You are on page 1of 8

Human Organization, Vol. 52, No. 3, 1993 Copyright @ 1993 by the Society for Applied Anthropology 0018-72591931030252-08S1.


The Academic As Informant: Methodological and Theoretical Issues in the Ethnography of Intellectuals
This paper discusses some of the methodological and theoretical issues raised by ethnographic research on academics and intellectuals outside of one's own country. Using material from fieldwork carried out by an anthropologist from the US in the Republic of Ireland in 1986-87, the article addresses the nature of the ethnographer's interpretive authority in reference to two related issues: that of the junior scholar conducting research on senior academics, and that of the foreign anthropologist studying native intellectuals. The article examines the practical dilemmas posed by such research in the context of increased ethnographic interest in elites, as well as the problems raised by the need to integrate indigenous intellectual understandings into a reflexive anthropology. It also discusses the difficulties of positioning oneself within foreign academic communities and evaluating their complex responses to outsiders'ethnographic practice and interpretation in the light of potential antagonism toward foreign, and in particular US-based anthropologists. Finally, the article suggests that new methodological guidelines are needed to carry out research on academics and intellectuals, including those of the anthropologist's own society, in a way that respects the former's interpretive authority but does not preclude their eligibility for ethnographic analysis. Key words: academics, fieldwork, intellectuals, Ireland

You really didn't d o this right. You should have structured the interview better and made me follow it, not let me ramble on as I wished.

S A DOCTORAL STUDENT in cultural anthropology from the US conducting fieldwork with Irish university academics in 1986-87, 1 received this criticism from one of my first real "informants," a leading sociologist in a major Irish college. Even now, I have difficulty summoning the hubris to label such an accomplished academic by this ethnographic term, with its implications of lesser status and submission to


Elizabeth Sheehan received her PhD in anthropology in 1990from The City University of New York Graduate School. In 1991-92, she was a National Academy of Education Spencer Fellow, and in 1992-93 a VisitingAssistant Professor in the Department ofAnthropology of The Johns Hopkins University. The research on which this paper is based was funded by the Social Science Research Council, the Institute for Intercultural Studies, and the CUNY PhD Program in Anthropology. An earlier version of the paper was presented at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in Chicago in November 1987 The author thanks Jane Schneider. Gerald Creed, Aisha Khan, Margo Matwychuk, and Patrick One, as well as the anonymous reviewers of Human Organization, for their comments on the original manuscript.

anthropological authority. Not only was I a student writing a dissertation about this educated man's own society, but my research centered on the role of Irish academics as public intellectuals. My informant's relationship to me was therefore that of both research subject and high-status local scholar. When anthropologists speak about learning from their field experiences, I doubt if this situation is what they have in mind. My research examined Irish academics' participation in the public sphere of politics, social reform, and cultural debate. Much of my fieldwork was based on interviews with faculty members at Dublin's two oldest and historically most influential colleges, Trinity College and University College Dublin (UCD), both located in the capital city and associated over time with the nation's professional and political elite.2 As such, many of their faculty members move within intersecting spheres of influence based not only on their position as educators but on their access to government, state agencies, and the media. Pan of my study examined the ways in which Irish academics perceive their roles as public intellectuals, and how different academic discourses compete for influence in the public sphere of national debate. As a consequence of these interests, the issues of ethnographic authority that the research posed for me as a doctoral student had direct bearing on the type of data I



was looking at and on my informants' professional identities as scholars and cultural interpreters. I recalled my professor-informant's advice many times throughout my fieldwork, and learned to adjust my interview technique as necessary, but I never stopped thinking about the intellectual and ethical challenges my academic informants presented to me as an ethnographer. The issues were familiar-accuracy, confidentiality, and self-representation-but the research context impinged on them in unique ways. In fact, as a doctoral student studying "grown-up" academics, I was compelled to defy some of the behavioral norms typical of my lesser status. Conducting research outside of my own country, within a university system similar to but distinct from my own, helped make this defiance possible. Still, I was always constrained by my sense of presumption in studying a sophisticated academic community, well able to furnish its own social science analyses. I was constrained also by my awareness of Irish social scientists' criticism in recent years of US ethnographers' research in Ireland, a criticism endorsed by some of the academics I interviewed. I entered a fieldwork setting where both my discipline and my nationality sometimes made me ~ u s p e c t While .~ this is no longer an unusual situation for the western ethnographer, the fact that my research population included those professionally authorized to judge my work created specific problems and anxieties for me regarding my behavior in the field and the project's long-term implications for my career. My research therefore raised a second set of issues pertaining to ethnographic authority: those concerning the foreign anthropologist's attempt to study native intellectuals. In this article, I will discuss some of the methodological and theoretical issues that arose in my fieldwork with Irish academic intellectuals, and describe how they related to my dual identity as a graduate student and a US ethnographer. While the first identity created practical problems for me of status, access, and rapport, the second raised larger questions regarding intellectuals' eligibility for social analysis and the nature of their roles as cultural interpreters and, in some cases, cultural defenders. As will be discussed, the latter issues were particularly relevant to a study of Irish academics. Nonetheless, the article suggests that contests of status and authority are likely to emerge in the ethnographic study of any intellectual community undertaken by an outsider. Although these contests will be influenced by the outsider's scholarly status and by local perceptions of anthropology, they are most deeply based in the challenge of intellectuals' interpretive authority posed by this type of ethnographic research.

