Manfred Seifert

People in the Focus

About Subject Orientation in European Ethnology


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In its history European ethnology has developed a specific orientation towards the subject. Only since the 1960s, however, this discipline with the central concepts “culture” and “everyday life” has allowed persons to become objects of research. This paper presents three types of a subject-oriented research tradition of European ethnology. This mode of research is facing for quite some time now approaches of contemporary subject analysis, which consider the sovereignty and autonomy of the subject noticeably limited by socio-cultural or physiological moments. These approaches, as discussed in current cultural and social sciences and represented by parts of the natural sciences (neurobiology and neurophysiology), are stimulating for the European ethnological cultural research. At the same time, however, they exacerbate the challenge for subject-oriented ethnography to identify individualisable in contrast to socially and culturally contextualized or even neuronal controlled dimensions of personal identity. The paper discusses these challenges, refers to the specific potential of the European ethnological research logics and argues for productive solutions. For there is no reason to question the legitimisation of actor-centered research methods.

Subject analysis, empirical research, ethnographic method, disciplinary history of European ethnology/folklore studies