The notions of “culture” and “ethnography” are variously intertwined in the anthropological literature. It is generally assumed that the notion of “ethnography” depends on the notion of “culture” for its coinage and usage. One fundamental definition of ethnography coincides with the etymological meaning of the term: “ethnography” literally means “to write about (or inscribe) culture.” This generic relationship though, is not grounded on a theoretically abstract and general discussion about culture, but is founded instead on particularism. Ethnography, by tradition, relates to culture as a particularity. Although there may exist several ethnographies about the same culture, the particularity of ethnography emerges from two distinct yet related realities, concerning writing in general and ethnographic writing in particular. The act of writing is a unique process by itself and, eventually, a particular modality of expression, modifying through its generic particularity anything argued about in its context. The second reality in question concerns the fact that ethnographic writing refers always to one or several particular cultures. In writing about cultures, ethnographers have engaged themselves in long discussions on the translatability of cultural experience into ethnographic expression. Such discussions have focused mainly on the issue of representation as a central theoretical and methodological problem of ethnography. Epistemological, ontological and ethical concerns have been expressed as instances of criticism against the centrality of representation in ethnography .
Besides Tulia Magrini and the other participants in the 2004 Sixth Meeting of the ICTM Study Group on ‘The Anthropology of Music in Mediterranean Cultures,’ titled ‘Music in Mediterranean Islands,’ I wish to thank Steven Feld and Nafsika Litsardopoulou for their valuable criticisms of earlier drafts of this article.
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