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Engendering Knowledge and the Politics of Ethnography 1

Engendering Knowledge and the Politics of Ethnography 1

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Engendering Knowledge: The Politics of Ethnography, Part 1Author(s): Pat CaplanSource:
Anthropology Today,
Vol. 4, No. 5 (Oct., 1988), pp. 8-12Published by:
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tual aptitudes and moral dispositions on the other. Sec-ond: that this heritage on which the aptitudes and dis-positions are held to depend is common to all the mem-bers of certain human groups. Third: that these groupscalled 'races' can be hierarchizedinterms of thequality of their genetic heritage. Fourth:hatthesedif-ferences authorize those 'races' held to be superior tocommand andexploit others, maybetodestroy them. The theory and the practice are indefensible for a num-ber of reasons which, following other authors or at thesame time as them,Iset outin'Race and culture' withas much vigour asinRace and Histoiy. The problem ofrelationships between cultures is situated on anotherlevel.D.E. So that, in your eyes, hostility felt by one cul-ture towards anothersnot racism?C.L.-S. Yes it is,ifit is active hostility. Nothing canauthorizeone culture todestroyor even tooppressan- other. Such negation of other people has inevitably torely on transcendentreasons: those of racism, or equi-valent reasons. But itisa fact which has always existedthat cultures, while respectingoneanother,can feelmore or lessaffinitywith one another. Thatisanormof human behaviour.Indenouncingit asracist,onerisks playing the enemy's game, for many naive peoplewillsay to themselves 'Well,ifthatisracism,Iam aracist'.You know how attracted am by Japan.If inParis,intheunderground,seeacouplethat seems to beJapanese,Iwill look at themwith interest andsym-pathy, readyto do them a service.Isthat racism?D.E. If you lookat them withsympathy, no; butifyouhad told me 'I look atthem withhatred'Iwouldhavereplied, yes.C.L.-S.Andyet,Ibasedmyreaction onphysicalappearance,behaviour,the sound ofthe language. Indailylife, everyone does the same toplace an unknownpersonon thegeographic map...Alot ofhypocrisywould be needed totryandoutlaw thiskind of approxi-mation.D.E. Are therephysicalappearanceswhichgenerateantipathynyou?C.L.-S.Youmeanethnic types?No, certainlynot.Theyall include sub-types, some ofwhich seemattrac-tive tous,othersnot.Insome IndiancommunitiesinBrazil,I feltsurrounded y beautifulindividuals;othersseemedto offerme thespectacleof adegradedhu-manity.TheNambikwara womenseemed to meingeneralmorebeautifulthanthemen; the opposite wasthe case withthe Bororo.Making suchjudgments,weapplythe canons of our culture.But theonlyvalidca-nons inthecircumstancesare those of thepeople con-cerned.Inthe sameway,Ibelongto a culture whichhas adistinctivelife-styleandvalue-system,so thatverydif-ferent culturesdo not attractmeautomatically.D.E.You don't likethem?C.L.-S. That would besayingtoomuch.If Istudythem as a socialanthropologist,do it with all the ob-jectivityandindeedallthe empathyofwhichIamca-pable.That doesnitpreventcertain culturesfromhittingit off lesseasilythan otherswithmyown.
Engendering
nowledge
The politicsof ethnography Part 1
-
to be concluded)
PATCAPLAN
This artic eis based onthe secondAudreyRichardsMemorialLecture deliveredatRhodes House, QAford,on18May.We arepublishingitin twoparts, ofwhich thesecond, largelyconcerned withanthropologyandfeminism,willappearinthe Decemberissue.DrCaplanstarted bysaying that AudreyRichards(1899-1984)had been a'living proofforwomen studentsofhergenerationthat'women couldbeandweregoodanthropologists'.ShementionedRichards'spresidentialaddress tothe AfricanStudiesAssociation in 1967,whichrecalled what it
EthnographyA poem written byR.D. Laing capturesthemood ofthe postmodemist,reflexive era:
The theoreticaland descriptivediomofmuch researchinsocialscience adoptsa stance of apparent'objective'neutrality.But wehave seenhowdeceptivethis canbe.The choiceofsyntaxand vocabularys a politicalactthatdefines and circunmscrbes themanner n which facts'are to be experienced.Indeed,in a senseit goesfurtherand evencreates theacts that arestudiedThe'data' (given) ofresearcharenot somuch given
as
takenoutofa constantlyelusive matrixofhappenings.We shouldspeak of
capta
ather than data.Thequantativelynterchangeablegrist thatgoesinto themillsofreliabilitystudiesandratingscalesisthe expressionofaprocessingthat we do
on
r-ealitynot theexpressionoftheprocessesofreality.
