March 3, 2021

Othello & Ethnography

What type of Ethnography is Shakespeare’s Othello? Can it even be considered an ethnography?

In chapter 7 of our text Rachel Aslop maintains that there are various types of ethnographers. Aslop presents Van Maanen’s five classifications of ethnographic research to support her claim. The five classifications are ethnographic realism; confessional ethnography; dramatic ethnography; critical ethnography; and self/auto ethnography. The definition of ethnographic realism connects to its name and is the general definition of ethnography. Ethnographic realism is research where the researcher is actually present and makes observations and reports what they have seen. The purpose of this research is to create an unbiased and clear view of representation of a culture(117). Aslop believes that this form of ethnographic research is outdated and fails to actually be objective and separate the researchers feelings from the research. Confessional ethnography takes place during a particular time and focuses on the ethnographer’s research process and the information produced based on the process used (117). Critical Ethnography examines culture from economic, historic and symbolic aspects. In Self/auto ethnography the researcher is examining their own culture. The play Othello does not seem to fit these four classifications of Ethnography because it is fictional.

Dramatic ethnography on the other hand focuses on the stories presented in fictional literature and personal essays (117). Othello seems to fit into this portion of the classification, but it also says that dramatic ethnography focuses on “one episode or occurrence within a specific community” (117). Othello has multiple “occurrences” (traveling, the war, the celebrations, the deaths etc.) within it that could possibly disqualify it from being classified as dramatic ethnography. I believe it depends on how we define occurrence. If we view the play as occurring in one time period (the 16th century) and define the main characters as the community it could qualify as a dramatic ethnography.

One Response to “Othello & Ethnography”
  1. Veda,
    Very nice job outlining the various approaches to ethnography. You’re right that the play isn’t an easy fit in any category, but an argument could probably be made for Confessional Ethnography as well as Dramatic Ethnography. Since Shakespeare pieced together what Italian life might be like, and used cultural histories like Cinthio’s as the basis for the play, he could be seen as dramatizing cultural works. But, it’s also fair to discuss whether or not ethnography could even be seen as a possible approach in this era, which long predates the concept of ethnography as it’s outlined in our text. Good use of specific page citations, although I’d encourage you to bring specific, cited moments of the play and/or Bedford into dialogue with the theoretical approaches as well (for example, to cite a specific document shown in Bedford, or a specific quotation from the play that supports your point about multiple historical moments).

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