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Multi-Sited Ethnography Project: Realms of Conflict among the Youth In a Supranational Context

By Ryan Harper

      I began this journey with a similar sentiment to that of many of my peers in the sense of having combined feelings of nervousness and excitement. Traveling was undoubtedly a new phenomenon and the overwhelming feeling of anticipation could have certainly been mistaken for my own apprehension. How was I going to deal with places that are so foreign and exotic that I would have only previously imagined them in National Geographic? Would the people accept me being from America, the world’s self-proclaimed global superpower? How would I manage to interact and communicate with people whom speak a language that possesses words I can't even begin to understand, let alone attempt to decipher between the many tonal pitches?
      These were all questions that ran through my mind at a light speed as I began this "Voyage of Discovery" and what quickly became apparent was that I was not just on this journey to become more familiar with the world, but rather to walk away with a much deeper and more thorough understanding of my place within it. These appear to be common symptom of many anthropologists who conduct research in the field, according to an article written by George Gmelch entitled "Lessons from the Field" in which he describes the experience of University students involved in foreign study through anthropological field schools. He describes the students as having believed "they had made a mistake" and that it "seemed more of a challenge than many wanted".
      Gmelch mainly focuses his article on the effects of the student’s immersive cultural experiences on their perceptions of themselves and their own society. He states that "the belief that you have to live abroad before you can truly understand your own culture has gained wide acceptance on college campuses today" and I would certainly support such a statement. I believe that regardless of my having not lived in these cultures but rather just briefly visited, the ability to perform cross-cultural comparisons proves to be highly significant in the form of both foreign and intrinsic evaluation.
      Considering my fairly better than surface-level knowledge of the cultures we were about to visit, I decided to select a subject of cross-cultural ethnographic research which had previously interested me and would prove to be a topic that I could invariably understand, the youth culture in public spaces. I was extremely excited to focus on such a dynamic subject and I would say that there is a definite advantage to performing cultural observations on the multi-cultural level. This is clearly expressed in George Marcus' article entitled "Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography" wherein he states:

"the translation from one cultural idiom or language to another... is enhanced since it is no longer practiced in the primary, dualistic 'them-us' frame of conventional ethnography but requires considerably more nuancing and shading as the practice of translation connects the several sites that the research explores along unexpected and even dissonant fractures of social location."

This highly sophisticated statement reiterates the importance of conducting research in a multi-sited context because of its capabilities of developing and connecting the theoretical concepts within a much broader context.
      I was confident that my interest in eventually becoming a teacher at the High School level combined with my being twenty one years old and having just come out of my young adult phase would allow me to easily interact, observe, and even relate to the many scenarios which I was prepared to encounter with regard to the youth culture in the oncoming visits to each country. It was in Egypt, Turkey, and Spain that I encountered my most pervasive and influential interactions with the youth culture, the first of which is entitled "An Egyptian Wife Acquired and a Dream Fulfilled."
      The conflict we witnessed in Egypt between two genders was one that was very different than the conflict I witnessed in Turkey which was a conflict between two ethnic backgrounds. I describe the event in an essay entitled "Escaping near Imprisonment in Turkey."
    Altogether different than these previous interactions was the one I experienced in Spain in which I describe yet another conflict in the form of a peaceful demonstration in an article entitled "Witness to a Protest Outside Barcelona Capital Buildings."
    As my cross-cultural ethnographic research has now come to a close I have begun to realize that it not only revolved around the youth in public spaces as I had intended it to, but also incorporated a consistent analysis of conflict as well. It is a common occurrence for a research goal or thesis to change when conducting ethnographic research and I am glad to see my prior focus on the youth in public spaces become more specific and to concentrate on conflict scenarios. I was able to observe the way that genders collide in the Muslim world, the way that ethnicities conflict within a common border, and the way a nation's citizens can express dissatisfaction with their government, all in a supranational context. 
    When I look back and examine my previously held notions of anxiousness and nervousness regarding the travels which I was about to embark on I pleasantly smile with confidence now that I know how enjoyable foreign travel really is. I found "conducting research" to be something that I was used to doing simply by paying attention to the little, almost insignificant, details in order to help them build upon the bigger picture. Gerry Tierney puts it best in her article "Becoming a Participant Observer" wherein she explains that the beginning of her ethnographic research began by being comfortable just hanging out and by watching every little thing. She states that it was "through these means that I built some trust among the people and gained their cooperation in helping me learn about them and their activities." I simply could not agree more! By walking into a scenario which I would have liked to observe with an open heart and a humble smile, I would often times find that people were very welcoming and willing to share their culture and ideas. It was by way of these "tactics" that I found the world to be a place filled with intriguing people full of warmth and beauty. 

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