(inWeaver973)Withinanthropology,muchattention scurrentlyo-cused upon ethnographyand definitions of it as a formof knowledge. RoyEllen suggests that it hasmanymeanings-at oneandthe same time, it is somethingwedo/study/use/read/and write (1984:7). Ethnographylies at the boundaryof two systems of meaningandraises the question, howdo we translateanotherculturethrough the vehicle ofourownlanguage?This in turntakes us back to the oft-debatedquestion- what is cul-ture itself?Increasingly,it has been seen asmanufac-tured, both by informantsand anthropologists,and inthe process,as contested. The protagonists n thiscon-test are theethnographer,he subjects/informants,ndtheaudience/reader.shalldeal with each ofthese inturn.How do we representanother culture-canwe?should we? What is the ethnographer?Archivist, trans-lator, midwife, writerof fiction, trickster,bricoleur,in-quisitor,and intellectual tourist(seevarious contribu-tors to Clifford1986)arejustsome of the recentsug- gestions.The standardmonographwhichhascharac-terizedBritish and American socialanthropologyor somany yearshas comeinfor someheavycriticism.Asidefrom the factthat,asmanyhavepointedout,it isusually extremelyboring,it also failsto includetheob-serverin itsanalysis:theethnographerappearsbriefly inthe preface, asif to establish theauthorityandcredi-bilityofhaving actually'beenthere',but thenpromptlydisappearsfromthemaintext. This means thathisor
8
 
had been like to be ananthropologist n the1930s. Though herewere many other acetsof Richards's work thatcould have been singledout,DrCaplan choseinthis lecture to focusonethnography,whichwasa long-standing nterestof Richards's:shepublishedanarticlein 1939 on 'Thedevelopmentoffield-work methodsnsocial anthropology',which stressestheelement of selection,unconscious orconscious, in collectingfacts,andlaterinhercareer she reflected onthe difference betweenFrench and Britishinterpretations fAfrican religion.In thisandother ways,someofRichards's concernsanticipatethoseof'post-modernist',reflexiveanthropology.Dr Pat Caplan isprincipal lecturerinsocialanthropologyatGoldsmiths'College,London.
her own activity is not scrutinized (K. Dwyer 1982, seealso Mead 197 ).Some anthropologistsare now lookingat how textsare constructed, what goes in, and whatisleft out.It has even been suggested that a 'full account' would in-clude intermediatewritten versions of atext,as well asthe final published versions (Marcusand Cushman1982), although goodness knows who would publish letalone read such an account.Anthropologists who write standardmonographs arenow criticized not onlyforfailingtoinclude,let alonescrutinize the self,but also for theirrepresentationof theother,i.e. thesubjects, andparticularlyheir inform-ants.By adoptingacontemplativestance the ethno- grapher hields the selfanddeniesthat the other affects theself; furthermore,uchrepresentation mpliesthat whereas the self ('us')ismonolithic, the other ('them')is specific (Marcus and Cushman 1982). Yet to under-standtheother,wewouldhaveto exposethe self initswidest sense, since it is, like the other, culturallymedi-ated and historically constructed K. Dwyer 1982).So how dowecharacterizeethnographers'nform-ants-as authors?collaborators? ssistants?colleagues?(Ellen 1984). Theythemselves oftenshapeourknowl-edge morethan werealize.Ithasbeensuggested,forexample,that Evans-Pritchardwas forced to usepartici-pantobservationamongthe Nuer becausehehadno in-formantsRosaldo 1986).We need to take accountof thedouble mediationofdata by the very presence of the ethnographerandbythe kind of self- reflectionswe demand of oursubjects(Rabinow 1977),as well as theproblemsoftranslation,ofthe effect of theethnographer's linguisticcom-petence uponthesubjects' responses,and on thedif-ference between 'weak'and'strong' languages (K.Dwyer 1982,Asad1986).Ifanthropologists annotthinklike natives, how is a knowledge of how they think,perceiveandactpossible (Geertz 1977)?Thequestionnowisnotsimply'what doessomethingmean?' Butrather,Howdoweknowwhatthismeansfor them?'Manyhavearguedthatanthropologyisinevitablyhermeneutic,an approachwhich Ricoeur definesas thecomprehensionofthe selfbythedetourof the other.But,ofcourse,we need toacknowledge, and thishap-pensbutrarely,thatinmakingthisdetour,theself alsochanges.This is the hermeneuticcircle,whichmeans,essentially,thatwe are allintimately (personally,so-ciallyandhistorically)involved with what weclaimtoknow.Heideggerisreportedto have said that whatisdecisiveisnotto getoutof thecircle,but to come intoitintheright way,forinthe circle is hiddenthepossi-bilityof the mostprimordialkindofknowing;he seestruthto be foundinsilenceor thespacesbetweenwords.Thus,inshort,anethnographyshould not be homo-logical, plagiaristic, positivist, essentialist,oranalogi-cal. The name of thegamenow isaesthetics, pastiche,collage, juxtaposition, framing, heteroglossia, poly-phony/polyvocality, or at the very least, dialogue.And to whom do we represent this culture? What isour audience? Other anthropologists? Administra-tors/aid personnel? The lay reader? (do non-anthropo-logists
