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Keywords:

  • China;
  • Drung (Dulong);
  • ethnic minorities;
  • ethnography;
  • methodology;
  • Yunnan

Abstract

During long-term fieldwork the increasing involvement of the ethnographer in the lives of others raises a series of methodological and ethical issues. These can become even more pronounced when one is working with ethnic minorities in a socialist country. Yet, a seldom acknowledged reality of ethnographic fieldwork experience are the ‘little failures’ that occur along the way, alongside ethnographic blunders. I argue that these are difficult to avoid and can be part of an important learning process, oftentimes for both researcher and researched. Through the detailed description of a blunder that the author made during his research in southwest China with members of the Drung ethnic minority, this article advocates for the heuristic value of such mishaps, suggesting that one can learn a lot from accidents and unexpected events while undertaking in-depth ethnographic fieldwork. In this case, this helped to shed light on the micropolitics of Drung village life in southwest Yunnan, and the place of a ‘minority nationality’ in wider Chinese society.