Wacquant on Institutional Analyses in Ethnography

From Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality

“[E}thnographic observation emerges as an indispensable tool, first to pierce the screen of discourses whirling around these territories or urban perdition which lock inquiry within the biased perimeter of the pre-constructed object, and secondly to capture the lived relations and meanings that are constitutive of the everyday reality of the marginal city-dweller. But, lest one condemn oneself to monographic myopia, fieldwork cannot for a single moment do without institutional analysis, and vice versa–even if one of the other is sidelined or muted at certain moments of the research and its end-product. It must be guided at every step by the methodological knowledge, itself constantly revised and enriched by the first-person study of concrete situations, of the macrostructural determinants that, although ostensibly absent from the neighborhood, still govern the practices and representations of its residents because they are inscribed in the material distribution of resources and social possibles as well as lodged inside bodies in the form of categories of perception, appreciation, and action.”