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October 15, 2004

Efficacy: The Measure Between the Why and the How

A preliminary counterintuitive examination of the methodological insight that Katz offers, suggests that to subsume the why question to the how ones, at the start of one�s research, would in fact be detrimental to my thesis. Instead, what will be crucial is to understand the �why� that is offered up by the members of the theatre groups I intend to study, and then see how this gets translated into action that is received by the viewers. The question still remains how to make this phenomenon observable and reportable in consistent and convincing ways. I will use the two large thematic concerns for this week�s readings - position and practice � to get a grip on the problem. They are, it seems to me, ways of further elucidating my engagement with the concept of efficacy that I propose as the point of entry into my research material.
Gwaltney�s arguments for the position of the native anthropologists, while useful as a historical antecedent to the paradigmatic self-examination that the discipline went through, is perhaps a guide of sorts to precisely the sorts of things that one should not expect or assume of native researchers. They, as much as their �western� counterparts, are also susceptible to impulses of romanticization. This is a pitfall that not only people returning to their �native� contexts or place of primary ethnic identification, must guard against, but also those that are more �rooted� in their original contexts (n.b.: I use quotation marks here only as an indicator of the problematics inherent in the usage of words like native, return, roots, etc.). Also there is nothing to say that �informants� will not give an idyllic account of their cultural contexts, even as they see the product of research (either through recognition of the community, monetary help of its inhabitants, and/or increase in the transactions in its local economy) as a means of fulfilling that vision. For instance in Gwaltney�s case it is glaringly obvious that patients with terminal illnesses may be prone to romanticizing life and trivializing its trials precisely because life is now a precious commodity that if only they could have even at higher prices. Also a �native� anthropologist cannot be seen as a natural and necessary balance to the (mis)representations of the outside anthropologist (c.f. Gwaltney 1976: 239 � �prime end of native anthropology is to move the standard discipline to the universality which can only be achieved by qualifying these negative aspects�). Instead, as Narayan and Visweswaran eloquently argue, and I agree, the mark of a good work should be that the disciplinary signifier for its author should not have to be qualified by native or otherwise � a good ethnography is always the locus of multiple energies that cannot be circumscribed in any one identity.
Contemporary ethnographers confront the questions of identity through a position of change rather than certainty. Narayan draws the trajectory of this polyvalent stance that now has currency in the field as �multiplex subjectivity� (676), "Positioned knowledge and partial perspective� (679) and �enactment of hybridity� (681). Visweswaran gives play top the same ideas through her theorizing identity as always �conjunctural� (139). But for the purposes of a Performance Studies, I find the extra step that Visweswaran takes here useful � �my view of the performance situation is that it is simultaneously a focus and site for the enactment of various conjunctural relations of power� (78). This not only puts the debate in the context of performances, but also lifts it from the realm of the strictly individual to the workings of intersecting power lines. This view of a hegemonic dispersal is essential to my project, precisely because the locus of it is an elusive component - consciousness. That is not for a moment to deny that agency in both me and the artists I study, but rather to admit that there is a third key player in the field � the audience. The model of positionality that I put forward therefore is a triangulated one, with the researcher, performer and the viewer at the three apexes of this polygon.
A triangular research structure means many things; first among which is that neither one of the three positions can be seen as subservient to the other two � they are all equidistant to the focus of the project, which in this case is the efficacy of street theatre itself. Also this structure ensures that all three have access to the centre and does not need to be mediated through the either or both of the other two. Put another way, my dissertation will be the reflection of the constant interaction of these three players, myself being one but certainly not the main one. In fact the argument will precisely be for the kind of decentering of the subjects and prioritizing of the object that this suggested structure affords. That is to say that neither the position I find myself in, nor the positions I induce the artists and the viewers to be in, are cardinal to my dissertation, for what is always ultimately important is the efficacy of the genre. In this respect it is important to note that this structure is indeed tripartite � that is that even though street theatre can and does routinely exist only between the performers and the viewers, efficacy cannot be ascertained without the scholar (even if the artists were to undertake the task themselves without the intervention of a third party, they would actually be removing themselves from the their performative lives, and entering roles of the empirical scholar).
It can easily be objected to the above delineation that the project in fact is not the holistic outcome of triangular interactions, but rather in actual practice a partisan position since it will ultimately be one of the players, that is myself the scholar, who will be engendering the final product, the thesis. But my choice of verb for the production is to be taken literally here, since I very much see my role in the final dissertation as facilitator and not sole creator. Granted that this is perhaps easier said than done, but I certainly find it an indispensable theoretical, methodological, and yes even ideological, position to start from. The text that will follow as a result of my investigations must, of necessity, by poly-vocal. How quite to achieve this is another question altogether! For my methodological modifications I draw strength from Visweswaran�s persuasions for the genre of fiction (15) and Narayan�s prioriticizing of the narrative mode.
It will be my endevour throughout my dissertation, to give as much voice as possible to the performers and the audiences that I research. This must be qualified though with the statement the timbre of the two cannot be the same for the demographic reason that the performers I will deal with remain constant even as their viewers are shifting, fleeting beings in the story of my research. Here I find Katz�s injunctions to luminous description, especially with relation to poignant cases and massively, densely textured data sets to be particularly helpful. It is not wrong to suppose that what one lacks in bounded, consistent personalities, one can supply through a vast heterogeneous, albeit blurrily outlined, audience population. The (poignant) particulars of individual opinions can be symptomatic of the field if the researcher is sensitive to, as Katz suggests, the absurdities, irregularities, and hidden aspects of the interactions one studies.
This brings me to the transition that Katz outlines as a prerequisite to starting research in the field for would-be ethnographers - that of changing the why questions to the how ones. But for my purposes I would find both indispensable from the start. As explicated in an earlier response, I see efficacy as being the measure between intentions and results, or put in another way the manifestation of the why do a play to how a play is done and received. You cannot divorce the perceived purposes that the performers assign their work, from the notion of political performance. Street plays are political certainly as tools and hopefully also as ends � that is to say that its practitioners make them the medium of a larger intent, while they themselves, in exemplary cases, may bring about changes in the alignment of political forces in a field. Efficacy, again, cannot negate the former in favour of the latter. At best it can modify the quality of the equation, that is to say that an assertion can be made from an apprehension of audience responses that a play does something else more effectively than what its performers set out to do (for it is obvious that the ontology of a performance is a doing), but never obliterate once and for all the point of disjunction. Efficacy in the final analysis of all the players of the fields in the triangulated structure I envision them to have, is the measure of why all for everyone and how much for each.

References:
Gwaltney, John L. 1976. On Going Home Again--Some Reflections of a Native Anthropologist. Phylon 37, no. 3: 236-42.

Narayan, Kirin. 1993. How Native Is a "Native" Anthropologist? American Anthropologist 95, no. 3: 671-86.

Visweswaran, Kamala. 1994. Fictions of feminist ethnography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Katz, Jack. 2001. From how to why: On luminous description and causal inference in ethnography (Part I). Ethnography 2, no. 4: 443-73.

Katz, Jack. 2002. From how to why: On luminous description and causal inference in ethnography (Part 2). Ethnography 3, no. 1: 63-90.

Posted by at October 15, 2004 11:31 PM