Summary of "Ethnography and Fiction: Where is the Border? Anthropology and Humanism", Kirin Narayan pg 134-147.
1999 Ethnography and Fiction: Where is the Border? Anthropology and humanism 24(2):134-47.
Kirin Narayan introduces the reading by stating that she will explore the differences between writing fiction and writing an enthnography, and how each can be used to enrich the other. She argues that writing in these two styles requires different perspectives on four things- the disclosure of process, generalization, representations of subjectivity, and accountability. The disclosure of process has to do with explanation of purpose and main arguments; in enthnographies, key arguments are clearly outlined, while good fiction keeps key information a secret for much of the story. Generalization has to do with different levels of generalization and particularity in ethnographies and fiction. Representation of subjectivity has to do with the fact that ethnographies are built from careful observation of real people, while fiction fully allows the author to speak from anyones’ perspective. Narayan believes differences in accountabilities of the authors is the most important difference between the two styles. Crossing the ‘border’ between fiction and enthnography can help anthropology, but to blend the two styles into one does the opposite. She defines enthnography as writing rooted in fieldwork, and fiction as writing that allows the author to create the story. Narayan highlighted the benefits of anthropologists integrating fictional and enthnographic writing, but her discussion made me wonder whether, when researching and preparing for After Life, Hecht planned to write a stictly enthnographic piece, or if he planned to write something purely fiction, or if he planned to write a fictional ethnography.