Navigators of the Contemporary
Why Ethnography Matters
Navigators of the Contemporary describes the changing nature of ethnography as anthropologists use it to analyze places closer to home. Westbrook maintains that a conversational style of ethnography can help us look beyond our assumptions and gain new insight into arenas of contemporary life such as corporations, financial institutions, science, the military, and religion. Westbrook’s witty, absorbing book is a friendly challenge to anthropologists to shed light on the present and join broader streams of intellectual life. And for those outside the discipline, his inspiring vision of ethnography opens up the prospect of understanding our own world in much greater depth.
I. Into the Present
CHAPTER 1. The Venture
CHAPTER 2. Culture Everywhere and Nowhere
CHAPTER 3. Conversation as Another Kind of Solution
CHAPTER 4. This Book and Other Books
II. An Ethnography for Present Situations
CHAPTER 5. What?
CHAPTER 6. Where?
CHAPTER 7. Who?
CHAPTER 8. When?
CHAPTER 9. How?
CHAPTER 10. Why?
III. In the University
CHAPTER 11. Rupture and Continuity
CHAPTER 12. Theory
CHAPTER 13. Fieldwork
CHAPTER 14. Writing
CHAPTER 15. One Discipline among Others
IV. In the World
CHAPTER 16. The Intellectual's Situation
CHAPTER 17. The Imaginary and the Political
CHAPTER 18. Ethnography and the Bureaucratic University
CHAPTER 19. From Science to Romance
CHAPTER 20. Reprise
“At face value Navigators of the Contemporary makes a spirited defense of the central ground of cultural anthropology—namely ethnography. But David Westbrook’s compelling book covers a much wider intellectual landscape. Ethnography of the present situation—a re-functioned ethnography as he calls it—proposes for intellectual work generally a series of staged encounters that, when properly navigated, negotiated, evoked, and analyzed, can challenge us to rethink what it means to be critical, political, and imaginative. An ethnographic sensibility allows us to remap, to provide a rather different cartography of modernity, the university, and the intellectual life appropriate to what he calls the contemporary conditions. It is at once provocative, disarming, witty, and infuriating. It is a bit of a feast and a fire-side chat. Above all the book demands a reasoned response—a discussion—and conversation, says Westbrook, stands at the heart of ethnography. Go read it.”
“This book is the most convincing rendering of how to be a good anthropologist that I know of. It links the anthropological clearly to the broader intellectual enterprise. It offers up—after a long drought—a vision of anthropology very much of the sort that, in the heyday of Lévi-Strauss, Edmund Leach, and Mary Douglas, attracted me to it as a student. The extraordinary clarity and accessibility of Westbrook’s prose and reasoning are testaments in their very performance to the virtues of his ambitiously broad vision of ethnography. Both stylistically and intellectually, this is a fresh and lovely breeze.”--James D. Faubion, Rice University