When They Read What We Write: The Politics of Ethnography

When They Read What We Write: The Politics of Ethnography

When They Read What We Write: The Politics of Ethnography

When They Read What We Write: The Politics of Ethnography

Synopsis

Stimulated by discussions of ethics and responsibility in anthropological fieldwork, this collection of essays explores what happens when people who are the subjects of the research read or hear about what has been written on them. The most acute problems arise from biased media reports in newspapers and on television that misconstrue the findings of the anthropological study. This work shows how long-term relationships of trust and cooperation between subject and researcher can be irrevocably damaged by misinformation, rumor, or lack of forethought. The ten seasoned ethnographers writing with considerable hindsight warn of the dangers of ignoring the native readership and suggest strategies that will avoid misunderstanding and misrepresentations in the future.

Excerpt

In the last ten years, anthropology has become increasingly reflexive, and has turned its analytical gaze on the social and political contexts that inform both the collection and production of knowledge in the act of fieldwork and in the writing of ethnography. Books such as Fabian Time and the Other (1983), Said Orientalism (1978), Clifford and Marcus edited volume Writing Culture (1986), and Van Maanen Tales of the Field (1988) all emphasize that distance between observer and observed is, in part, an ethnographic fiction with which the anthropologist maintains control and authority over his or her "subjects." In his review article of recent works on Australian Aboriginals, Myers (1986) writes that the narrowing of the gap between "us" and "them" is a function of the modern condition, and is a central part of both the anthropologist's and the community's experience (p. 138). Myers suggests that reflexivity is not just an approach toward analysis and writing, but also an essential condition of interaction with the people we study, who are often sophisticated consumers and regulators of anthropological products.

This chapter examines the ways in which these issues of power and representation affected my research experience as well as some of my writing about my research on the island of Corsica. It is also an attempt to explore the particularities of a reflexive ethnography of Western Europe and to suggest how they may contribute to current concerns with the philosophy and practice of fieldwork and ethnographic writing in anthropology.

Learning about the extreme delicacy of the balance between involvement and . . .

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