Foreign Anthropologists and Native Intellectuals

Methodological issues related to the study of elite, educated and self-reflexive informants have been a focus of anthropological concern over the past decade (Clifford and Marcus 1986, Marcus 1983, Marcus and Fisher 1986) and have formed much of the basis of the new critical anthropology. A major impetus for this development has been the critique of western anthropology's role in enforcing colonial ideology and practice (Asad 1973) and in creating reductive images of the non-western 'other" (Said 1978). Yet while the self-examination inherent in critical anthropology is a valuable corrective to the presumption of western interpretive omniscience, it has also con-

strained analysis of the hierarchies of knowledge and power that obtain within intellectual communities that now challenge western anthropology's authority. The reluctance to examine native scholarly understandings is based partly on western anthropologists' fear of reinforcing the dominant discourse that critical ethnography has sought to undermine, and partly on anthropologists' membership, like other academics, in a hypothetically universal community of scholars. Justification for avoiding ethnographic analysis of academics and intellectuals as self-interested social actors is found also in the traditional sociological view of intellectuals as relatively detached from class interests (Mannheim 1960) and therefore both morally above and operationally beyond empirical analysis. But as Bourdieu (1988) and Robbins (1990) point out, intellectuals are always situated and active within observable social processes and institutions, although their degree of commitment to these factors will vary. Nowhere is this more evident than with academics, those intellectuals professionally linked to universities and vested with a large share of public responsibility for cultural reproduction. Anthropological efforts to study foreign intellectual communities are likely to encounter resistance in settings where native scholars are now engaged in developing alternate analyses of their own societies. These scholars' understandable interest in monitoring outsiders' research may be conflated with the more pedestrian desire to control interpretation and limit critical examination, particularly if elites and other influential groups are the focus of study. It is not always easy in such settings to determine whose interests must be served, or to accept at face value the research priorities endorsed by privileged members of the local community. Fieldwork with intellectuals and other professional and/or elite groups places the low-status anthropologist in the center of these intertwined methodological dilemmas. We experience our research as "studying up" because our informants' prestige and power are often much greater than our own; at the same time, we may be accused by local scholars of "studying down" if the research is conducted in a setting where outsiders have dominated social science examination of the area. But in studying educated, middle class people we are also "studying across," and share some of our informants' professional and intellectual concerns. The research implications of the last situation are still unclear for western anthropologists, given the discipline's history and the heroic mode in which much ethnographic fieldwork has been cast. To assume an advocate's role is inappropriate, because such informants don't need our help and may well have some power over us in the research setting. The alternativeexposing middle class villainy - is a disingenuous stand for most bourgeois academics to take. Western ethnographers now study people whose individual power is comparable to or equal to their own, but whose societies are still subject to the political, economic, and cultural influence of the western core. As Westerners and as ethnographers, how do we locate ourselves between these two different sources of power: that derived from local circumstances, and that derived from broader historical and political economic forces? In studying intellectuals in particular, how do we evaluate their ideological agendas while still honoring the authority of indigenous interpretation? Sorting out these issues can be particularly difficult in the case of intellectuals who, like my research subjects, have a
VOL. 52. NO. 3 F A L L 1993


