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Tales of the Field on Writing Ethnographyby John Van Maanen
Synopses & Reviews
Once upon a time ethnographers returning from the field simply sat down, shuffled their note cards, and wrote up their descriptions of the exotic and quaint customs they had observed. Today scholars in all disciplines are realizing how their research is presented is at least as important as what is presented. Questions of voice, style, and audiencethe classic issues of rhetorichave come to the forefront in academic circles.
John Van Maanen, an experienced ethnographer of modern organizational structures, is one who believes that the real work begins when he returns to his office with cartons of notes and tapes. In Tales of the Field he offers readers a survey of the narrative conventions associated with writing about culture and an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of various styles. He introduces first the matter-of-fact, realistic report of classical ethnography, then the self-absorbed confessional tale of the participant-observer, and finally the dramatic vignette of the new impressionistic style. He also considers, more briefly, literary tales, jointly told tales, and the theoretically focused formal and critical tales. Van Maanen illustrates his discussion of each style with excerpts from his own work on the police.
Tales of the Field offers an informal, readable, and lighthearted treatment of the rhetorical devices used to present the results of fieldwork. Though Van Maanen argues ultimately for the validity of revealing the self while representing a culture, he is sensitive to the differing methods and aims of sociology and anthropology. His goal is not to establish one true way to write ethnography, but rather to make ethnographers of all varieties examine their assumptions about what constitutes a truthful cultural portrait and select consciously and carefully the voice most appropriate for their tales. Written with grace and humor, Tales of the Field will be an invaluable introduction to novices just learning the fieldwork trade and provocative stimulant to veteran ethnographers.
"Engaging and well written."H. Ottenheimer, Choice
Van Maanen offers readers a survey of the narrative conventions associated with writing about culture and an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of various styles.
"Engaging and well written". — H. Ottenheimer, Choice
Identifies narrative conventions in ethnology, analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of various writing styles, and shows examples of each approach.
For more than twenty years, John Van Maanens Tales of the Field has been a definitive reference and guide for students, scholars, and practitioners of ethnography and beyond. Originally published in 1988, it was the one of the first works to detail and critically analyze the various styles and narrative conventions associated with written representations of culture. This is a book about the deskwork of fieldwork and the various ways culture is put forth in print. The core of the work is an extended discussion and illustration of three forms or genres of cultural representation—realist tales, confessional tales, and impressionist tales. The novel issues raised in Tales concern authorial voice, style, truth, objectivity, and point-of-view. Over the years, the work has both reflected and shaped changes in the field of ethnography.
In this second edition, Van Maanens substantial new Epilogue charts and illuminates changes in the field since the books first publication. Refreshingly humorous and accessible, Tales of the Field remains an invaluable introduction to novices learning the trade of fieldwork and a cornerstone of reference for veteran ethnographers.
Tales of the Field offers an informal, readable, and lighthearted treatment of the rhetorical devices used to present the result of fieldwork. Though Van Maanen argues ultimately for the validity of revealing the self while representing a culture, he is sensitive to the differing methods and aims of sociology and anthropology.
Table of Contents
1. Fieldwork, Culture, and Ethnography
2. In Pursuit of Culture
3. Realist Tales
4. Confessional Tales
5. Impressionist Tales
6. Fieldwork, Culture, and Ethnography Revisited
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