Suggestion for an ethno-dramaturgical approach in Social science

"[...], I came away from my reflections convinced that ethnography is essentially, not incidentally, communicative or dialogical; conversation, not observation, should be the key to conceptualizing ethnographic knowledge production" Johannes Fabian, Power and Performance. Ethnographic Explorations Through Proverbial Wisdom and Theater in Shaba, Zaïre, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1990, p. 4

It is vital to take a global view on a classic, overlooking, colonialist ethnography, without denying its legacy, by fitting the project into an ethno-dramaturgical process. This pompous neologism refers to a process that mixes artistic creation and scientific research, anthropological in particular.

The process seeks to change the researchers' usual statuses . They consider their position, as observers, are external from the studied object while they maintain carefully an axiological neutrality. From now on, researchers are comfortable with the fact that they are the ones who create their object of study. They literally put their fields into practice with their surveys by creating a situation that enables to convey an anthropological knowledge. This situation consists in a kind of performance -shaping a set of situations- in which researchers acts like kinds of “ethnological playwrights”. This phrase was created by Victor Turner, anthropologist, who suggested: “I have thought for a long while that teaching anthropology could be fun. To be so, one should probably do more than reading or commenting ethnographic writings. They should also stage them.” This notion is reiterated by Johannes Fabian, who wrote : “what we are able to know about a society and its culture does not appear as answers to our questions. It appears as a performance in which ethnologists acts, as Victor Turner mentioned it, the same way ethnological playwrights do. In other words, they try to create occasions for significant exchanges.


Therefore, the artistic and poiesical dimensions of research should be accepted . Also, it is necessary to specify its epistemological and methodological aspects. As a paradox, this process actually means to get rid of all artistic ambiguity, as it incorporates it as such and does not try to suppress it. The process provides an explicit frame to it in order to make it obvious and therefore keep it under control. This way, researchers are asked to go beyond their epistemological fields, to re-balance the relationship of domination that institutions recreate through them -this refers to the colonial genesis of ethnology and the elitist nature of academic knowledge in general. Researchers aim to re-balance the initial asymmetry of hierarchy in order to shape a common knowledge. This knowledge must appear with and within a temporality, where the gap that exists between observers and observed is reduced, in favor of a co-temporality.


The fact that co-temporality is vital leads researchers to insinuate into their research subjects. As a consequence, they modify the statuses of the text that they are supposed to provide after a field investigation. The researchers' texts are no longer the products of information that are collected on a field, defined by a survey protocol. Instead, it is established as a “sedimentation”, of which ethnologists can be considered as the authors.

In this context, writings aim to relate action and its results. It serves as stage directions and essentially becomes dramaturgic. They enable researchers to get rid of hermeneutics, in favor of a basic description, that is to say, anthropological -universal. This description clearly meets “ praxeography”, as Jean Bazin suggested : “Comprehension is made possible thanks to works of popularization and by reducing obvious otherness, which ought to be called praxeography instead of ethnography, even if this word is a bit too pretentious. On the contrary, it seems logical to assess that “the less I know how to describe, the more I tend to interpret”Jean Bazin, Des clous dans la Joconde, édition Anarcharsis, Toulouse, 2008: p. 417).


The principle of ethno-dramaturgy notices the rupture that American postmodern anthropologists created , by suggesting an appropriate method, consistent with its theoretical principles. From now on, anthropological knowledge ought to be the result of action, rather than observation. It is to be more related to emotion than facts. Even if former ethnologists spent a lot of time to observe “hunters-gatherers”, they are not the same : truths are built and cannot be gathered just like mature fruits . Indeed, as James Clifford has suggested, the steps that are necessary to acquire an ethnological -or anthropological- knowledge during a field investigation lead researchers into uncertainty, as men are unpredictable and artists, in a certain way. In this situation, researchers are unable to harness his object of study, because the men' behaviors they are supposed to analyze mostly escape from the reductive rationality that is imposed to them. Putting things into perspective is then impossible, because both of them have the same basis. As a paradox, the knowledge of Men by Men seems to escape from taming. Knowledge is wild.

When ethnographers deliver cultural interpretations that are based on intensive research, how can you change an anarchical experience into a literal account that is supposed to be an authority ?” More precisely, how a wordy, over-determined and biased meeting can be changed into an appropriate version of “another world” that is more or less discreet and composed of a single author.?

James Clifford, "De l'autorité en ethnographie", in L'Ethnographie, 1983, N°2, p. 91

The connection with post-modern anthropology is not a mere coincidence. It is true that one can doubt about the scientific nature of human science, and get confused between the genres. The boundaries between “art” and “anthropology” are vague and fiction and science constantly cross each other. Let's focus on the limits, through an experimental process. Humanism, to which we are bound, can handle this kind of twist. The nature of anthropological knowledge, the knowledge that a man can get about another man/society are vague. What does it mean to describe a human action ? What does it mean to understand Men ? Why do the explanations given by the artists, writers, performers are different from the scientists' and the anthropologists' ? Beyond a matter of status, where is located the nature of this difference ?