Ethnography & Thick Description are two major shibboleths in contemporary anthropology. In hundreds of publications we tried to solve riddles of sphinxs which seem to be only fascinating to ourselves as anthropologists. We are not nearly widely read as e.g. psychologists and philosophers.
Writing, ethnography & thick description is not the key to get anthropology more into mainstream actuality with its unique perspectives. Already Gregory Bateson claimed, inviting his marginal position in anthropology, that human worlds (social cybernetic systems), for the most part, run on non-verbal, preliterate, prelogical, non-rational, animal=like, communication.
As an anthropologist, and an exemplary interdisciplinary, he choose to walk through biological-systems-in-context as an epistemological foundation to understand human struggles with miscommunications, arms races and running collectively amok in complex double bindings. The present severe global predicament of humanity and our earth is even more pressing than when he wrote on Ecology of Mind (1972), Mind and Nature (1979), and Sacred Unity (1991).
One of his, with British irony, pranks was – ‘let’s stamp out nouns‘ – because ‘the world he lived in’ was only movement, process, change and transformation. Only ‘verbing’ could perhaps make congruent analogies/metaphors to conceptualize complex (biological/human) realities we try to understand (see The Map is Not the Territory.
Following Bateson’s thinking writing and reading in Western science are village roads to understand human systems-in-contexts. Art, humour, play, and ritual are more like highways to feeble knowing of the complexity of us as body-mind-soul (organisms) unities interacting with other body-mind-soul unities. Including with animals, trees, plants and lakes (in-their-environments).
Going beyond ethnography and thick description is ‘Thick Thinking’.
This post, this whole website, is a poor , circular, non-linear, non-logical, effort of Thick Rhyzomic Thinking. Rhyzomatic thinking was introduced by Deleuze & Guatarri in their ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1980) which build it on Bateson’s thinking (Deleuze & Guatarri 2004; 24).
Thanks to anthropology, ethnography and thick description
Bateson’s three major publications, filled with short papers, are too. You cannot walk through these readers in a straight line academically. You have to get ‘systematically lost’ in these texts to grasp what he is up to in the end.
His ways of learning lead to gaze at the world through the mind of the Iatmul, through the mind of a mountain forest or through the mind of a changing lake through the seasons. Each of these biological systems-in-context has their own epistemologies: ways of knowing, of reflecting and of transgenerational self-correcting
In the end he arrived, with a hurting/loving smile, at gazing at our own human worlds.
In particular at our blinded, self-indulged, communities of academic anthropologists.
What was it, by the way, in anthropology that we reflected on in reflexivity?