Sunday, October 19, 2008

Second Thoughts on Kitchen Psalms

I think we all got a kick out of Kitchen Stories, but on second thoughts this was somewhat of a worse case scenario. I doubt if every objectivist research adventure is fraught with such methodological blunders, subjectivism, and collusion with the subject. An observer could not very well become drinking buddies with a penguin or grizzly bear or rattle snake. All situations, environments, and topics are not equal, not to mention that the context/environment could have a great deal to do with the choice of methodology and methods.

Therefore I am beginning to see Kitchen Stories as the characature it is, a cartoonish spoof of objective methodologies. I saw this more clearly when I read of ethnographic methods/methodology (Eisenhart seems to confuse the two). It is almost impossible to generalize ethnographic studies, and when it is attempted great error can occur. It is not that ethnographic studies are subjective, but it seems that since subjectivism is admitted folks don't feel that private or sectarian interpretations must be guarded against. One of Eisenhart's admissions of weakness was lack of mobility. Of course this is the case. A researcher can not study Amazon tribes anywhere but in the Amazon, and the study can have little or no correlation with the evolution of northern European society. Eisenhart seems unable to even define "culture," although this is the focus of ethnology. Culture, instead being the defining aspects of a group such as food, clothing, religion, art, et al, has become little more than individual habits or imitations. The quest for difference and diversity has had such an overwhelming influence on the methodology that ethnology has truly lost sight of both the forest and the trees, focusing on a NY Yankee's ball caps mistakenly left on-site by a boy scout troupe 3 years ago.

It seems as all methodologies wish to use some form of quantification. Even Eisenhart counts the number of Ph. D. students doing qualitative research at the beginning of a 14 year span and after it (18). It seems pretty ungrateful to bite the hand that feeds you. The article is also filled with the conflict thesis. I wonder if ethnology or critical theory could function without words like dominate, justice, fairness, narratives, change, poor, equality, poverty, economic, socialization, world view, multicultural, identity, manipulated, struggle, incongruities, incommensurable, contradictory, elite, hierarchy, violence, minority, relationships, contention, and gender. If these concepts are so important, why are they never defined or why do anthropologist and ethnologist argue over the connotations or applications of the words. The surrender to uncertainty has made the methodology of uncertain value to some if not many. No wonder that Eisenhart seems to be trying to salvage a sinking ship at times.


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