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Multi-Sited Ethnography Project: 

Youth Cross-Culturally

By Becka


     One of the key skills in participant observation is, according to Michael V. Angrosino author of Doing Cultural Anthropology, the ability to write and the will power to make yourself write down all of your observations. (14)  Participant observation is letting yourself become a part of what you are studying; you must share your own thoughts and feelings, very much unlike anthropology a hundred years ago.  This participation plays a large role in multi-sited ethnographies by allowing the researcher to be present in each setting, carrying with them their changing biases on the topic they’ve chosen for their ethnography.

    At first I thought that coming up with a theme to use over three or more countries would be difficult.  Thankfully, I was wrong, and a theme popped up in our first port of call, something I was sure I could carry out over the course of at least three countries, if not more.  The theme I chose to focus on is the youth of each culture.  I found it interesting to try and see what young people in each place did for fun or entertainment, and where they went to do it.  Most of what I found was unexpected to me in one form or another and helped to get rid of some of the biases I originally brought with me when this began in late August.

    These three mini ethnographies (listed and linked below) all deal with the youth of three different countries.  They show a bit of what I saw in each of the places and also a bit of my reactions to my observations.
  When reading it one should expect to see differences, but also similarities which are what holds it all together.


Japan: A Snapshot of Japanese Youth
Hong Kong: Getting your Feet Wet
Croatia: Understanding Something Different


    At first youth seemed to be a simple thing to study, that in each country I’d be able to find a group of young people doing whatever it is young people do in each culture.  In
Japan and Hong Kong this was a very simple endeavor, entertainment was very much at the forefront of these cultures not only for tourists, but for citizens as well.  It was easy to find the teenagers and twenty-something crowd simply by looking for flashing lights or for a beach somewhere.  They were out with their friends, just like I’d be at home, hanging out and having fun.

    As we moved farther and farther away from the world of the west these things become less easy to find.  There were no flashing lights broadcasting an arcade on the streets of Myanmar (Burma), they were missing for Vietnam, India and Egypt as well.  These were not countries I felt comfortable going out on my own and looking to see what I could find of youth culture, for all I knew, there was even a possibility that there was no youth culture in these places, or at least not one for the majority of the population; seeking out the Upper Class and what they did in their spare time was not very high on my list.

    There was a fear there as well, a fear that I’d chosen a bad topic, that I’d never manage to find another site.  I feared that I’d be unable to find what I was looking for and that fear made it difficult to verbally seek anything out.  I felt much like how anthropologist Eric Haanstad described his feelings in The Other City of Angels: Ethnography with the Bangkok Police.  In his ethnography, he shares that he feared that he was a bad anthropologist and that he’d fail at his task of studying the police in
Bangkok, Thailand (223-224).  That was Haanstad’s first time doing field-work, and this is my first time as well.  Knowing that there are others who in the beginning had difficulty with what they were doing would not have helped two months ago, but now it makes me more comfortable with what I am doing.

    I found a culture of youth once more in CroatiaCroatia, part of former Yugoslavia, has been independent for a very short while.  A decade ago it was a country in the midst of a war being fought with activist groups in each of the surrounding countries led by the Serbians.  In Croatia today there is still what seems like an anti-Serbian sentiment.  Many of the high school and college students of Croatia lived through this war, a stark contrast to their peers in Japan and Hong Kong who are left only with their parents’ memories of war and terror.  But in Croatia, despite the horrors that the youth had witnessed, I found a culture that seemed the most like the culture that exists in the United States.

    I found difficulty in writing my ethnographies because there was no audience to truly gear them towards.  I also found difficulty in whether the pieces should scream the truth or be written through rose-colored glasses to protect the reader from the horror that may lie inside.  On the evolution of the ethnography it is written in "Poetics of Resistance" that “it is, however, harder and harder to imagine a receiver [of the ethnography].  He will be determined by, at the same time, more and more demanding and more and more simple conditions – he must be a survivor and must be eager to read”(Feldman, Prica, and Senjovic 2).


    I have found that picking the audience to whom the piece should be geared is still difficult.  In the end, I decided that pieces about youth should be geared towards youth and should tell the truth.  Participant observation, including yourself in your notes and your work is very important to ethnographic study.  I’ve learned that while there is difficulty in tracking down what you’d like to write about and in including yourself in the piece, it’s helpful to look at a topic in more than one culture. 
Doing so helps to destroy biases and teach about the similarities and differences that can be found cross-culturally.


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