Turns out that, apropos of my post today about instrumentalism and field friendships, there are a couple of thought-provoking posts by John Jackson (univ. of pennsylvania) called “The presentation of self in ethnographic life” plus part 2 of the same post. He starts by pointing out that fieldwork has long been facilitated by a certain amount of strategic self-presentation, even strategic ignorance, in the field situation, while back at home in the university, one of course presents oneself as an expert. But, he points out, now that ethnographers’ work and presentations are easily available online, their field informants can easily look up what’s being said about them, making the ethnographers’ strategic self-presentation that much more constrained. Ethnographic representation, in short, becomes more accountable when it’s digitally available and when one works with internet-savvy populations. This is, for Jackson, a mixed blessing, an advantage for ethical discipline but a potential limit on the kinds of productive slippages in self-presentation that catalyze ethnographic work. As he puts it (in part 2):
It makes sense to think about how ethnographers are re-disciplined in a world where their backstage (back “home”) continues to shrink. That might just be another leveling of the ethnographic playing field, maybe even a welcome one, but it does demand that we reconfigure the ethnographic context to include the kinds of feedback loops and post-fieldwork exchanges that the Internet and other new (increasingly inexpensive) technological outlets facilitate.
Needless to say, such a problem is thought-provoking when it comes to this blog, which obviously serves to make my analysis of French universities immediately accessible to any French universitaire who cares to search for my name.