Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


Multi-Sited Ethnography Project: Transnational Networks, Grounded in Transportation

By Suzanne Schefcik

The way in which anthropologists today write ethnographies is rapidly changing. In previous times, single sited ethnographies dealing with larger social orders and macro-constructions were commonplace. Today, however, multi-sited ethnographies are becoming more popular. Multi-sited ethnographies are, “multiple sites of observation and participation that cross-cut dichotomies,” according to George Marcus in his article "Ethnography in of the World System: the Emergence of a Multi-Sited Ethnography." Throughout my own travels around the world, I have discovered that transportation is a common theme throughout each nation. Japan, India and Egypt each have different approaches to public transportation that reflect a lot about the society as a whole.

           Transportation really can define a culture in more ways than one. Through transportation, governmental practices, social configurations and economical means can be distinguished. Every country throughout the world has some sort of public or private transportation, each one somewhat different than the other. Although it is seemly meaningless to research transportation because it seems irrelevant to human life, this topic renders many cultural attributes.

            During my travels in Japan, I encountered public transportation everywhere I went. The elaborate train system made it easy and simple to move about from city to city. Governmental funding for the transit obviously was necessary for the project. The state in which the government lies, a strong democratic society, can be easily shown through the technical advances of transit.

            In opposition to Japan, India’s public transportation was all over the place. The contrasts between castes were eminent through many different transportation methods including: horses, camels, rickshaws, buses and automobiles. Rickshaws provided transport to a vast majority of people. In addition, working conditions of the drivers remain terribly low. It is apparent the growing population affects the mass disorganization of public transport.

       The final country in which transportation methods affected the society was Egypt. The general form of transportation in Giza, Egypt was via camels and horses. Although many villagers and civilians rarely use these animals for transport, they are still available for tourists to bring them to their destinations. The ways in which the animals are used, treated and viewed reflect on the culture.


Chapter 1      Ding Dong: Japanese Transit

Chapter 2       Reckless Rickshaws in India

Chapter 3       Egyptian Camels


            Throughout the entire planet, public transportation is eminent; whether it be walking, riding a camel or speeding in a rickshaw. “Transnational networks are grounded in particular places, even if these places are multiple rather than singular, and they have an impact on localities and regions,” wrote Alan Smart in an article titled "Participating in the Global: Transnational Social Networks and Urban Anthropology." Transportation remains a transnational network located throughout multiple sites around the world. Public transportation helps one gain insight on governmental practices, social configurations and economical means. The underlying social constraints are visible when one takes the time to evaluate them. In accordance with my own personal experiences in Japan, India and Egypt, specific examples exist.  

Return to course home Send me your comments: