A Creative Ethnology
Ethnology can be understood as a form of interdisciplinary anthropological research and practice, a field of endeavour seeking to understand human creativity and how we, as humans, make life meaningful. It values human relationships and emotional connections, recognises the diversity of human experience, and understands the importance of our ecological connection to the world. Fieldwork is a key tool and, through an ethic of mutuality, can reflect the manifold and creative ways that meaning is creatively expressed. Often the focus of study is our relationship with the past and how we make sense of it in the present; as such, ethnology has been closely associated with traditional culture and local knowledge. In contemporary contexts, particularly in a European context, ethnologists have been in engaged in negotiating questions of cultural identity and belonging.
Implicit in the concept of a ‘creative ethnology’ is the notion of creative practice. For some, a creative ethnology is about finding more imaginative ways to share our research through performance or creative production. For others, the creative potential is in how we engage in vital dialogue and find synergy with other fields - whether music, writing, theatre or visual and other arts or sciences. Rather than drawing on the creativity of the category of the artist, there is a sense too in which we must become artists ourselves. This appeals to an expanded anthropological notion of art - the power of the human to transform and be transformed in a constant, creative process. For many, an ethnological being-in-world speaks to the need for an activist orientation in practice through engaging in different forms of cultural and political work such as in community work, consciousness raising, advocacy and social change.
More than other humanities and social science fields, ethnology is rooted not just in a national and regional context, but, crucially, in the local milieu. We dig where we stand; our own personal roots, as well as our place in history and culture, are vital to our theory-practice. In this sense, a creative ethnology is an attempt to hold the global and the local, thinking and action in engaged praxis. It does not seek to re-construct or re-perform the imaginary past; it seeks to inspire a process of re-engagement with a broader and deeper understanding of culture in this place as part of a future-oriented project.
"Having worked with Mairi on several projects over recent years I cannot recommend her highly enough. She has that rare double gift of always being full of ideas, but also knowing how to convert them to reality and make them happen. Her knowledge of Scotland's history, culture and heritage is immense, as is her understanding of the nation's place in the world and its cultural potential. Her vision, commitment and energy are second to none.
Talk to Mairi. You won't be sorry."
Professor Gary West,
Personal Chair in Scottish Ethnology at the University of Edinburgh,
Director of the European Ethnological Research Centre,
Musician & Broadcaster