Anthropology and Autobiography

Anthropology and Autobiography

Anthropology and Autobiography

Anthropology and Autobiography


Anthropological writings by anthropologists in the field have long been a valuable tool to the profession. But until now, the theoretical implications of its use have not been fully explored. Anthropology and Autobiography provides unique insights into the fieldwork, autobiographical materials and/or textual critiques of anthropologists, many of whose ethnographies are already familiar. It considers the role of the anthropologist as fieldworker and writer, examining the ways in which nationality, age, gender, and personal history influence the anthropologist's behavior towards the individuals he is observing. This volume also contributes to debates about reflexivity and the political responsibility of the anthropologist, who, as a participant, has traditionally made only stylized appearances in the academic text. The contributors examine their work among peoples in Africa, Japan, the Caribbean, Greece, Shetland, England, indigenous Australia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Autobiography is developed alongside political, intellectual, and historical changes. The anthropologists confront and examine issues of racism, reciprocity and friendships. Anthropology and Autobiographywill appeal to anthropologists and social scientists interested in ethnographic approaches, the self, reflexivity, qualitative methodology, and the production of texts.


Participatory experience and embodied knowledge

Judith Okely

This collection is not concerned with the autobiographies of individual academics who happen to be anthropologists. It asks questions about the links between the anthropologist's experience of fieldwork, other cultures, other notions of autobiography and ultimately the written text. Autobiography for its own sake is increasingly recognised by the literary canon as a genre (Olney 1980) and, together with individual biographies, is being used within history (Bertaux 1981; Vincent 1981; Bland and John 1990). Doubtless anthropologists could make innovative contributions in those domains. Within the discipline of anthropology, there is further scope for its insertion. Here the anthropologist's past is relevant only in so far as it relates to the anthropological enterprise, which includes the choice of area and study, the experience of fieldwork, analysis and writing.

In the early 1970s, Scholte saw reflexivity as a critical, emancipatory exercise which liberated anthropology from any vestige of a value-free scientism:

Fieldwork and subsequent analysis constitute a unified praxis…the ethnographic situation is defined not only by the native society in question, but also by the ethnological tradition 'in the head' of the ethnographer. Once he is actually in the field, the native's presuppositions also became operative, and the entire situation turns into complex intercultural mediation and a dynamic interpersonal experience. (1974:438)

Scholte did not specify how this 'interpersonal experience' should be written up, but his advocacy of a reflexive approach can be seen as a necessary preliminary to the inclusion of the anthropologist in the analysis. in this volume, Kirsten Hastrup draws attention to the peculiar reality in the field. 'It is not the unmediated world of the “others” but the world between ourselves and the others.'

While reflexivity or some autobiographical mode may have been incorporated within specific interest groups elsewhere, there is considerable reluctance to consider autobiography as a serious intellectual issue within

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.