Editor’s Note: In this third post in our “Ethnography and Speculative Fiction” series, Clare Anzoleaga (@ClareAnzoleaga) from Fresno City College and Porterville College discusses the potential of fictional accounts of ethnographic work. In doing so, she complements the piece by Anne Galloway and the article by Laura Forlano: this time it’s less about design or design fictions and more about writing. More specifically, she highlights the rhetorical possibilities of such approach for understanding knowledge and shared meaning.
In 1991 famous ethnographer, Dwight Conquergood, published a piece titled, “Rethinking Ethnography.” One important point from this piece deals with the ethnographer’s challenge to appropriately convey the experience of the “Being There” of fieldwork with the rhetorical final product of the “Being Here.” It begs the question: What rhetorical/communicative strategies should we use to adequately tell the story of a culture? This came into play a bit further for me the other night when I had a dinner party for some colleagues. One of the topics we playfully debated had to do with whether ethnography should reside in the field of Communication theory or not (to me, this is a no-brainer). Ethnography is Communication because whether the researcher is in the field talking to people or at their laptop storifying analysis, one of its intents is to elicit a communicative and performative response. Ethnography sends a message through the form of a story either through text, performance, images or all of the above. This got me thinking, however, about this article on speculative fiction and ethnography that I was writing for ethnographymatters.net. While many speculative fiction writers have been incorporating the practice of ethnography into their work, few Communication scholars incorporate speculative fiction into their ethnography. Thus I began to wonder about Conquergood and his discussion on the rhetorical possibilities of ethnography and the differences between a researcher who writes ethnographic, peer-reviewed journal articles who uses speculative fiction, and a writer who uses ethnography as a way to write in the genre of speculative fiction. In this essay, I direct my focus of inquiry at some of the benefits and challenges of the ethnographer in the field of Communication who uses speculative fiction in their research. While my focus is oriented in the field of Communication, I acknowledge these concepts are also applicable to the broader work of any social researcher.
I should start with making two distinctions here first. On one hand, there is the question of where and how ethnography, which weaves in speculative fiction scenarios as part of the ethnographic analysis, is being produced in such scholarly fields as Communication. I ran a quick keyword search of “ethnography” and “speculative fiction,” at “Communication & Mass Media Complete” and found no journal article or book results on this matter. This means there are few ethnographers in the Communication field who are currently producing peer-reviewed journal articles who use speculative fiction in their storified analysis (but I hope they start soon, ahem!).