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In the Contact Zone: W.G. Sebald and the Ethnographic Imagination.

Long, J.J.



In this essay, I address the question of Sebald’s interactions with ethnography from three interlinked perspectives. I begin by analysing Sebald’s reading of ethnographic texts in the 1970s and 1980s, using his own annotated copies of works by Claude Lévi-Strauss and Norbert Elias, and then situate this reading within the context of Sebald’s professional life during the same period. I go on to examine the comments on ethnography and related forms of representation that occur in Sebald’s literary criticism of the 1980s. These imply a critique of many of ethnography’s central practices: the ‘salvage paradigm’, the participant observer, and the effects of power produced by representing an unfamiliar Other to a metropolitan audience. I close by tracing the transformations of ethnographic discourse in ‘Max Ferber’ (the last story of Die Ausgewanderten / The Emigrants (DA/TE)) and in The Rings of Saturn (RS), and show that Sebald’s prose involves a partial adoption and partial critique of ethnographic representation.


Long, J. (2011). In the Contact Zone: W.G. Sebald and the Ethnographic Imagination. Journal of European Studies, 41(3-4), 413-430.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2011
Deposit Date Feb 3, 2012
Journal Journal of European Studies
Print ISSN 0047-2441
Electronic ISSN 1740-2379
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 41
Issue 3-4
Pages 413-430

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