chapter  44
12 Pages

Confessions of a Mad Ethnographer

ByStephen R. Barley

John Van Maanen once told me that when ethnographers get too old to do fieldwork, they start writing about it. John is always good with the quip. On the day he quipped this, I swore I would resist pontificating about fieldwork (at least in print) for as long as possible to sustain my Peter Pan fantasy. In fact, I’ve made a habit of looking for exceptions to Van Maanen’s rule. There is Gary Allen Fine (1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007), just a couple of years older than me, who produces an ethnography every two or three years (and if you count his papers, more often than that). Howie Becker, the eminent statesman of fieldwork, recently wrote a book on playing jazz with Robert Faulkner, himself an ethnographer and professor emeritus (2009). Then, there is the ever pragmatic Aaron Cicourel, who in his late 70s told me he was too old to study young people, so he began fieldwork on Alzheimer’s patients and their spouses (2013). But the truth is, exceptions to John’s observation are depressingly few. Ethnography may, in fact, be a young person’s game. If so, for God’s sake don’t waste your youth.