Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Trouble with Ethnography

Solid air turned to solid rain last night. It seems the weather here may be as unequivocal as the habits of the people, or the even the delights of it's philosophy (which I have always just considered 'hard' and left it at that). Certainly your experience of a new city, even one you know relatively well, is most vivid in the first few days. Julie's first observation, admittedly from the viewpoint of the agreeably smooth and low slung 'Airport Express' was as to the relatively high proportion of 'giants'.
This must be a terribly disturbing thing for ethnographers. I wish I knew what ethnography really was, but I know it is about rendering observation. Knowing that observations are crucially skewed from the word go, that your impression of a place might come down to the funny look somebody gave you as whatever it was you were trying to achieve went terribly wrong, might be disheartening to science. Going terribly wrong (baring pleasant human nature) is exactly what it will do, since 'do you have a loyalty card?' is hardly in the lexicon of English/German phrase book even in it's incarnation as an app. If that phrase is the first thing you hear, and lets face it it could easily be the first you hear, it both says a lot and means nothing at the same time. You are simply unprepared for it. Hence, using your (very very) basic German here will simply have you marked as a pathetic Englishman or possibly sexy Englishwoman. That's the way the cookie crumbles in both English and German. The idea of observation beyond your personal feelings is therefore barmy.
Above the view from our kitchen window. The tiny dot in the distance is Alexanderplatz tower, the rest; low slung, watery, solid, hot, empty, Berlin.

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