What we think about etnography?

Ethnography is a way of looking. The first action an ethnographer does is to look – both carefully and intrusively – into the lives of people. An ethnographer is particularly interested in a world which falls out of the public eye: banal displays of reality, everyday items, the creation of customs and habits: celebrations, work rituals, subcultures, free time, the alien among us… But it is these things which are, for the ethnographer, the underlying elements of life, both unnoticed and undervalued. Yet it is these spheres which reveal the real secrets, and which allow us to view ourselves and others in a new light.

Ethnography is also a way of thinking. About people and culture. To begin with, this is participatory thought, as before an ethnographer can describe a given reality, he initially has to experience it first hand. This thought is free from synthesis and schematics. The ethnographer always tries to determine what new information can be said about people and their culture in describing a given corner of the world. He does not evaluate what he sees, but is merely an author keeping a distance from ostensible objectivity. How we would be all the more worse off without such interpretations! Is it possible to imagine contemporary thought about people without such great ethnographic records?

Ethnography is finally dialogue. With the other. And with oneself. It allows us to reflect on cultural norms, even with the simple recognition that other cultures exist. It also shows us our own ways of life, creating – often in an exploratory way – a mirror image of ourselves. In essence this is the DNA code of ethnography.

There is a great future for ethnography. Global processes across the world cause a feeling of longing for localness and distinction. The pressure of cultural standards paradoxically allows us to appreciate the power of an ethnographic vision, which is able to give a detailed account of the complexity of human existence and a feel for the world. The mad rush of civilisation demands the creation of a sphere allowing for a distanced experience of reality: this is made possible by ethnography.

We want to ask new questions on old norms, while simultaneously wishing to create new ones. The path towards this is filled with experimentation and innovation. We cherish the conviction that this is the best thing that ethnography, as a means, can bring to a Europe which is still finding itself.