legitimate claim to representing historically oppressed communities but who themselves are members of a professional elite. in this case university faculty bodies. Under British colonial administration (lasting from roughly the mid-sixteenth century to 1922), Irish language and culture were suppressed, marginalized, and viewed with contempt by most Anglo-Irish and British scholars. Irish Catholics had limited access to higher education and hence to the scholarly discourses about their country. "Sociological" analysis of Gaelic culture was permeated by racist or, at best, trivializing characterizations that often served to justify colonial policy. This experience of cultural repression and misrepresentation was counterposed, however, by pre-colonial Ireland's close links with continental traditions of scholarship and later by the development of a distinct Anglo-Irish intellectual tradition. The colonial relationship also created collegial ties between Irish and British universities that remained intact following independence, while the institution of English as Ireland's dominant language allowed its native writers to enter the western literary canon. As a consequence of these factors, Irish intellectuals have long been members of the western scholarly community, but as representatives of a small and underdeveloped country they remain somewhat peripheral to the "academic world-system" of scholarly funding and influence. One result of this relative marginality is an understandable desire among some Irish academics to protect Irish intellectual property from casual exploitation by foreign researchers. Added to this concern is a justified sensitivity to negative or distorted portrayals of Irish culture. so long part of the intellectual baggage of British colonial administration. It is understandable that ethnographic analyses that purport to explain modern Ireland in terms of its underlying sociocultural patterns and traditions would be viewed with skepticism and even hostility by some Irish scholars. Until the 1970s, when anthropology began to be established as an independent discipline in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, most of these analyses were produced by outsiders4 Since that time, as native ethnographers have sought to define their own research priorities, the work of US anthropologists in Ireland has been subject to particular criticism. This critique became most explicit with the publication in 1979 of Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics, a study of the cultural factors influencing rates of mental illness in the west of Ireland conducted by the US anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes. The book received considerable attention from the Irish media, which attempted to locate Scheper-Hughes's field site, and provoked concern among some Irish anthropologists about outsiders' fieldwork ethics and the validity of the research models the latter brought to their work in Ireland (Blacking et al. 1983, Kane 1982). (See also Scheper-Hughes's 1982 reply to Kane.) The sensitive nature of Scheper-Hughes's research, as well as the timing of its publication, no doubt influenced the degree of discussion her book aroused. Criticism of Scheper-Hughes's work built upon a wider reevaluation of Americanist ethnography of Ireland, most notably the tradition of rural community studies initiated by Arensberg and Kimball's classic monograph, Family and Community in Ireland (first published in 1940). As Wilson (1984) and Kane (1986) have argued, the influence of Family and Community in characterizing Irish rural culture has been so great that subsequent ethnographers of rural Ireland (Brody 1973, Messenger

1969) have used it to chart social change and decline from the "traditional" society Arensberg and Kimball were seen as describing in County Clare in the 1930s. (It should be noted that Arensberg and Kimball never claimed that their study represented all of rural Ireland, nor that it depicted a timeless and unchanging way of life.) Some Irish social scientists believe that US ethnographers remain overly reliant on the "decline and dysfunction" model of Irish culture in their research on contemporary Ireland, and that US funding agencies may help perpetuate this tendency through their support of proposals based on such characterizations. Other factors contribute to Irish scholars' wariness toward US ethnographers. One of these is US anthropology's historical emphasis on culture, in contrast to the social anthropology tradition of the British Isles and the quantitative orientation of sociological research in the Republic. US anthropologists in Ireland also suffer from the generalized stereotype there of US academics as better funded, more influential, but less competent in their research than their Irish or British counterparts. (The derisive term "blow-in" seems to be used mainly to describe US scholars conducting short periods of research in Ireland, and in particular those engaged in some form of sociocultural analysis.) My own fieldwork suggests that another factor influences the negative perception of US ethnographers among Irish academics: the control native literary specialists have had up to now over the discussion of Irish culture, an entity characterized by such specialists in terms of great books and dramatic historical developments. In this context, outsiders' attempts to locate culture in the mundane realms of everyday life may be seen as a return to essentialist models of Irish character, as well as an undermining of the major area in which the country maintains international scholarly prestige, the production of great literature. My own interest in studying part of Ireland's flourishing intellectual community would appear to refute any notion of Ireland as a backward and dying society. By focusing my research on university academics, I sought to locate Irish intellectuals in a social setting with explicit rules, hierarchies, and professional roles. By looking at the national issues with which they involved themselves beyond the university, I hoped to draw connections between intellectual activity and the wider realms of politics and public life. But as a representative of a discipline understood locally as a process of studying down, and as a person from the US, I inevitably was seen by many of my informants as challenging their own status and interpretive authority. This view of my research provoked varied responses in those I interviewed, some of which reflected the ambiguity of my own position, and others the ambiguity of that of my informants.

