This essay is one of more than a dozen in this volume to honor the late Mary Margaret Steedly. The paper’s theme is “narrative.” Throughout all of Steedly’s work one can see her consistent attention to meaning, humanity, and story. This article recalls her master’s thesis, a masterpiece of fieldwork, writing, and compassion that foreshadows the brilliance of her later books on Indonesia. Displaying her skill as an ethnographic writer with a close eye to detail, Steedly allows her subject’s voice to resound in her text as a source of both testimony and commentary. Steedly’s analysis of her subject’s context, content, and structure reflects a distinctive and eclectic approach to theory and ethnography, for example, by drawing on anthropological investigations of symbols and classification systems while avoiding disrespectful studies and predictable comparisons. Her earliest work demonstrated her gift for combining sensitive, detailed description with broader symbolic analysis; and a curiosity for the invisible, an interest in documentation, and a knack for conveying details even when they did not conform to the story. These later came to be among the theoretical hallmarks for which she will be remembered.
Volume & Issue:
Page range: 31-36
Cornell University Southeast Asia Program
reading order; unlocked