Response to "Ethical Issues for Social Anthropologists: A North American Perspective on Long-Term Research in Mexico"

By Halpern, Joel M. | Human Organization, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Response to "Ethical Issues for Social Anthropologists: A North American Perspective on Long-Term Research in Mexico"


Halpern, Joel M., Human Organization


Joel M. Halpern is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MA 01003-34805. He has done fieldwork in Southeast Europe, mainland Southeast Asia, in the Arctic and among US ethnic groups

Key words: ethics, long-term research

I was struck by the recent "Commentary" by Robert V. Kemper and Anya P. Royce (Human Organization 56(4):479483; Winter 1997), because it seemed so divergent from my own experience. This is a considered and well-written piece and I am most respectful of their scholarship. It is important to state at the outset that my knowledge of Mexican and Latin American affairs is limited. But the historic role in American anthropology of scholarship based on Mexican data is obvious. One cannot be fully literate in the tradition of North American sociocultural anthropology without some knowledge of the works of Robert Redfield, George Foster, and Oscar Lewis among others. I remember their works from my graduate student days. In fact, Oscar Lewis' restudy of Tepoztlan had just been published when I first went into the field in the Balkans in 1953. I took it along thinking it might be a possible model. I did not neglect either Redfield's earlier study of the same community or the implications of Lewis's critique. Viewing these matters something over two generations later, with the knowledge of the myopia implicit in some aspects of the community study method long acknowledged, and my own included, it was with a sense of puzzlement that I read certain parts of this piece.

Royce and Kemper's commentary is organized around the notion of responsibility to "People and Their Communities," to the "Public," to "Professional Colleagues," and to "Students and Trainees," to "Employers and Sponsors," and to "Governments." These are articulated in terms of the AAA's "Principles of Professional Responsibility," and the SfAA's "Statement on Professional and Ethnical Responsibilities." Since we are a small and somewhat marginal profession, without any facility for licensing or way of formal censure, the mandate for such principles and responsibilities obviously derives from the communal strength of the profession and the influence of its members. The economic marginality of more than a few recent PhDs might tend to undercut this sense of community but, despite these problems, a sense of professional concern for responsibility in its various forms remains valid.

In terms of space allocated to each topic, "People and Communities," "Colleagues," and "Students" receive the most coverage and "Employers" and "Governments" the least. While I understand these concerns and the ways in which they are expressed, I very much miss a larger context. I note that Royce in 1995 presented a paper on the "Social Implications of NAFTA." But what puzzles me is, where in all these "responsibilities" is a sense of participation or involvement in the major series of problems that confront Mexico-US relations. …

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