Academic Status and Interpretive Authority

As a foreign researcher, I was given clearance to conduct my fieldwork by the social science departments of both Trinity College and University College Dublin. I also discussed my project with Irish anthropologists and sociologists at the beginning of my fieldwork, hoping to convey collegiality and a willingness to share my ideas with them. Through these means I gained "permission," as a graduate student, to analyze people whose prestige and scholarly standing were often much greater than



my own in any context. In studying academics, however, I entered into a professional environment where I could be construed as a colleague, and where shared intellectual understandings lessened my alien status. Neither of these ascriptions, of course, eliminated the problem of my being a US anthropologist. A major consequence of my having these overlapping professional identities was that much of my fieldwork involved an ongoing negotiation of authority between me and those I studied, who identified me variously and at different times as a student, a peer, and an invasive outsider. Even in those situations where my credentials were comparable to those I interviewed, my need to ask questions of my informants established me as the more dependent individual in the encounter. Most fieldwork situations involve researchers at times in such dependent relationships, but I would argue that they are entered into usually on a short-term basis, with anthropologists maintaining a belief in their greater status and understanding in the world beyond the field site. This belief is difficult to sustain when studying academics, who are not only recognized scholarly experts, but whose local prestige is enforced by the bureaucratic structures of the university. In this type of fieldwork setting, the intellectual and institutional authority of informants may fuse, allowing them, if they wish, to distance themselves from both the researchers and the issues their research raises. Shifting criteria can be employed by academics to define their status in relation to foreign scholars, knowing that the latter recognize these criteria and will grant their legitimacy. Degrees alone do not determine status, given that the doctorate is not a compulsory qualification in many academic settings. Long tenure in the university, influential intellectual achievement, and affiliation with state agencies and the media make academics potentially rich ethnographic informants, but are also likely to limit the nature of the relationship a low-status anthropologist can establish with them. More accomplished ethnographers may be too absorbed themselves in the elaborate professional codes of academic culture to consider such colleagues subject to study. There is some suggestion of bad taste in the notion that one academic should study another, a delicacy of feeling rarely extended by social scientists to the rest of the world. It is difficult, therefore, to establish a fieldwork relationship in an academic setting where some professional or intellectual leverage is not being sought by the informant. Of course, the ethnographer can engage in this as well, but at the risk of offending the informant, closing off the flow of information, or, worst of all, enflaming latent antagonism to the outsider's research agenda. In my own case, I soon found myself seeking opportunities to refer to my teaching experience and professional contacts. I needed to relieve myself of intellectual anonymity in order to validate my status in an environment so closely linked to my professional identity. I could not help but think that my finished work would be judged in part by the faceto-face impression I had made as a scholar on my academic informants. In his discussion of fieldwork practice, Agar (1980:54-62) suggests that a flexible identity is desirable for the ethnographer. This is probably true in those settings where the identities ascribed to the fieldworker are generally positive or denote power, and where (as in many instances) the ethnographer's status is greater than that of informants in most contexts. In my

situation, the variety of interpretations that informants placed on my status and intellectual authority could be useful to some extent. Deciding for themselves how to categorize me, informants could justify their participation in the research and still feel assured that they were not disempowered by its terms. Being teachers, they often allowed themselves to instruct me, and I, well conditioned to be a student, often was content to sit back and play this role. A flexible identity is, however, of much less value to the ethnographer where there are few privileged constructions of identity available, or where the power one may have is negatively perceived. As noted earlier, my lower professional standing could be balanced against my problematic identity as a US anthropologist. The latter ascription, which extended some reified political and institutional power to me, provided an alternate way of categorizing me which sometimes worked to my disadvantage. For example, I was cold-shouldered by a few Irish social scientists, and was subjected to the suspicion of other academics (revealed in informal conversations) that I was out to "get" them or was really carrying out another, quite different study. One Irish sociologist even suggested that I must have a hidden research agenda because "no one would do the kind of project" that I said I was doing. To me, it seemed that at least part of this overly suspicious response to my presence reflected simple academic territorialism, justified in terms of protecting Irish scholars against my potentially ill-founded observations of their community. My dual identity as a graduate student and as a US anthropologist therefore created a no-win situation for me, if we start from the assumption-which I believe most fieldwork doesthat lessened authority and ambiguous status are only temporary qualities ethnographers assume in order to conduct their research. Where these ascriptions cannot be altered, in part because they are based on an accurate assessment of the ethnographer's academic position as well as legitimate concerns about research motives, fieldwork will follow a course less controlled by the researcher and subject to more informed analysis and critique. This situation challenges the assumption of interpretive authority that prevails in most ethnographic fieldwork, albeit balanced by the anthropologist's willingness to be a "student of culture." It also compels greater attention to the limitations of standard fieldwork practice when studying those with significant intellectual or institutional influence. In such cases, access to key personnel and information may be limited as a result, paradoxically, of anthropologists' lesser social or professional standing in the field as well as local concern over their potential misuse of data in wider scholarly contexts.

