Oooh, I do love a nice juicy ethnography, me

This, readers, was a phrase that I uttered a little while ago in front of some friends, who still haven’t let me live it down.

I was having a bad week and announced that in order to make myself feel better I would treat myself to a manicure and then go to Mandala Book Point and get a nice juicy ethnography to read (you know, one with lots and lots of details about the most intimate aspects of people’s lives) Now I don’t think that there is anything fundamentally that odd about that. I mean, I myself some other people read women’s magazines and watch Big Brother for fun, right? Well, I like to read ethnographies.

When I was doing my MA, I once ran into one of my lecturers while I was coming out of the library with a couple of books for vacation reading, including this one. ‘She is the most awful woman,’ my lecturer said, indicating the writer of said book ‘but it’s a fun read. One of those really nice juicy page-turners that you’d take to read on the beach.’ My sentiments exactly. I did get some funny looks sitting on the beach in Menorca with this book, but I was very contented. As I like to say, everybody is somebody else’s weirdo.

Talking of engrossing ethnographic material I’ve been reading a bunch of papers by Katie Walsh this past week. She’s a cultural geographer at Sussex University who has written some great material on British expatriates in Dubai. These are some of the most fascinating accounts of ajnabees and their strange ways that I have come across. I was actually looking for ethnographic material on South Asian migrant workers in the Gulf (there’s not much of it) and stumbled across this article, ‘It got very debauched, very Dubai: Heterosexuality among single British expatriates.’ Check out this abstract:

This article explores performances of heterosexuality amongst single, straight British expatriates resident in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I draw on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, involving participant-observation and interviewing. Specifically, I focus on performances of transient heterosexuality, by which I mean performances of heterosexuality that are characterised by frequent sexual encounters with successive partners and which are enacted in relation to discourses of transience. Firstly, I explore how Dubai is understood as a particular ‘landscape of desire’ (Bell and Valentine 1995), arguing that performances of transient heterosexuality are privileged in its bar/club spaces.

Some of Walsh’s interviewees were utterly obnoxious British men who have come to Dubai to make pots of money and shag as many birds as possible along the way. But there are some fascinating accounts in there of Brits abroad trying to negotiate love, friendship, displacement and desire in this most transient of cities.

Fascinating to see white people in exotic climes, rather than the local population, going under the microscope for once and becoming ‘subjects’.

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2 Responses to “Oooh, I do love a nice juicy ethnography, me”

  1. I wonder if there is any comparison to Washington, DC, which also has a large population of ambitious transients.

  2. I’ve never been to DC before but from what I’ve heard, I think that the lives of those working for NGOs, multilaterals and think tanks over there would be very fertile ground for the anthropologist.

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