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Social Anthropology

Arbitrary locations: in defence of the bounded field-site


The paper offers a sympathetic critique of the original formulations of multi-local/multi-sited ethnography. The "multi-sited imaginary" values unboundedness and promotes methodological freedom, but it also implies a problematic reconfiguration of holism (on a grander scale).Whereas these formulations were extremely productive in straining against certain methodological rigidities, their very success in breaking down "boundaries" has given rise to new problems in the doing and writing of ethnography. Written from the perspective of a recent PhD graduate and first-time fieldworker, the paper suggests we reconsider the value of self-imposed limitations, of boundedness as a methodological tool. What role did the bounded fieldsite play for its so-called “traditional” practitioners in social/cultural anthropology? What role could it play for anthropologists who have taken on board the precepts of multi-sitedness? Based on a case study from my own fieldwork in Corsica, I argue that we could think of boundedness (paradoxically) as a productive way of challenging holisms and deferring closure. The bounded fieldsite rethought as an "arbitrary location", becomes an explicitly 'partial' and incomplete window onto complexity.

Candea, M. 2007. 'Arbitrary locations: in defence of the bounded field-site'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 13, 167-184.


Download the preprint here.