The Academic as Research Subject

What are the consequences of these issues of status and authority to the actual conduct of fieldwork with academics? As in research with members of most other professional groups, the first consequence relates to academics' deep incorporation into bureaucratic structures that limit casual access. Academics get used to the insulation university bureaucracies provide, and, depending on their position and personal inclination, can use it effectively to avoid those who might interrupt their work. The traditional fieldwork option of just hanging about and conducting participant observation soon shows its
VOL. 52. NO. 3 F A L L 1993


limits in settings where most of the interesting business is conducted privately, and where entree is based usually on one's professional credentials and membership in the institutional community. I soon found that taking the direct approach and knocking on office doors was more productive than relying on formal routes. After a while, personal referrals also helped minimize bureaucratic procedures, as did college grapevines which made my presence and project known to faculty I had not met. In a few cases, my delay in contacting individuals may even have been viewed by some of them as a minor slight, a failure to recognize their academic status and potential contribution to my study. Once contacted, academics frequently employed the distancing device of suggesting that I (i.e., "the student") read their last few publications before scheduling a meeting. In most instances, I was already familiar with the individual's work, or if not, found the reading helpful. In others, however, it imposed the delicate task of letting faculty members know that their own research was not directly relevant to the study. In either case, it was always incumbent upon me to have a broad background on my informants in order to be deemed sufficiently knowledgeable to interview them. I was expected to be familiar not only with their careers but with the broader social and intellectual currents that had shaped them, and ready to defend my own interpretations of them. While such expectations were both reasonable and obvious, it was still difficult to anticipate which factors would be considered most significant to those I interviewed. My academic informants' priorities, that is, what they thought was important for me to understand about them and their work, were often quite different from my own perceptions in this regard. I waged a constant battle with myself over the legitimacy of my research interests, trying to balance the insights of my scholarly informants against my own as a knowledgeable outsider. This was particularly so in the case of informants who were themselves social scientists, and who felt free to suggest alternate methods and approaches for my research. Interdisciplinary competitiveness, heightened in Ireland by a lack of academic resources, also may have been a factor here, as when I was informed by one Irish sociologist that a study concerned with the sociology of knowledge was outside the appropriate scope of anthropology. Some anthropologists (Agar 1980) report having their informants evaluate their research practice based on previous contact with ethnographers. In my case, this familiarity was expressed in varying ways. Some people adopted an amused attitude to the project, relying on cliched notions of ethnographic research. "How delightful," one said. "You're studying the warring tribes of our two colleges." Others employed a natural science model, describing me as putting them under the microscope. Like many anthropologists, I was subject to some leg-pulling and was fed misleading or overly dramatic information. My impression was that such tricksters, well aware of the sensitivity concerning earlier ethnographic research in Ireland, enjoyed the thought of creating a new hornet's nest as a way of passing the academic time. Such responses did not prevent my establishing good relations with those who offered them, but did reflect their discomfort with, or skepticism of, anthropology as they understood it and with the idea of being observed outside of traditional collegial terms. The actual process of interviewing academic informants revealed other dimensions of the intellectual's self-understanding

and. in some cases, the limits to that understanding. Academics tend to define themselves through their intellectual work, the part of themselves they present to the public. Like celebrities and politicians, they become so used to this public role that it is difficult for them to offer something beyond it, even if aware that something more is expected. Academics also perceive themselves as experts-why else would anyone ask their opinion? My offers to supply a transcript of an interview were often brushed aside with the comment that as an academic one gave so many interviews that one had little interest in, or fear of, my use of the material. Some informants gave the impression that they saw themselves primarily as helping me to understand their colleagues, thus excluding themselves from the direct focus of study. In these respects, my informants struck me as naive, not realizing that despite their expert status I would evaluate their comments in a comparative and critical context. By placing the encounter within a format well known to them, such as a newspaper interview, they misjudged its overall effect and as a result lost some of the control over the exchange they assumed they had. At the same time, my informants frequently questioned the value of their own personal observations, labeling them "just gossip" or too subjective to be of any scholarly use. While in some cases this might have been true, such an attitude seemed to indicate an exalted position in their minds for hard and quantifiable facts, facts that others could bear out and for which, therefore, they assumed no personal responsibility. I wondered if the same standards would be applied if I had studied rural laborers or working class teenagers, those whose thought processes remain relatively free of the rationalizing constraints of higher education. It seems absurd to suggest that qualitative studies can be of value only with such informants, a harkening back to the time (could it ever have existed?) when anthropologists studied the "primitive" mind to discern the fundamental characteristics of the human psyche. Still, the bias held by highly educated informants toward formal and theoretically coherent knowledge can present real obstacles to establishing deeper levels of communication. This may be one reason why so many social science studies of intellectuals have focused on their professional or organizational cultures, exemplified by the "scientist and society" studies of Ben-David (1971), Crane (1972) and others. These approaches privilege intellectuals' self-understanding and maintain a respectfully empirical distance. By contrast, ethnographic research among academics requires some acknowledgement on their part that their intellectual understandings arenot entirely scientific and objective, but are also subjective social and psychological constructions. It follows that such research must involve a demystification of the academic enterprise as a whole, a project that is likely to encounter resistance. As I have described, this resistance generally took the explicit form of doubts about the value of my research. and in some cases, of the anthropological endeavor as a whole. (One informant, a professor of literature and a poet, told me that he hated my discipline-a remark I interpreted as the creative intellectual's antagonism toward what he saw as the ethnographer's effort to "explain" culture.) Hostile responses to me personally were rare, and in all cases, as far as I can tell, were based on the stereotype of the invasive anthropologist rather than on my personal interactions with any individual. Before I began my fieldwork, for example, an Irish political scientist to whom I



