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James Clifford – Partial Truths

This essay is the first chapter in the book Writing Culture. James Clifford, talks about the meaning of ethnographic writing. He refers to these writings as “something made or fashioned” (Clifford, 1986 p6). This type of writing is focused on a particular cultural or subset of society. In order to write in this style, the author must actually live within his culture so this is generally the result of fieldwork done by a researcher. The important of this is to write in a way that fully explains or depicts the individual in the culture.

In Partial Truths, Clifford talks about his assertion that ethnographic writing has changed in the past 50 years to become essentially, critical ethnography. The importance of this distinction has to do with the way in which research is conducted and documented and is related to methodology. The way in which an ethnographer writes the information is dependant on how he or she experiences the culture and society. Depending on how he lives within the society, the writing and communication will be different.

Because of the potential influences on the writer, ethnography can be accused of being less that true or less than accurate. The information can thus be only partially true, rather than a completely accurate documentation of the information. In other words, the writing that is completed is dependant on the writer and his or her experiences. This may be what they bring with them from heir prior experiences as well as how they experience and what they experience in the society which they are studying.

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