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Multi-Sited Ethnography Project:

Youth Culture Across the World
and Their Perceptions of the United States

By John Meade


     Throughout the course of my travels I have dealt with the difficult task of finding a common theme to base my ethnographic research on.  I have had that wonderful opportunity to experience so many new cultures and interact with so many interesting people.  Even with all that I have seen and done, I found it hard to wrap all of my research around a common theme.  As I was compiling the reports I have written and going over my experiences a thought came to me.  I had my theme all along and did not even realize it.  Every time that I sat down to talk with people my age that I met in the countries I have been to, we ended up talking about basically the same things. 
     The topic that we discussed most was the subject of the United States.  This has proved to be the perfect theme for a project that deals with multi-sited ethnographic research.  I had been doing the research all along, now it was just a matter of compiling the information that I had collected.  The theme that I chose to tie all of my encounters together is the way that young people in foreign countries perceive the United States, U.S. foreign policy, and citizens of the U.S.  George Gmelch illustrates how this theme is one that seems to pervade most anthropological work from Americans who travel abroad.  In a section of his essay “Lessons from the Field” he discusses how the students he was teaching fieldwork to gained a new perspective on being American from their time spent in Barbados.  I believe that the same has happened to me.
     In the subsequent pages I will detail my experiences in three different countries.  The countries that will be discussed are Japan, Egypt, and Croatia.  It was in these three places that I had the most insightful conversations with people my age about the United States.  The next few sections will be composed of my field reports on the three countries outlined above.  First click on the link to my field reports for a complete explanation of my experiences there.  Then come back here where I have supplemented my discussions with a more detailed analysis of my fieldwork.

Notions of Japan


    The discussion group at Ritsumeikan University included altogether about twenty-five American students and about thirty-five Japanese students.  We were split up into groups and the Japanese students at our table had a list of questions and topics for discussion that they had prepared before our arrival.  After we were introduced the Japanese students wanted to know what we thought of Japan and how it differed in our eyes from the United States.  We discussed the similarities and differences in music, fashion, food, and general culture and customs, but the real question on the table for us all turned out to be politics.
     Initially I was nervous when we started our discussion of United States and Japanese political life.  I had it in the back of my mind that maybe these students would shy away from the subject because of the tension from the Second World War.  My assumptions about their attitudes on the subject proved to be false.  They were only uncomfortable because they thought that we might be uneasy or uninterested in talking about the war.  Theodore Bestor outlines this point in is article “Doing Fieldwork in Japan”,

     …[subjects] don’t generally volunteer information about their own social environments if they don’t have reason to think that [the researcher] also finds it particularly interesting or significant (Bestor 326).

After the students realized that we were interested and utterly comfortable talking about the war and also modern politics we had a great discussion.  They told us about their views on the war, which included feelings of shame for what the Japanese government did during that time and also feelings of resentment towards the United States for their usage of the atomic bomb on Japanese civilians. 
     The discussion then moved on to the topic of modern politics and American foreign policy.  They prefaced their comments by saying that they have nothing against the American people, but they feel that American foreign policy is headed in the wrong direction.  All three of the students in my group felt that our current president is somewhat of a war-monger and that he is only interested in fostering democracy when it will serve his administration’s interests.  They felt that American policy abroad is turning dangerous and that American hegemony cannot last forever.  They told us that the United States government needed to be more like the Japanese government.  They thought that Americans need to stop interfering with other countries affairs and focus more on our domestic problems, of which there are many.  We closed our discussion by asserting the fact that governments need to cooperate with each other in order to serve global interests, not just American ones.

American Politics through Egyptian Eyes


    Talking with this man in Cairo gave me insight into a completely different perspective.  This man had a totally opposite reaction to the topic of American foreign policy than the students in Japan did.  The conversation that I had with his was one that I never expected, but now that I am reflecting on it, makes a vast amount of sense.
     Before traveling to Cairo, when I thought of the Middle East I almost imagined a world where one point of view is represented.  I thought of a place where one idea seems to hold true and everyone living there conforms to that idea.  The more I explored Cairo and experienced the massive city it occurred to me that I had been incorrect.  The Middle East, or at least this part of Egypt, is almost as diverse as large cities in the United States.  Farah Ghannam mentions this point in her essay Relocation and the Creation of a Global City.  She writes,

     The mixture of actions, buildings, people, and activities gives the impression that the entire world is represented in Cairo and that it represents the world (Ghannam 25).

The more that I discussed American policy with this man I came to see Cairo as a much more diverse place.  I also found that I was attaining a clearer picture of the Egyptian people. 

Coffee and Policy Dilemmas in Croatia


    Vica illuminated many things for me.  I had begun our talk by simply asking him some questions I had prepared about America and his thoughts on our policy, but the conversation gradually turned to just a casual discourse about tourism and youth culture in general.  He made the point that all young people are basically the same.  It does not matter whether one lives in Croatia, or the U.S., or China, or Saudi Arabia.  All youth share the same dreams, the same goals, many of the same interests. 

     He told me how he could see that in his observations of tourists.  There are many Europeans and Americans that come to Croatia for leisure and relaxation, but he said that he has been able to see similarities in all of them.  He has had the opportunity to interact with travelers his age before I met him and he has talked with them about international politics before.  He told me how most of the young people he meets share the same views about the current global political climate.  Most people seem to think that the United States and Western Europe appear far too concerned with their own interests to be able to do any real good for the world.  He wished people could come together and forget their differences for once and join in creating a more global community, rather than destroying things that bind all people together. 
     It was amazing for me to see just how similar Vica, a student living across the world, and I really are.  We shared many of the same opinions and wanted many of the same things for the world.  He mentioned how jealous he was of my travel experience.  He said that he longed to be able to see the world.  My only regret from our conversation was that he had little to say about the Balkan Wars.  He was much too young at the time and he lived then in a very small town.  He said that his family was never directly affected by the war.  He said that he felt connected to the loss, but could not really elaborate any further.  I learned much from Vica, but I really wanted to get a firsthand account of the war.  I had read Irena Plejic’s article in the ethnography Fear Death and Resistance, and wished that I could have gotten accounts like she was able to get.  There is so much depth in that conflict and Vica seemed to touch on a small portion of it, but my dialogue with him was nothing like the accounts in that article.


    It seems that I have come to the point in my multi-sited ethnography project where it is fitting to ask, what have I really learned from all of this?  I have gathered a plethora of information and I have a firmer grasp on the global youth mindset.  I now hold a better understanding for the pain and shame that the Japanese feel about the Second World War; I more wholly comprehend the complexities of the Middle East; and I was shown how no matter where you are in the world, people still share the same hopes and aspirations.  These are all brilliant revelations, but at the core of all of my experiences there is something greater. 
     I feel that I have ultimately learned much about myself.  Through all of my talks with people around the globe I have come to a better conclusion about my own personal views.  I have been trying to study youth, but really I was studying myself.  As I acquired new information about the people I met, I had to reassess my own perception.  My research experience has changed my view of the world and the people that inhabit it.  That is really what is at the heart of multi-sited ethnographic research.  My thoughts on this project and my anthropological experience on a whole is best summed up by a quote from George Marcus’ article "Ethnography in of the World System: the Emergence of a Multi-Sited Ethnography,"

     In practice, multi-sited fieldwork is thus always conducted with a keen awareness of being within the landscape, and as the landscape changes across sites, the identity of the ethnographer requires renegotiation (Marcus 112).
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