Listening to disrupt ethnographic representations

Mwenda Ntarangwi


Convinced that ethnography still provides a critical tool for studying and understanding our ever-changing and complex world, I present here a case for approaching ethnographic work through “listening.” I extend the notion of listening to include reading as a form of listening and writing as a form of talking or storytelling. Following Stephen William Foster’s notion of listening as conviviality, I share examples of reading and rereading texts, images, and interactions to find how we can understand some of the mishaps that occur in ethnographic representations. I am guided in this by a number of related questions: What happens when listening becomes a distortion of lived experiences and what we hear and end up recording becomes problematic? What if what we hear is mediated through another person’s interpretation? What happens when what we capture from our listening gets challenged by the very people we represent in our ethnographies?

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/713741