Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics, and the Academy

By Marilyn Strathern | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Self-accountability, ethics and the problem of meaning

Vassos Argyrou

This chapter focuses on self-accountability and criticism. 1 Its aim is not to examine why outside agencies, such as government bureaucracies, might conceivably be concerned with 'auditing' anthropology-no doubt, an important question in its own right. 2 It is rather to explore how and, more importantly, why practitioners themselves bring their discipline to task and to draw out the implications of this long-standing practice.

Is there anything special in bringing anthropology to account, Strathern (1997b: 11) asks. This is a crucial question, one not really raised before, certainly not in relation to the anthropological practice of self-accountability. The failure to raise this question is all the more surprising, since, as I will argue, self-accountability and criticism have always been part and parcel of the discipline always meaning from its inception as an academic discipline in the nineteenth century to, literally, the present day. This failure is not only surprising but also pregnant with implications, as anything is that goes without saying-because it comes without saying, as Bourdieu (1977) would say-and thus anything that is taken for granted and becomes a self-evident truth. There is indeed something special about self-accountability and criticism in anthropology, something fundamental that we have not as yet begun to consider.

The contributions to this volume afford a context in which to extend arguments presented elsewhere (Argyrou 1999). Indeed, I shall comment on two of them in some detail. However, to point to the differences between my discourse and theirs, I shall adopt a different term for the discipline. Rather than the Anglo-Saxon term 'anthropology', I follow my own earlier usage and from here onwards employ the term 'ethnology', in its Continental sense. I find

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