Ethnography is perhaps one of the most widely used qualitative modes of inquiry into social conditions not only in the academy, but also increasingly outside of the university as well. There is no single deﬁnition or practice of ethnography, nor should there necessarily be a uniform interpretation. As Marilyn Strathern has written, ethnography, through participant-observation, interviewing, and other qualitative techniques is a “deliberate attempt to generate more data than the researcher is aware of at the time of collection” (Strathern 2003). This makes ethnographic methods eminently suited to the study of unpredictable events, complex emerging social formations, and technological and market change. Given the disposition of ethnography for documenting the unforeseen, it therefore goes without saying that this methodology often takes a researcher in unexpected directions. In doing so, this leads the ethnographer to new places, encounters, investments, and – perhaps most importantly – novel discoveries that could not have been predicted at the outset of a project. My own entry into anthropological research proved no exception to this
unspoken rule. However, despite a series of seemingly strange twists and turns, I’ve found the underlying research questions and political investments that draw my attention have remained consistent. Thus, while my formal graduate training has been in the ﬁelds of cultural anthropology, law, and public administration, I consider myself to be an interdisciplinary scholar using ethnographic methodologies to investigate questions of social, legal, and economic justice. In this regard I have primarily focused on how law is used by diﬀerent parties to secure and regulate access to important basic resources such as agricultural commodities, jobs, health care, land, and, most recently, intellectual property. In investigating this topic I have found that anthropological ethnography is capable of providing the nuanced detail necessary to understand the complex, and often opaque, factors underpinning the lived experience of disparity.