was introduced at a conference in the US announced that he would tell me to "piss o f f if I ever showed up at his office door; he was outside my research scope, so I did not do so. More often, subtle warnings were used. Many interviews began with a short discussion, initiated by the informant, of ScheperHughes's book. This was an attempt to find out where I stood on her research as well as to establish the pitfalls that lay in wait for me. In one case, however, I was reminded of my vulnerability in a more ominous manner. A few days before leaving Ireland, I was told by an Irish academic in a friendly tone of voice that were I to write anything unpleasant about the speaker's friends and colleagues, they were quite capable of meeting as a group at Dublin Airport the next time I showed up in the country. This coda for my fieldwork conveyed only too graphically the nature of the problems I would face after leaving the field. Not only would I struggle to find a satisfactory way of writing about my identifiable and in some cases influential informants, but they were well aware that I would face this problem. It is possible that some of them anticipated the pleasure of reading about their enemies as well as the outrage of reading about themselves.

The Academic as Native Cultural Defender

On one level. my informants' responses to me and my research were normal reactions to an outsider presuming to interpret a well established and self-contained world. In my fieldwork setting, they were no doubt exacerbated by Irish academics' guardedness toward US ethnographers and their perception of anthropology as a process of studying down, a latter-day version of the colonial administrator's tour of the provinces. As one Irish writer commented to me, "You have to understand that Ireland has been a test tube culture for centuries." In the colonial period, political interests often guided outsiders' research. More recently, outsiders have tended to look at Ireland to discern remnants of a traditional culture no longer representative of the country as a whole. It is understandable that my academic informants would be on guard against either agenda, and concerned with establishing their own authority as knowledgeable representatives of their society. But was my informants' skepticism toward my research based solely on the legitimate impulse to protect vulnerable parties, or did it also imply that they themselves should not be studied? The issue here is not just the individual researcher's competence or insight, but whether such informants should be exempt from the inquiry and observation their advantaged positions would seem to justify. In some respects, this dilemma parallels the classic sociological debate concerning intellectuals' uncertain class affiliations and their critical role as independent social analysts. If, as Gouldner (1979:7) proposes, the intelligensia may be "the best card that history has presently given us to play" as a force for positive social change, should we therefore place them, and ultimately ourselves, outside the sphere of critical analysis? My informants were, in the Irish context, relatively privileged people. They had prestigious jobs, some influence in politics and the media, and significant control over a university system still open to few members of the working class. Almost none of them were members of the economic elite, although some enjoyed considerable celebrity as television personali-

