My face turned red, but it led me … nowhere. Notes on epistemically pointless embarrassment in ethnographic practice
Summary, in English
The personal character of ethnography makes it meaningful to pay attention to emotions during fieldwork, not the least of which is awkwardness or embarrassment. To make a fool of oneself or to commit a faux pas in the field belongs to the palette of the ethnographic experience, and is often defined as helpful for obtaining new knowledge about the setting. But whereas many ethnographers emphasize the didactic quality of shameful mistakes, this article takes a closer look at instances which proved to be epistemically pointless. By analysing five different instances of embarrassment during fieldwork, the author argues that not all situations in which ethnographers do the ‘wrong’ thing lead somewhere. Embarrassment may present itself in more prosaic manners, stemming from the ethnographer being relatively uninformed, incompetent or out of place, and they need not enrich field knowledge. Attending to such instances may help us further understand and discuss the conditions of ethnographic practice.