Mixing methods, tasting fingers: Notes on an ethnographic experiment

Anna M. Mann, Annemarie M. Mol, Priya Satalkar, Amalinda Savirani, Nasima Selim, Malini Sur, Emily Yates-Doerr


This article reports on an ethnographic experiment. Four finger eating experts and three novices sat down for a hot meal and ate with their hands. Drawing on the technique of playing with the familiar and the strange, our aim was not to explain our responses, but to articulate them. As we seek words to do so, we are compelled to stretch the verb "to taste." Tasting, or so our ethnographic experiment suggests, need not be understood as an activity confined to the tongue. Instead, if given a chance, it may viscously spread out to the fingers and come to include appreciative reactions otherwise hard to name. Pleasure and embarrassment, food-like vitality, erotic titillation, the satisfaction or discomfort that follow a meal—we suggest that these may all be included in "tasting." Thus teasing the language alters what speakers and eaters may sense and say. It complements the repertoires available for articulation. But is it okay? Will we be allowed to mess with textbook biology in this way and interfere, not just with anthropological theory, but with the English language itself?

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau1.1.009