ties, journalists, and government advisors. As such, they were quite used to being consulted for their scholarly opinions, and happy to participate in various public debates. These were chosen so ial roles, however, that reaffirmed their professional authorit&nd kept them, as inteIlectuals, outside the sordid realm of "real" influence-wielding. The ambiguity of their status as intellectuals worked to their advantage as research subjects by allowing them to position themselves variously in relation to Irish society, to the university, and to me. Their influence and authority were contextual, and this flexibility made it possible for them to avoid examination of the institutional and interpretive spheres in which they did indeed have some degree of power. A distinction needs to be made, therefore, between the issue of respecting native research concerns and that of protecting the professional and ideological interests of local authorities, including bourgeois intellectuals. These two issues are easily confused, particularly if the same intellectuals are engaged in a critique of externally imposed social science models. Such informants may indeed represent larger constituencies, but in what setting have intellectuals ever spoken only for an abstract common good and not for their own as well? Power and influence are clearly relative, particularly in the case of such informants. The relative power of the insider must be evaluated against that of the outsider, reckoning class and professional status into the equation along with history and international political economy. In this broader context, power and influence are no longer clearcut issues. Anthropological studies of power have dealt with this dilemma so far by focusing their attention on political and, more recently, economic elites. In looking at such groups within their own society, middle class western academics can maintain some distance and a fixed ideological stance vis-a-vis the object of study, who is understood to need little protection. Elite research by western scholars in foreign field sites maintains the same critical focus on the politically and economically powerful, legitimized by anthropology's modern tendency to defend the interests of the disadvantaged. US anthropologists, in particular, often assume an advocate's role toward the underdog, expressed explicitly or implicitly, which clarifies their relationship to local power-holders as well as to the wider research context. In taking this stance. ethnographers cast themselves as ultimately benign, and only marginally influential, social agents. Advocacy can be sustained, however, only where anthropologists actually have some power and where it is possible to believe in the moral superiority of a particular set of actors within a given social milieu. It is naive to assume that these conditions apply to the study of intellectuals, who do not qualify in all cases as elites but who may exert significant influence in their societies. Such informants possess forms of power similar to or greater than that of the anthropologist, mediated by historical and political circumstances that do not always work to the informant's disadvantage. As local scholars and administrators, many of them authorize or monitor social science research by foreigners within their countries. In the early 1970s, Asad (1973:17) wrote that anthropology had not produced "radically subversive forms of understanding" because "the powerful who support research expect the kind of understanding which will confirm them in their world." In some settings, this critique may be extended now to native intellectuals who have gained
VOL. 5 2 . NO. 3 F A L L 1993


prominence as spokespersons for their societies, who are in a position to evaluate outsiders' research, and who also wish to be confirmed in their own forms of understanding. As Sangren (1988:406) argues, all claims to superior understanding involve the imposition of new "rhetorics of domination and legitimacy" that serve the ends of their proponents. While criticism of local intellectual authorities would be inadvisable by outsiders, this restraint should not keep us from recognizing the investment all intellectuals have, at home and abroad, in defending or disparaging competing forms of knowledge.

What are some of the implications, then, of studying academics and other types of intellectuals, and how do they mesh with the desire to respect local scholarly concerns in settings where foreign anthropologists may be less than welcome? In the first instance, it is clear that whatever ethical precautions must be taken with powerful informants must be taken also with those who will never see the finished book or dissertation. In any case, the latter situation is becoming rare, given the publicity that attends outsiders' research in many areas. It is realistic to assume that our work and conclusions will become known to at least some of those we have studied, and that they should be known, even though we will have little control over the way this knowledge is disseminated and the interpretations placed upon it in the local context. Indeed, our lack of control in this regard may be seen as balancing our informants' lack of control over what we have done with the information they helped provide. These circumstances require an additional and less glamorous kind of anthropological fortitude, derived not from withstanding difficult fieldwork conditions but from living with the long-term consequences of what we write after we come home. They also add to the possibility of a genuinely reflexive anthropology, based on a dialogue between more inclusive intellectual spheres than that of collegial, if often contentious, academia. As yet, this dialogue is more hope than reality, and its realization may impose turmoil on many engaged in ethnographic research. It is unlikely to be the relatively high-minded intellectual exchange Marcus and Fisher (1986:163) envision when they propose that anthropologists write for multiple readerships. But there are dangers here as well of self-censorship for the wrong reasons, and of over-sensitivity to the research interests of local interest groups, who understandably wish to preserve or establish their own intellectual authority. These dangers are intensified when intellectuals themselves constitute part or all of the research population. In talking with friends who have also conducted fieldwork with elite or influential informants. and who have sought solutions to some of the problems I have described, I find that the first level of response is not very heartening. We joke about writing two versions of the study: one for home (that is, our professors or colleagues), and one for the field site. If we do so, we will protect ourselves as much as our informants. We will also protect other researchers' chances of doing fieldwork in the same country, and this is a humane consideration. But the larger issues posed by studying informants who have the power to influence the research process -who in some cases are part of the research itself- are

