Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation

By Lynne Hume; Jane Mulcock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Multiple Roles, Statuses, and Allegiances
Exploring the Ethnographic Process in
Disability Culture*

Russell Shuttleworth

Recent critiques of ethnographic practice have challenged the ability of traditional fieldwork narratives to adequately represent the fragmented nature of contemporary social settings. In response to such challenges anthropologists have begun to engage new approaches to conducting ethnography. The idea of "multi-sited" research (Marcus 1998; Clifford 1997b), for example, has become increasingly common, fieldwork "at home" is more widely pursued (Gupta & Ferguson 1997b), and innovative sites such as the Internet (e.g., Edwards 1994; Gold 2001) and business and research organizations (Forsythe 1993; Mouly & Sankaran 1995) are being identified. It is now not unusual for an anthropologist to be employed in the organization he or she is researching, and, as Forsythe (1999) and Hogle and Downey (1999) point out, occupying the dual roles of employee and ethnographer—where one's informants are also one's colleagues and supervisors—can produce a variety of unique personal and professional dilemmas. In fact, the more roles and statuses ethnographers occupy in relation to their informants, the more likelihood that conflicts of interest, ethical dilemmas, and/or points of contention will occur.

This chapter explores several personal and professional quandaries that I confronted while conducting ethnographic fieldwork on the pursuit of sexual intimacy for men with cerebral palsy. While engaged in this research and during the write-up period, I occupied multiple roles and statuses in relation to disabled informants, including nondisabled anthropologist/ ethnographer, employee and long-time friend of my key informant, disability rights advocate and ally, and disability studies scholar.1 I will argue that critical-reflexive exploration of these quandaries, borne of multiple roles and statuses and their consequent allegiances, both enriched my understanding of the sexual situation of disabled men and led me to question the conceptual assumptions of both disability studies and anthropology.

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