Ethnography & Thick Description are two major shibboleths in contemporary anthropology. Hundreds of publications try these two as to solve sphinx riddles which are only fascinating to ourselves as anthropologists. Writing, that ethnography & thick description, is not the key to get anthropology more into mainstream actuality, and get is more congruent with today’s dangers.
From the beginning of his academic career Gregory Bateson claimed, inviting his marginalizing in anthropology, that human worlds (social cybernetic systems), for the most part, run on non-verbal, preliterate, prelogical, non-rational, ‘animal like’, communication. Language, writing and even parole, is burden to humans according to the Dagara/Dagabaa Elders. West-African. auto-ethnographer and Dagara academic Malidoma Somé quotes this wisdom while the Elders are yearning for the animal paradise where there was no language to run into all kinds of misunderstandings, tensions and conflicts.
Bateson, as an anthropologist and an examplary interdisciplinary, chooses to walk through biological-systems-in-context as an epistemological foundation to understand human struggles with miscommunications, arms race and running collectively amok in complex double bindings. The severe global predicament of humanity and our world nowadays is even more pressing than when he wrote on Ecology of Mind (1972) and Mind and Nature (1979).
One of his, cool 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.
So writing/reading in western science are village roads to understand human systems-in-contexts. Art, humor, play, and ritual are more like highways to feeble knowing of the complexity of us, as body-mind-soul (organisms) unities, ‘intersubjecting’ with other body-mind-soul unities. Including congregations of animals, trees, plants and lakes (in-their-time-situation-bound-environments).
Going beyond ethnography and thick description is ‘Thick Thinking’.
This post, this whole website, is a poor , circular, non-linear, non rational, effort of Thick Thinking.
Thanks to anthropology, ethnography and thick description
I learned going beyond thick description from Bateson. He practiced it in his three major publications which are filled with short papers. You cannot walk through these ‘grinding pads of seeking wisdom’ in straight lines academically. You have to get ‘systematically lost’ in them to grasp what he is up to in the end.
His ways of learning lead to gaze at the world thorough the mind of the Iatmul, through the mind of a mountain forest or through the mind of a changing lake through the seasons.
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 anthropologists.
Can we, e.g. as anthropologist and system therapists, learn to walk and gaze through the minds of our fathers and mothers families (in their contexts) for five generations? And marry both worlds in get our gazing at the world more whole again?
What was it, anyway, you wanted to say about about reflexivity?