Palaceology, or Palace-as-Methodology: Ethnographic Conceptualism, Total Urbanism, and a Stalinist Skyscraper in Warsaw

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Michał Murawski


Methodology, Ethnography, Urbanism, Architecture, Totality, Holism, Stalinism, Postsocialism


This article describes experiments with fieldwork methodology, carried out while researching the relationship between a Stalinist skyscraper (the Palace of Culture and Science) and the social life of contemporary Warsaw. Making use of three concepts of totality taken from social and art theory (the Maussian “total social fact,” the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk, and anthropological holism), I show how the provocative style and public scale of “Palaceological” “ethnographic conceptualism”—which triangulates participant observation, artlike ethnographic interventions, and a quantitative survey—mirrors the bombastic manner and pervasive scope of the Palace’s presence in the social life of the city. This text does not argue that an urban Gesamtkunstwerk or an experiment with ethnographic methodology can actually achieve (descriptive or actual) totality. Rather, it illustrates how an “urban portrait”—the product of an aspiration to approximate and to measure the totality of an urban environment, rather than to embrace partiality as an end in itself—might be assembled. In English, extended summary in Russian.
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