really
ead ethnographic exts?). What about thesubjects themselves, who are often ignored as an audi-ence even by the postmodernists (e.g. Marcus andCushman1982) or the newly observed (by anthropolog-ists anyway) westerners? For whom
are
we writing?And in the process of trying to change what we writeand the way we write it, are we not also changing read-ing itself, and our relationshipwith our readers?Thiscurrentreflexive movement should not be over-estimated: the number of itspractitioners s relativelysmall,and the samenames recurwithalmost monoto- nous regularity. Furthermore, he numberofthose ac-tually writing 'experimentalethnography' (as opposedto ananthropologyofethnography)is even smaller(e.g.Shostak1983,K.Dwyer 1982,Crapanzano1980,1986). Nor should we over-estimate itsinnovativeness:we can find long-standing debatesinanthropologywhich presage these developments. Questions such aswhether anthropology is an art (most oftenseen asabranch ofhistory)or ascienceandwhether or not it ispossibleto dotruly objectiveethnographyhavebeenaround for alongtime(Evans-Pritchard961, Maquet1964).Indeed, it is striking that some Britishsocial anthro-pology,even in theheydayofahistoricalstructural-functionalism,engagedwithanthropologyas history, anidea recently revived as some Europeanhistorianshavebegunto writemore likeanthropologists e.g. Macfar-lane1970,LeRoyLadurie1978, Ginzburg 1980),andsomeethnographieshave becomehistories (e.g.Lan1985,Nash1979, Taussig 1980).But inNorthAmerica,muchanthropologyhas tended tobecomemoreintro-spectiveand closer to literature:tisperhapsnotinsig-nificantthatquiteanumber of Americananthropolog-ists arepoets.Evenbefore theriseofreflexiveanthropology,herewas agenre of so-called 'confessional'literature,ofwhich one of theearliest examples isLauraBohannan'sReturntoLaughter, originally publishedin1954,underan assumedname,andinthe form of a novel. For alongtimeitwas theonlybook of its kinduntil moreexperiential ethnographicaccountsbegantoemergeinthemid1960s,such as HortensePowdermaker'sStrangerand Friend(1966).This trendoverlappedwith anotherdebate aboutethics, accountability,andrelevance,sometimes inter-preted narrowly asaconcern aboutconfidentialityandpotentialharm toinformants,but also morewidelyinterms ofplagiarism, alienation,and dehumanization.nitsturn,this formedpartof the criticaltheoryof the1960s and 1970s which tookanthropologyo task foritslinkswithcolonialism, pointingoutthatitssilenceonthe subject ofEuropean expansionhasshapedtradi-tionalethnographicdiscourse(seePratt1986).Criticalanthropology arguedthatanthropologyoftenpretendsto beapoliticalandtherebystandsaccusedofdefendingthe statusquo;itignoresthe context ofthe widerscene,whether this beregion, nation-state,orworldsystem.Furthermore,t waspointedout thatethnographersarerepresentativesfdominantmetropolitanultureswhichmayinlarge partberesponsibleforthepovertyandop-pressionof theiranthropological ubjects. This leads toan inevitableinequalityofresearcher and researched(K. Dwyer 1982).Out of thiscorpusof criticalanthropologyhas comeaplea bysome for a differentwayofdoing fieldwork,inwhichthesubjects both help formulateheproblems,assist in the collection of data, and are fedback writtenmaterial for their comment before it ispublished(Huizer et al. 1979), the so- called'action-research',much of which has been inspired by thework of PaoloFreire. Some wouldgo so far as to argue that forpracti-cal and ethical reasons, such researchshould or couldonly be carried out in one's owncountry
-
that weshould all be practising Anthropology at Home,whichof course, spells the end of exoticism, or perhaps,formany ethnographers,he exoticization of the West.
Amadiume,Ife. 1987.Male daughters, emalehusbands.Zed P.Amos, Valerie andPratibhaParmar.1984.'ChallengingImperialFeminism.' FeministReview Autumn 17.Asad, Talal. 1986. 'Theconcept of culturaltranslationnBritishsocialanthropology'nCliffordand Marcusq.v.Atkinson, Jane. 1982.'Review essay:anthropology'Signs 8,2, Winter.Bohannan,Laura.1954.(Elinore Smith-Bowen)Return o Laughter.Harperand Brothers.Bowles, Gloria. 'Theuses ofhermeneuticsfor feministscholarship'Women'sStudiesInt.Forum7,3, 1984.Caplan,Pat. 1975.Choice and ConstraintinaSwahiliCommunity.OUP forInt. African Inst.
-
1976. 'Girls' pubertyandboys'circumcisionrites among the Swahiliof Mafia Island.'Africa 46,1.
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