Annotation: Marcus, George E. 1998. Ethnography Through Thick and Thin

Marcus, George E. 1998. Ethnography Through Thick and Thin. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Multi-sited research (MSR) is “designed around chains, paths, threads, conjunctions, or juxtapositions of locations in which the ethnographer establishes some form of literal, physical presence, with an explicit, posited logic of association or connection among sites that in fact defines the argument of the ethnography” (90). MSR need not entail physical change of location, but it nonetheless has to situate itself in a multi-sited context (95).Marcus regards MSR as a “revival of a sophisticated practice of constructivism” (90). It may involve the following techniques: follow the thing (91), follow the metaphor (91), or follow the life or biography (94). Self-indulgence or the projection of one’s affinities may give the project “substance and force”, but Marcus suggests that projects must be shifted from the personal to the distanced “social” (14). It is through the “multi-sited imaginary” that ethnography is able to make arguments and provide context for the proposed study’s significance (13-14). The multi-sited imaginary “creates the space of possibility and discovery in ethnography, and keeps this space open contextually for intensive fieldwork done in its constructed framing” (17). One moderates the tendency for over-theorization by actually arguing about the relationships and connections that are not at first obvious to “the naturalized nominal categories of social space” (19). Its goal is not holistic representation — rather, MSR claims that “any ethnography of a cultural formation in the world system is also an ethnography of the system” (83). In the ethnography of a single site, the “global” becomes an “emergent dimension” as one argues about the connectedness of the multiple sites (83). MSR does not practice the dualistic “them-us” framework, and instead, it requires “considerably more nuancing and shading” (84). The researcher’s political commitments are likewise “circumstantial” (98) in MSR, with the ethnographers having to “reidentify themselves reflexively within spheres of dominant power so as to be able to talk intimately to and with power” (1).

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