A new online journal has just started publishing. "Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory."
According to its mission statement, the journal:
"aims to situate ethnography as the prime heuristic of anthropology,
and return it to the forefront of conceptual developments in the
The journal is motivated by the need to reinstate
ethnographic theorization in contemporary anthropology as a potent
alternative to its 'explanation' or 'contextualization' by philosophical
arguments, moves which have resulted in a loss of the discipline's
distinctive theoretical nerve. By drawing out its potential to
critically engage and challenge Western cosmological assumptions and
conceptual determinations, HAU aims to provide an exciting new arena for
evaluating ethnography as a daring enterprise for 'worlding' alien
terms and forms of life, by exploiting their potential for rethinking
humanity and alterity."
In looking around the journal website and its first issue, I became confused about the meaning of the term "ethnography." I always thought it meant fieldwork, the first-hand gathering of social or cultural data through participant observation. The initial article, by David Graeber, is a reworking of ethnographic data from others about Shilluk divine kingship. The second, by Marshal Sahlins, is about kingship in ancient Sparta, which doesn't seem very ethnographic. I guess if you can get a paper by someone as prominent as Sahlins, you don't worry too much about sticking to your specifications. Or maybe I am mistaken in my conception of "ethnography." I have to admit that I pay less attention to anthropology than I used to, particularly since resigning from the American Anthropological Association. And then there are some papers on kinship, a few theoretical papers, English translations of three papers by Maurice Godelier, and some reprints of classic anthropology articles by Evans-Pritchard and others.
I guess this is what they mean by ethnography (also from the mission statement):
"Topics addressed by the journal include indigenous ontologies and
systems of knowledge, forms of human engagement and relationality,
cosmology and myth, magic, witchcraft and sorcery, truth and falsehood,
indigenous theories of kinship and relatedness with humans and
non-humans, hierarchy, materiality, perception, environment and space,
time and temporality, personhood and subjectivity, alternative
metaphysics of morality."
Hmmm, what about economics and politics? Personally, I'm more interested in how Shilluk or Spartan kings collected taxes than in the symbolism and meaning of divine kingship. The topics covered in this new journal reside in one corner of the universe of cultural anthropology, leaving out big portions of scientific anthropology (or scientific ethnography), from medical to economic to cognitive to political anthropology. But still, this new journal looks much better than many offerings in cultural anthropology today, particularly in its focus on theory that is more empirically grounded and less philosophical (see my urban theory paper for my views on philosophical theory). Take a look at Hau.