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Multisited Ethnography Final Project:
To Accept or Reject? That is the Question

By Allie D'Amanda


            In my field work I looked at how people who are very different from one another interact upon first meeting.  I noticed their facial expressions, their first words, their body language, and ultimately, what these things can tell us about human nature and its universal context within a world of cultural relativity.  I only spent a few days in each country, and thus I could not spend any significant amount of time with the people I met, but knowing I sometimes only had even a few moments with someone only heightened my senses and observations.  It seems to be innate that when we encounter someone or something that is different from us, we question it, observe it, and critique it.  But at what point do we begin to accept or reject differences, and why?  In a universal sense, we are all inclined to gravitate toward those who are similar to us and move away from those who are different.  Yet, this is not necessarily a representation of how our world operates.  Many of our cultures are making great efforts to integrate all kinds of people in order to live in a world of “peace.”  But is this possible?  There is no answer to this question, although my fieldwork in Hong Kong, India and Turkey have helped me in my understanding of why many of us make efforts to accept others’ differences despite our primary urges. 



1. Hong Kong

2. India

3. Turkey



In my field experience in Hong Kong, I had expectations that my personal space and private realm would be preserved, even though I was in another part of the world.  Part of this was my own naiveté since I live in a country where I see people with all sorts of differences every day of my life.  I stuck out like a sore thumb in the homogeneous atmosphere and I did not feel comfortable in a place where I was so different.  At first I was not necessarily interested in their differences, (although this is what probably steered them toward me), but they forced me to step out of what was normal in my life just so they could observe and document their encounter with me.  But why did I end up feeling like a “celebrity” as I say in the essay?  Why did I end up feeling a sense of superiority in the situation?  After, I felt silly that I had felt this way, since I felt like I almost fit the negative stereotype of an American “dumb blonde.”

Although Irena Plejic is speaking about war in Croatia in her ethnography of war: Fear, Death and Resistance, she makes reference to this same kind of feeling I got in a new location: “the notions of old and new environments reveal the stereotype of a newcomer as a category with negative connotations… Furnishing their 'temporary homes' as well as the very act of talking” (or in my case, smiling and taking pictures), “in a large part represent an attempt by the displaced person to win their own stereotype and assert their identity” (236).  I was uncomfortable in being an outsider, being the observed instead of the observer.  Yet, in my own way, I found a way to relate to these people by forming a situation of mutual interest.  Something inside of me shifted, and I accepted the circumstance and muted my original feelings of rejection.  



If I were to look intensely at this one single-site, I might come to the conclusion that the caste system in India makes people in the higher castes inherently despise the people in the lower castes.  Vedhika would think of the poor as filth and wastes of human life for the rest of her life.  Yet, her mother Purni did not make any reference to the poor people as being such.  In fact, she defended the Indian government and its role in the caste system by telling me that it is a crime to publicly disgrace someone in the lower caste, and that people try to treat everyone with equality. Thus, I am drawn to Vedhika’s response in relation to her mother’s as they were completely different. Why would Purni have one view and her daughter another?  It seems to me that the influence of Western culture on India and the push toward gender equality in the United States as well as other equality reforms has pressured the people of India to make similar efforts.  George E. Marcus says in his essay, Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography, such a conclusion only produces:

Refined examinations of resistance and accommodation-a concern with the dynamics of encapsulation, focused on the relationships, language, and objects of encounter and response from the perspectives of local and cosmopolitan groups and persons who, although in different relative power positions, experience a process of being mutually displaced from what has counted as culture for each of them (96).

If I simply examined by observations I had in India, I would come to an encapsulated conclusion that the prejudices in the caste system had a negative effect.  But something happened in my meeting of Purni and Vedhika, and I found myself wanting to know why many older people shy away at first meeting while younger people are more uninhibited in their words and actions.  Sometimes comparing what I found to another site would allow me to develop “a strategy or design of research that acknowledges macrotheoretical concepts and narratives of the world system but does not rely on them for the contextual architecture framing a set of objects” (Marcus, 96).  In Hong Kong, I had shied away from the group of Asians since I felt uncomfortable in the spotlight, but Vedhika allowed me to embrace the situation and feel at ease despite our obvious differences.


In Turkey, I found myself considering what makes a community strong, and how people with different religious, political, and familial agendas can happily coexist.  While Turkey is vehemently attempting to make reforms within the country in order to fit the standards of the European Union and join in the near future.  But the Muslim population feels like an outsider in Europe’s world of Christianity.  In V. Richard Perisco Jr. essay entitled Learning about Formal Organizations, he writes about his field work on a hospital in the southern United States and the conflicts within its community:

The community maintains a keen sense of history and tradition while grappling with the economic, political, and other social issues of a rapidly changing region.  Issues of race are among the most important that face the community…The changes, however, have been so rapid and so great in scope that many people are uncertain about how status is now to be allocated; they are confused about how to act toward categories of people defined by now and uncertain criteria (82).

How can Turkish people feel a sense of comfort when its leaders are trying to reform standards and policies that make certain groups within its community feel unsettled or rejected?  Although violence does not seem to be a prevalent problem within the Muslim-Christian communities, these changes being made in order to join the European Union do seem to undermine the Islam faith and its religious practices. 

Consequently, a sense of passive aggressiveness toward Muslim communities arises, and is demonstrated in my mini-ethnography of Turkey.  Unconscious rewards are given to those who support the country’s movement toward EU approval.  Nicole Constable quotes Rollins and this concept of a psychological reward of power in her essay Maid to Order in Hong Kong: “Unaggressive aggressiveness yields two kinds of psychological rewards: appeasement of guilt and a sense of superiority” (204).  It seems that Turkey’s situation is producing an uprooting in people the universal innate feeling of negativity toward those who are different.  This had otherwise been muffled by peoples’ defense mechanism of accepting each other in order to excel individually or as a society.  



            Although I believe that no one is born with prejudices or hatred for another, everyone is born with the ability to acquire them.  Family, culture and the society we live in help shape who we are and the decisions we make in life.  Yet, there are certain innate urges that we cannot control, and that is how we feel when we encounter someone who is different from we are.  We feel more comfortable around people who are similar to us, and as much as we try to fight it or deny it, we always feel a sense of vulnerability around those who are not.  As children, these feelings are on the surface of our conscience, just as Vedhkia showed me, and children are not afraid to openly express concern, fear, happiness or confusion.  As we get older, we are manipulated by our culture and the mass media and as a result, our perception of people can be marred as we try to hide our vulnerabilities.  Yet, our universal quest for peace and harmony has the power to override our initial feelings of discomfort.  Whether we decide to accept or reject the differences of people is ultimately up to us. 

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