In this essay, I shall argue that Ethnology can be seen as a scientific approach to the local that promotes a comparative understanding of the “own” and the “other” (and hence of encounters and conflicts) both among humans and between human and non-human subjects, viewed as part of a “local household”. The three approaches are not competing with one another but flowing together, building on and mutually conditioning one another. Their starting point is topography, the thorough description of place; this flows into topology – the interpretation of place with a view to improving the conditions of conviviality – and toposophy, understandings of how lived experience forms our worldview and beliefs grounded in the wisdom of place. In the question of how we express these beliefs in our definitions of the Local, the cycle, in a sense, returns to its starting point.
The debate about the public role of ethnology and folklore has been ongoing for some time, and has its parallel in the current debate about an ‘applied anthropology’. In Great Britain folklore and ethnology are, at least in institutional terms, virtually absent from higher education institutions. An author set pointers for the future – concentrating on the need for the study of culture to focus on lived experience as well as, and perhaps before, text; the need to revisit the political roots of the discipline in a critical but constructive spirit; and, the need to reconceptualise the region as the theatre of ethnological fieldwork – with a view to developing an ethically aware, evidence-based, policy-oriented and culture-critical European ethnology. Within this broad framework, we need to explore further the issues surrounding cultural mediation as a process for applying, but also generating, cultural knowledge and understanding, and the role(s) that ethnologists do, could, should, and perhaps should not play in that process.