Arbitrary locations: in defence of the bounded field-site


Department of Social Anthropology, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF, UK.


The article 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 Ph.D. graduate and first-time fieldworker, the article suggests we reconsider the value of self-imposed limitations, of boundedness as a methodological tool. What role did the bounded field-site 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 field-site, rethought as an ‘arbitrary location’, becomes an explicitly ‘partial’ and incomplete window onto complexity.