Local Ethnography: The Performability of the Definition

  • Margarita Matulytė
Keywords: local ethnography, exploration of the region, local history societies, local history at school, museum ethnography, national ethnology, performability


The research into the definition of local ethnography was prompted by the observation that the local history research is disappearing from the discourse of contemporary discipline of Lithuanian ethnology. In this article, it is attempted to reflect onand discuss the reasons for such a relation, and also to identify the points of mutual interests. The skeptical approach of ethnology in regard to local history and a certain confusion between the theory and practice have been formed by long-term processes. The understanding of local ethnography has been changing along with the sociopolitical situation of the country, the cultural politics, and its ideological attitudes. However, the turning point occurred during the Soviet period, when the local history movement was included in the propaganda network, and was given the role of a mass cultural amateur activity. The profanation of regional research activities has resulted in the devaluation of fundamental ethical ideas, and these consequences of the Sovietization are still present. Conscious avoidance of acknowledging the contribution of local history studies to ethnographic research is noticeable in the current academic environment, as is the separation between the academic and the “amateur” activities: a critical approach towards the latter is motivated by the doubtful expedience and reliability of the data collected by local history researchers, and the mismatch between their activities and the interests of the research programmes that are formed by research institutions. In the case of the problem addressed by this research, the term performability is used in reference to an insight on the performability of language by John Langshaw Austin. In the communication of two platforms – the scientific and the cultural – he allows the opportunity to solve the related tasks by approaching them through different means of access. It is true, though, that the institutionalized research synthesizes the accumulated knowledge, models the interpretations, approbates the meanings, and legitimizes the knowledge. By remaining loyal to the meta-narrative of the modern science, and being a power authority, ethnology does traditionally include the work of local history researchers into its heterogenic knowledge model, which has been formed by methodological instruments. In such a model, the identification code of local history is lost. In the analysis of the performability of the Lithuanian definition local ethnography, the declaration of its activities (the purpose, tasks, and methods), its shift and the adaptation of the terminology is studied from the very first publications on this topic in the Lithuanian language to the meanings of already standardized concepts in the contemporary speciality vocabulary.