I’m not big on business clichés and recycled quotes. However, I came across an interesting statement by someone describing Bruce Lee’s method. It’s pointless in isolation, but when I applied it to thinking about ethnography it made me consider the value of learning and doing “classic” ethnography (immersion and long-term participant observation). Having the opportunity to do so is a luxury. But it is quite important in one’s development as an ethnographer.
Much ethnography today is rapid and its methods are designed, understandably, to meet market demands. It has been adopted by fields and professions far from anthropology. In its cooption, it has been cherry picked apart often rendering some practices unrecognizable, but nevertheless, at its best, this process has resulted in some interesting and useful offspring. At its worse, I’ve seen focus groups or semi-structured interviews alone being touted as “ethnographic research.” They are not.
There are important spaces for “paraprofessional ethnography.” However, there is something about deeper engagements (slow ethnography) and how these experiences shape the ethnographer’s future involvement in high-speed, improvised research. Here’s the quote (taken from a StockTwits newsletter):
Bruce Lee had this figured out. His theory of martial arts was to learn as much traditional style as he could, so he had the tools to improvise any situation he needed. He was never winging it. And he was never following the textbook. He used traditional style… as a guideline, with the understanding that unique situations require unique strategies. “The truth is outside of all fixed patterns,” he said.
Learn the textbook, the often abstruse theories and methods, the critical thinking paradigms, the classic patterns, and the fetishized objects of anthropological fascination. Then comes the greater confidence to improvise, condense, and transform these slow approaches into their faster cousins. Ideally (in a perfect world, right?), with this foundation, one will bring more substance, meaning, and insight into future, higher speed ethnographic inquiries.