Paths Toward a Clearing: Radical Empiricism and Ethnographic Inquiry

Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 1989

This book is a break in a journey – to take stock, to get my bearings, to survey the ground I have covered and the ground I have yet to cross.  My ancestors, the Kuranko would say, have “gone ahead”: Adorno, Devereux, Dewey, Foucault, Heidegger, James, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Turner.  They have blazed trails.  But we all must find out own way across the broken landscapes, and by trial and error find the paths for ourselves. 

Paths Toward a Clearing is a prologemenon to a radically empirical approach to ethnographic praxis.  Grounded in intensive fieldwork among the Kuranko of Sierra Leone, this work broadens the notion of experience to include both personal reflections and ethnographic analysis, crisis and custom, the life of the mind and the life of the body, subjectivity and intersubjectivity, participation and observation, without, however, making any one of these modes of being-in-the-world foundational to a theory of knowledge.  Sustaining an ironic sense of the way lived experience overflows and confounds the concepts we customarily use to contain and represent it, Michael Jackson emphasizes the continually shifting sands of human experience, and how varying points of view and practical strategies enable human beings to address quotidian problems, and cope with the finitude, precariousness and contingency of their existence. Paths Toward a Clearing won the 1989 Amaury Talbot Prize for African Anthropology.


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