Emotions in the Field: The Psychology and Anthropology of Fieldwork Experience

By James Davies; Dimitrina Spencer | Go to book overview

7

Emotional Engagements
Acknowledgement, Advocacy, and Direct Action

Lindsay Smith and Arthur Kleinman

ANTHROPOLOGISTS HAVE HISTORICALLY BEEN, almost by definition, “engaged intellectuals.” Our position in the field, our production of knowledge from the ground up, our methodological imperative to live day in and day out among our research subjects for the entire duration of our studies have given our discipline a unique history of engagement among the social sciences. In an anthropological sense, engagement has often emerged from the particular relationship of intimacy with a group of people that the ethnographer develops in her time in the field. As such, anthropological engagement is not necessarily or exclusively the ethical choice of public intellectuals to align themselves with causes and struggles quite distant from the academy. Rather, for anthropologists engagement may be, and oftentimes is, born out of proximity, as the inevitable result of a long-lasting process of active involvement and witnessing—what we call “participant observation.” Whether or not, as anthropologists, we choose to become “public intellectuals” in the French tradition, whether or not we choose to share our expertise in a language accessible to a general audience, whether or not we find our informants' struggles sympathetic or repugnant, at the very core of our discipline is the inescapable intersubjective experience of ethnographic fieldwork. It is that experience that engages us, for it never allows us to imagine ourselves as simply analysts reporting data; rather we are always witnesses evoking the contested truths and troubled emotions of the local moral world with which we have become a part.

In his chapter in this volume, Ghassan Hage explores the complicated contours of political emotions, drawing out the multiple overlapping strands of personal and collective sentiments that surround political upheaval. In a

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