A Few Thoughts on Ethnography, History, and Law

  • Lawrence M. Friedman


At the very beginning of this short chapter, I have to lay my cards on the table. I am not an anthropologist or an ethnographer; in fact, I have never had any training in either of these fields. This makes me an outsider, as far as this volume of essays is concerned. But of course, most ethnographers are outsiders themselves, as far as their work lives are concerned. Very few of them study their own society. They tend to go to remote places and do “field work.” The classical anthropologists did their work in Africa, on various Pacific Islands, or among native peoples of the Americas. They wrote about coming of age in Samoa, or the way nonliterate people in Africa settle disputes, or “the Cheyenne Way,” and the like. I have of course never done this kind of field work—or field work of any kind, except for the occasional interview. I have mosdy worked with legal records, especially trial court records. I have been, however, a consumer at times of what ethnographers of law have produced. The social study of law, after all, owes a great deal to anthropologists like E. Adamson Hoebel or Max Gluckman.


Census Tract Court Record Archival Work Legal Record Dirty Linen 


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© June Starr and Mark Goodale 2002

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  • Lawrence M. Friedman

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