Immersive Politics and the Ethnographic Encounter

Anthropology and political science

Authored by: Joseph MacKay , Jamie Levin

The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Anthropology

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415583954
eBook ISBN: 9781315743950
Adobe ISBN: 9781317590675


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This chapter surveys the use of anthropological findings and, especially, ethnographic methods, in political science. We show that immersive inquiry is increasingly used to study politics. 1 Indeed, the use of these methods is rapidly expanding across a wide variety of topics and geographical areas. Nonetheless, we find in this area of inquiry a central tension: On the one hand, use of immersion to study power has proven strikingly fruitful, opening a range of new avenues of inquiry for the discipline. On the other, this method, and its attendant theoretical ethos, remains somewhat marginal in a discipline widely influenced by statistical and formal or rational choice methods. We also find some practical limitations on how politics can be studied ethnographically, owing to problems of access (because political institutions may be closed to immersive study) and aggregation (because political science often deals with large-scale phenomena). We conclude that political scientists using ethnographic methods have nonetheless tended to convert these limitations into strengths, using ethnographic methodology to open new areas for inquiry.

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