Guess you’re thinking the image above is an odd one considering the title of this blog is ‘Ethnography’ but honestly I sincerely believe this movie explains ethnography in the clearest way possible. The image above shows Sam Worthington’s avatar been taught how to shoot an arrow by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) a native of the Na’vi tribe, a tribe filled with culture, superstition and bonded by the love of nature. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has to control this body with his brain so as to immerse himself into this Na’vi tribe to eventually gain their trust to be able to convince them to move from their habitat as the humans were going in for the kill if they didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, ethnography does not involve covertly studying a group of people so that you can eventually kill them or wipe them out of existence; however, the standing foundation of ethnography is evident here observation.
It worked as a two-way participation in the movie as the Na’vi king allowed Jake sully residence so that they can observe and study him to gain understanding about these ‘demon’, humans that is. Observation is a key principle of ethnography. It involves a researcher becoming deeply immerse into a culture, society or marginal group. This without doubt is what is evident in Avatar, the movie.
Observation being a crucial tool of ethnography can be done in three ways; estrangement, de-naturilastion and Gedenkenexperiment. the first, estrangement, involves a researcher seeing himself alien to what is being studied. For Jake Sully, he didn’t have to do this as he was already an alien to what was been studied. Estrangement involves completely distancing oneself as if he had no idea what he was studying keeping an open mind to what is being studied so as to generate thick description and unbiased information. But really, is this possible? The big books in the library say this is possible and has been done by the ‘great’ researchers; really?
The second of the tools of ethnography is de-naturalisation. this involves a researcher looking at the world from a different or unusual angle. this can involve asking questions such as why do people cry when unhappy or upset? or why do people shake hands as a sign of friendship or respect? its sort of like estrangement but the twist is the change in ones views of the world for the purpose of a study with may sometimes mean asking questions with obvious answers.
The third i.e. Gedekeneperiment (interesting name init) is associated with philosophy. It asks ‘what if’ and ‘why’ questions. You know, basic philosophy questioning trying to think critical about a focus group, hypothesis or even point of study.
Observation is not the sole tool used in ethnography, interviews, field notes and fieldwork are also some essential tools although observation is the most important.
Ethnography is efficient and can work effectively but a problem with this include researcher bias, privacy as observation covertly and overtly is done etc. this is just a summary of what I know as I still have further readings to do but hang tight dear reader, I’m bringing ethnography to you. but just remember when thinking if ethnography, this of what Jake Cully (Sam Worthington) did to the people of the Na’vi tribe in Avatar.