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More Country Music Ethnography (And It’s On the Web …)

I finally got my hands on a copy of Aaron A. Fox’s Real Country: Music and Language in Working Class Culture (or here) – man, it is a fantastic ethnography!

As I work my way through it, what has struck me is the incredible number of transcripts and quotations from informants – this is a rich and colourful presentation of working-class culture and music in Texas. Quoting Fox:

This is a study of country music as working-class culture, ethnographically observed in the small town of Lockhart, Texas. My basic argument is that, for working-class Texans, the voice is a privileged medium for the construction of meaning and identity, and thus for the production of a distinctive ‘class culture’ … Through song … working-class Texans construct and preserve a self-consciously rustic, ‘redneck,’ ‘ordinary,’ and ‘country’ ethos in their everyday life (20).

More than a good read, what is really neat about this book is that it exists beyond the printed page on Fox’s website. At the site, you can access additional material related to the work including photographs, music, interview transcripts, a performance video, and Fox’s blog.

Fox’s combination of a published book and digital ‘texts’ raises research questions for me — mainly from the perspective of being wildly impressed — and perhaps it will raise issues for many of you who might find Fox’s efforts useful or provocative given your obvious interest in the electronic dissemination of anthropological ideas and knowledge.

I am intrigued by questions of:

The length of time that websites last, particularly given my inability to foresee maintaining a website or a blog indefinitely. Fox identifies his website in the preface to Real Country and directs readers there for additional audio and video files related to the book. Will the book outlast the website or vice versa? Does it matter?

The permissions Fox received to publish his material on the web. Fox discusses informant annonymity, pseudonyms, and transcription conventions at length and I get the sense that the voices and images available on his website are there because his informants want them there. Yet, I think about this in the context of my work with First Nations people and wonder if I could convince them to allow their actual voices to be found in files on my website. I think my work would be enhanced if they’d agree to that.

In sum, I could see my own work benefiting greatly from the opportunities afforded by the web to engage my readers’s non-visual senses. When I discuss transcripts from my own fieldwork with my students I give them a text and play the corresponding interview tape for them — and I believe that helps them understand the stories better. After seeing Fox’s book and website I believe more and more that linguistic anthropology should investigate and use other ways of presenting data which is, at heart, best rendered orally. As Fox shows, the web is one way to do that.

(As an aside, I am disappointed I do not have the opportunity to study with Steven Feld (Fox’s mentor and the mentor of David Samuels who wrote Putting a Song On Top of It about which I blogged earlier). Feld arrived at the University of New Mexico after I finished my coursework there … and through the work of his students I can tell that Feld’s interests and approaches to ethnography will fit in well with the commitments to long-term ethnographic research my professors already make.)

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One Comment

  1. I used to never listen to country music, but it’s changed. A lot of it is more mainstream and I like that. Plus the women are hot and that makes everything better!

    Tuesday, March 4, 2008 at 7:28 am | Permalink

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  1. […] The Ridingtons’s book is supported by a website hosted by the University of Nebraska Press. There, you can download five audio files of the Ridingtons’s informants telling stories and of the compilations the Ridingtons produced with audio documentarian Howard Broomfield. I love being able to hear the voices of the people telling the stories that are transcribed in this ethnography. It reminds me of Aaron Fox’s Real Country: Music and Language in Working Class Culture (or here) which is also supported by a website with audio files. In a previous post about Fox’s book I raised some questions about posting audio files and wondered aloud about the longevity of such sites. Kerim Friedman’s recent SavageMinds post about the ethics of geotagging fieldwork photographs might be relevant in this discussion as well. Presumably ethnographers like Ridington and Fox have consent to distribute sound files on the web just as they would have permission to publish transcripts of talk. […]