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Clifford

Clifford

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On Ethnographic AuthorityAuthor(s): James CliffordSource:
Representations,
No. 2 (Spring, 1983), pp. 118-146Published by:
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Accessed: 01/12/2010 12:37
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University of California Press
is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to
 Representations.
http://www.jstor.org
 
JAMESCLIFFORD
On EthnographicAuthority*
THE
1724
FRONTISPIECE
of Father Lafitau's
Moeursdes sauvagesameriquains
portraysheethnographers a youngwomansittingt awritingableamidstartifactsrom he New World andfromlassicalGreece and Egypt.Theauthorsaccompaniedytwo cherubswho assistn thetask ofcomparisonndbythebearded figurefTimewhopointsowardatableaurepresentinghe ultimatesourceof the truths ssuingfromhe writer'spen. Theimagetowardwhichtheyoungwomanliftshergazeis a bank of cloudswhereAdam,Eve andthe serpentappear.Abovethem tandtheredeemedman andwomanof theApocalypsen ei-therideof aradiant riangle earinghe Hebrewscript orYahweh.ThefrontispieceorMalinowski'sArgonautsftheWesternacifics a photo-graphwiththe captionA CeremonialAct of theKula."A shellnecklacesbeingofferedo a Trobriandhiefwho standstthe doorof hisdwelling.Behind he manpresentinghe necklaces a rowof ixbowingyouths,neofthemoundingconch.Allthe figurestandn profile,heirttentionpparentlyoncentratedn the riteofexchange,realevent fMelanesianlife.But onclosernspectionneofthebowing Trobriandersmaybeseentobe lookingt the camera.Lafitau'sallegorys the lessfamiliar:his authortranscribesatherhanorigi-nates. UnlikeMalinowski'sphoto,theengravingmakesno referenceoeth-nographicxperience-despiteLafitau'sfiveyearsofresearchmongheMohawks,researchhathasearnedhim arespectedlaceamonghefieldworkersfany gener-ation.His accountspresentedot astheproductffirst-handbservationutofwriting,nacrowdedworkshop.Thefrontispiecerom
Argonauts,
like allphoto-graphs,ssertspresence,hat of thescene beforehe lens. Butitsuggestslso an-otherpresence-theethnographerctivelyomposinghisfragmentfTrobriandreality.Kulaexchange,hesubjectof Malinowski'sbook,has beenmadeperfectlyvisible,enteredntheperceptualframe.Andaparticipant'slanceredirectsurattentiono the observationaltandpointeshare,sreaders,withheethnographerand hiscamera.Thepredominantmode ofmodern ieldworkuthorityssignaled:"You arethere,ecauseIwasthere."Thepresentssaytracesthe formationndbreakupofthisauthorityn twen-tieth enturyocialanthropology.t isnot acompleteccount,nors it based on afullyealizedtheoryfethnographicnterpretationndtextuality.1uch atheory'scontoursreproblematic,ince theactivityf cross culturalrepresentations nowmorethanusuallyinquestion.Thepresentpredicaments linkedto thebreakupandredistributionfcolonialpowernthe decadesafter1950 andto the echoesof118
REPRESENTATIONS
1:2
*
Spring,1983
?THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITYOF CALIFORNIA
 
thatprocessn theradical culturalheories fthe 1960s and 1970s.After heNegri-tudemovement'seversalf theEuropean gaze,after nthropology'srise decon-sciencewithrespecto its iberal statuswithinhemperialrder, nd now thatheWestcan nolongerpresenttself s theuniquepurveyorfanthropologicalnowl-edgeabout others,t has become necessaryoimagineworldofgeneralizedth-nography.Withexpandedcommunicationnd interculturalnfluence,peopleinterpretthers, ndthemselves,na bewildering iversityfdioms-a globalcon-ditionf what Bakhtinalled"heteroglossia."2hisambiguous,multi-vocalworldmakestincreasinglyard toconceivefhumandiversitys inscribednbounded,independentultures.Differencesan effectfnventiveyncretism.nrecentearsworks ike EdwardSaid'sOrientalismndPaulinHountondji'surla"philosophicafricaine"have castradical doubtontheproceduresywhich alien humangroupscanberepresented,ithoutproposingystematic,harplynew methods r epis-temologies.hesestudiesuggesthat whileethnographicritingannotentirelyescapethereductionistse of dichotomiesndessences,t can atleaststruggleelf-consciouslyo avoidportrayingbstract,-historicalothers."3 t ismorehan evercrucialfordifferenteoplesto formomplexoncretemagesofoneanother,swellas oftherelationshipsfknowledgendpowerthatconnecthem.But nosovereignscientific ethod rethical tance anguaranteehetruth f suchmages.Theyareconstituted-theritiquefcolonialmodesofrepresentationasshownt least thismuch-inspecificistorical elationsf dominancenddialogue.The experimentsnethnographicriting urveyedelow do notfallnto clearreformistirection revolution. heyare ad hocinventionsnd cannotbe seen intermsf asystematicnalysis f post-colonialepresentation.hey are perhapsbestunderstoodscomponentsfthattoolkit" f engagedheoryecently ecommendedbyDeleuze andFoucault.Thenotion fheorysatoolkit eansi)Thetheoryobeconstructedsnot systemut n
instrument,
logic
ofthespecificityfpowerrelations ndthestruggles roundthem; ii)Thatthisnvestigationanonlybe carriedutstepby steponthe basis of reflectionwhichwillnecessarilye historicalnsome of tsaspects)ongiven ituations.4Wemaycontributeto apracticalreflectionon cross culturalrepresentationbyun-dertakinganinventoryofthebetter, thoughimperfect,approachescurrentlyathand.Ofthese,ethnographicfieldworkremains anunusuallysensitivemethod. Par-ticipantobservationobligesitspractitionerstoexperience,at abodilyas well asintellectuallevel,thevicissitudes of translation. Itrequiresarduouslanguagelearn-
ing,omedegreefdirect nvolvementndconversation,nd often derangementfpersonalnd culturalxpectations.hereis,ofcourse, mythffieldwork,nd theactual experience, edgedroundwith ontingencies,arelyivesup tothe deal. Butas a means forproducingknowledgeromn intense,ntersubjectivengagement,thepracticefethnographyetainscertain xemplarytatus.Moreover,ffield-workhas fortimebeen dentified ithuniquelyWesternisciplinend a totaliz-OnEthnographicuthority119

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