Thursday, December 16, 2010

Comparative Ethnography: Conferences

By the way, an ethnography is an attempt to capture an outsider's perspective of an event and help other people feel like they're there, or at least, help them imagine what it would be like to be there. It's different from a story as there is generally no narrative. In fact, the role is to be evocative while trying to reduce bias - which is the complete opposite of a story which is meant to have quite a strong Point-of-View bias. So please don't judge my writing talents on the basis of my ethnography talents! It's more an exercise in converting modern life to my fantasy world.


People filled the cavernous lobby, milling about a table covered in name badges or queueing for the coffee machine and the juice taps. Then, as if by some unspoken agreement, people started trickling into the main room to take their seats. They sat in pairs or small groups, leaving polite gaps between strangers where possible. The loud mumble of four hundred people talking is stilled when the event coordinator steps up onto the black platform at the front of the room, and gives a welcoming speech.

One by one, the speakers come up to the lectern to showcase their wisdom, flanked by projection screens that show powerpoint slides, web-sites and YouTube videos. In the quiet moments between their speeches, chinking glassware can be heard from the kitchens and distant voices are carried through the gaps between the walls and the high ceilings.

The speakers vary in presentation talent. One woman’s head bobs like a nervous bird as she attempts to both read her speech and gaze out into the crowd. One man spends more time reading the speech than looking at the crowd and yet his speech reading is less obvious because his movements are slow and steady and so it feels like a conversation. Another woman manages to do her speech without recourse to any notes that aren't already up on her powerpoint slide. Yet each has some interesting fact or story to share with the audience.

*****The Realms*****

A wide variety of people clutter the narrow cobblestone streets beside one of the smaller amphitheatres in the city. Most wear representations of their Noble House membership, or allegiance, with badges, symbols on their clothing, with even a few guild members wearing full livery uniforms in the colours of the noble house. The sky is clear, with a few shreds of clouds, and the temperature is quite hot and dry. A few people complain about being under the sun on such a day, only to be refuted by an aging gentleman who states drily that the principles of open communication and visibility to the people demand that such congresses occur outside the walls of any building.

Finally, the gates are opened and people begin to shuffle in. First go the nobility, wearing a few proud but subtle tokens of their House Membership, and they assemble in the front rows of the auditorium. They do not all sit with members of their own House, instead, many of them go to sit with members of allied Houses. Then go the invitees who were expressly invited to attend and they are allowed to sit where they will but most go to sit just behind the nobles' row. Finally, the gatesmen, who have counted each who have entered, tally up the numbers and figure out how many seats remain. Then they allow the uninvited who, if they are lucky (or unlucky, depending upon one's view), might even find a vacant seat beside a nobleman if one of the nobles could not attend.

Conversation is loud and boisterous until a gong silences all. The speaker stands in a perfectly designed space, surrounded by stone designed to provide the acoustics necessary, and also with great skill projects his or her voice. A little magical aid goes a long way here and often a minor noble will add volume to the words of the more important speakers so that all can hear it.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry, the formatting just isn't working for me today.