Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Cultural anthropology as a discipline still fiercely defends its authority over ethnographic methods and honing the art of “being there,” particularly as other fields stake claim to “doing ethnography.” Ethnographic research continues to be the gold standard for graduate students and faculty alike (whether it actually achieved is another question): a Malinowskian ideal of a single ethnographer in the field doing participant-observation, living in a community, and becoming deeply embedded in the daily lives—from the mundane to the most extraordinary events—of people in that location. This paper considers the evolving role of proximity and personal relationships in conducting ethnographic field work, focusing on the southern state of Oaxaca. Oaxaca has been the site of intensive ethnological and archaeological research throughout the twentieth- and into the twenty-first century. Indeed, Oaxacan communities (especially indigenous ones) have been so thoroughly studied that a long-running joke among anthropologist asks, “What does every indigenous household in Oaxaca have?” The answer: “An anthropologist.” Yet this approach to ethnographic field work may be changing due to a host of may be changing due to a host of factors emanating from within and outside of communities. Ultimately, this idealized concept of field work that we maintain in our classrooms and graduate programs may no longer be feasible or, in fact, desirable. This presentation explores how new forms of closeness and distance—literal and figurative—are unfolding in the context of ethnographic field work.