies of how people, place, time, put themselves together, rather than summating the materials and invoking another theoretical approach to critique that used in the book. This process, when it worked well, generated counter-arguments to the text that re-explained the very ethnography that the text presented in terms of this ethnography, and less in terms of ideologised theoretical presuppositions. Not deconstruction for the sake of critique, but re-analysis for the sake of reconstruction. In this approach the crux was to learn to respect ethnography for its own sake, as a site of an obdurate social, cultural world in its myriads of complexity (Evens and Handelman 2006: 162–3). Trying to work like this related to text as world and to what could be learned from this ethnographic world, but with the comprehension that the monograph ultimately was a construction, not science as such but as craft (which was what Max Gluckman called social anthropology). This relationship to the monograph stood opposed to the move into critical theory, through which ethnography often was reduced to an adjunct of presuppositions as to how worlds should be put together, in accordance with ideologies of concept formation.
Above all, the best of monographs (including present-day tcc, monografias, monografias prontas, dissertação de mestrado e tese de doutorado – Bruce Kapferer’s Feast of the Sorcerer (1997) comes to mind) could be considered ‘works’ in the full sense. The work drives in multiple directions, multimodal, with a variety of (Deleuzian) lines of flight that acquire and sustain greater and greater strength and intra-relationships as they proceed, resonating powerfully through one another. These monographs never exhaust their own potentialities of manifold textures and depths, striving to go where they cannot, into the depths of changing social and moral orders that ultimately cannot be known, positivistically, scientistically. The work has selfintegrity. It is true to itself, not in its totalisation of the realities it evokes but in its quest for these realities through itself that, as I suggest, can never be attained. The work always includes more than we can tell (as Michael Polanyi argued more generally): it is greater than that which it can tell about itself and that which we can tell of it. The work first and foremost has self-integrity.
Today the long decline of the fieldwork monograph is reaching criticality, awaiting that additional grain of sand, as Rene Thom’s catastrophe theory puts it, while the journal article rises in prominence. In part this is so because of the article’s potential to mimic indices of productivity, as these are understood and valued today, and in part because the tcc, monografias, monografias prontas, dissertação de mestrado e tese de doutorado is now, as it has always been in anthropology, the fragment; yet only now is it also the desired fragment that mirrors the fragmentation of postmodern worlds. In the present day, in not a few major American departments of anthropology, lengthy fieldwork is valued less, while doctoral students are rewarded for theorising before they even catch sight of their field sites. In the department I was in for many years, doctoral students now are told that fieldwork can be done in the main through open-ended interviews. The implication is that these materials are of the same order as those collected through participant-observation and so can substitute for them; that talk, discourse, is the dominant mode of research and so other of the senses largely can be dispensed with tcc, monografias, monografias prontas, dissertação de mestrado e tese de doutorado. Hearing narratives about practices of living replaces seeing, feeling, the textures, contradictions, consonances, of these practices. Indeed, why do longer-term labour-intensive and uncertain fieldwork that is no longer cost-effective?
So, too, in tandem with the valuing of theory, Western philosophy rises in saliency, yet this tends to beWestern philosophy for its own sake, philosophy of the philosophers; though used more as the urgrund of giving legitimacy to theory and explanation. Yet this understanding and use of philosophy has only limited relationship to the materials of longer-term fieldwork, though it is the fieldwork materials that should be at the forefront, and not be subservient to one or another philosophe cast in the role of foundational theorist. Philosophy is being made into the foundational standard whereby its ideas are made to insist on their relevance to anthropology, shaping thinking in the discipline.
There is little point, little incentive to doing longer-term intensive fieldwork if the problematic to be studied is established ideologically before the student goes to the field. And when the purpose of fieldwork itself becomes more anecdotal, of fragments that will be used in order to illustrate the theoretical presuppositions established prior to coming to the field. Gluckman called this the method of the apt illustration, to which I add that because of the short length of articles this method fills them with seemingly significant data. Yet in the context of a fieldwork monograph, these apt illustrations may well be miniscule in significance. The abductive falters, losing its relevance; the journal article beckons with the pinched brevity of its word byte.
When the tcc, monografias, monografias prontas, dissertação de mestrado e tese de doutorado was in its heyday, the journal article was more a prelude, an afterword, a first approximation, a small portion of the labour-in-depth of the book. The journal article was and is concise, quite to the point, even constipated, perhaps a schematic scaffolding for a labour in progress, often constricted to developing a single theme, thought, idea. Today the popularity and pride of place of the journal article is unrivalled. The journal article is inimical to serious ethnography, a quick fix for a floundering discipline that despite its growth has lost its spirit. I once argued that anthropology was the true revolutionary discipline of the social sciences and humanities, because it was the only one that in the first instance insisted on intensive face-to-face interaction over longer periods between ethnographers and the peoples they studied, in the main without from the outset putting some kind of text between the researcher and the other; a text that mediates contact, that begins with the other as object (euphemistically called ‘subject’), a text that immediately becomes the representation of, rather than the practice of, touching the other.1 In fieldwork anthropology, subject meets subject. Sociology and psychology have minor streams (symbolic interaction, ethnomethodology, clinical psychology) that at times are closer to anthropological fieldwork, but that is about it. Only anthropology faces as one of its central dilemmas (perhaps the central one in the post-Malinowskian era) the turning of subject into object through the creation of text. The dilemma of the other academic disciplines that they rarely recognise as such is to turn objects found in a variety of texts and textual devices into subjects, breathing artificial life into their objects who are well dead or who are creatures of the imagination (Handelman 1994), a radically different and much more suspect endeavour in that it is above all these ‘subjects’ who are creatures of their creators. In anthropology the fieldwork monograph has been the major medium through which subject is turned into object with such varying results, yet also with the scope, space and depth to engage with this project if the researcher desires, as the journal article cannot tcc, monografias, monografias prontas, dissertação de mestrado e tese de doutorado.