ethnographies as texts/ethnographers as griots



West African griots or bards are charged with talking social life; they are burdened by a localized politics of representation. Ethnographers are charged with writing or filming social life; they are burdened by a globalized politics of representation. In this article, I suggest that ethnographers have much to learn from the localized practices of griots. More specifically, I argue that when ethnographers attempt to depict social life—to write or film lives—they consider following the griot's path. This means that ethnographers, like griots, spend long periods of time apprenticing themselves to elders, long periods of time mastering knowledge. This also means that ethnographers attempt not only to make contributions to social theory but also to tell the story of a people or a person with depth, respect, and poetic evocation. [ethnography, fieldwork, griots, West Africa, theory]