Stefan Wellgraf

After exoticism

Ethnography as critique


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A new version of the ethnological understanding of critique seems necessary, since the mode of ethnological critique which has been effective for a long time has fallen into crisis: The search for the ‘foreign’ as a critical mirror of ‘Western’ civilization and bourgeois culture. I propose to understand ethnographic critique instead as a special form of ‘representational critique.’ The critical use of ethnographic research is, thus, less about what is being researched and more about how objects of research are understood and presented, i.e. it is about the specific form of representation. In a first step, I will point out – without claiming to be exhaustive – some historical references and current fields of critical practice in cultural and social anthropology that provide links for a new understanding of critique: The genealogical-postcolonial critique, the neoliberalization critique of ‘Dark Anthropology’ and Science and Technology Studies. In a second step, I will highlight the particularities of a representational ethnographic critique, its typical forms and modes, in the context of current debates on the concept of critique. In contrast to other forms of critique, ethnographic critique is far more reflexive, object-related and willful. The critical potential, thus, lies in ethnography itself, and its modes of research and representation.

critique, ethnography, exoticism, writing culture, representation