not resolved by such ad hoc solutions, and few sources of professional advice seem available. Nader (1988) writes that up to now, fieldwork has depended upon a power relationship that favors the anthropologist, and that in the absence of this advantage new methodological guidance is necessary for those who study up, and, I would add, across. The solutions that come to mind, however, do not address the increasing complexity of the relationship between ethnographers and their research populations. While anthropologists often submit their research proposals to national social science review boards, this practice may compel the former to tailor their proposals to appeal to local research expectations and does not guarantee that the fieldwork conducted will conform to the outlined plan; the latter is, in itself, a complex and largely unexamined ethical issue.5 Similarly, cooperative research with native scholars, a strategy Wilson (1984:7-8) has proposed in the case of Ireland, has the potential to lessen tension between insiders and outsiders, but also suggests compliance with "safe" research agendas and the possibility of intellectual stultification. Disturbing images of patron-client relationships emerge from this scenario as well, in which the division between acceptable and non-acceptable research is reinforced rather than overcome and in which local authorities (scholars, research administrators, and, in some cases, politicians) accrue even more gate-keeping power. I do not think programmatic solutions to these problems exist at this time. The problems themselves vary from one research setting to another, depending on historical and political circumstances, as well as the status of the outside researcher in relation to the local intellectual community. What is certain is that the study of intellectuals and their institutions, as pan of a widened ethnographic focus on the structures of power in modern society, requires that critical attention be paid to the nature of our own investment-as academics and intellectuals, as well as social scientists-in the mystique of interpretive authority and the illusion of scholarly objectivity. As Robbins (1990:xxiii) writes in regard to the intellectual's political responsibility, "Better honest self-interest than hypocritical abuse of a distant or hypothetical constituency." With this advice in mind, we might begin now to examine our ethnographic practice in terms of our potential role as informants.

1 Fieldwork was conducted mainly in Dublin, the Republic of Ireland, between August 1986 and July 1987. In most cases, however, the term "Ireland" is used here to refer to both the Republic, an independent state since 1949, and the Province of Northern Ireland. part of the United Kingdom. 2 Formal interviews with approximately 4 0 academics and university officers from each college were conducted, with follow-up interviews taking place with about one-third of these informants. I also spent part of each school day on one o r both of the campuses, attending public lectures and meetings. Interviews were conducted as well with intellectuals, politicians, and activists not employed in the university sector. 3 My ethnicity as an Irish-American was not a significant factor in my informants' characterizing me, probably because many US scholars whose work is based in Ireland are of Irish descent. The first independent department of social anthropology in Northern Ireland was founded in 1973 at The Queen's University of



Belfast. The Republic's first department of anthropology was created in 1983 at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, a part of The National University of Ireland. Anthropology is taught in other Irish colleges and universities as well, usually within sociology departments. 5 There are, of course, many situations in which sensitivity to local or national political conditions is absolutely necessary in order to protect informants.

Agar, Michael 1980 The Professional Stranger: An Informal Introduction to Ethnography. New York: Academic Press. Arensberg, Conrad M. and Solon T. Kimball 1940 Family and Community in Ireland. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Asad, Talal 1973 Introduction. In Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter. Talal Asad. ed. Pp. 9-19. New York: Humanities Press. Ben-David, Joseph 1971 The Scientist's Role in Society: A Comparative Study. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Blacking, J., M. McCann, G. McFarlane, E. Kane, and L. Komito 1983 Social Anthropology in Ireland. Royal Anthropological Institute Newsletter 54:2-3. Bourdieu. Pierre 1988 Homo Academicus. Peter Collier, tr. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Brody. Hugh 1973 Inishkillane: Change and Decline in the West of Ireland. London: Allen Lane. Clifford, James and George E. Marcus, eds. 1986 Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press. Crane. Diana 1972 Invisible Colleges: Diffusion of Knowledge in Scientific Communities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gouldner, Alvin 1979 The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class. New York: Continuum.

Kane, Eileen 1982 Cui Bono? Do Aon Duine. Royal Anthropological Institute Newsletter 50:2-3. 1986 A Review of Anthropological Research in Ireland. North and South. In The State of Social Science Research in Ireland: Discussion Papers. NCESS, ed. (unpaginated). Dublin: National Committee for Economics and Social Sciences. Mannheim. Karl 1960 Ideology and Utopia. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Marcus, George E., ed. 1983 Elites: Ethnographic Issues. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. Marcus, George E. and Michael M. J. Fisher 1986 Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Social Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Messenger, John C. 1969 Inis Beag, Isle of Ireland. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Nader, Laura 1988 Up the Anthropologist-Perspectives Gained from Studying Up. In Anthropology for the Nineties. J. Cole, ed. Pp. 470-484. New York: The Free Press. Robbins, Bruce 1990 Introduction: The Grounding of Intellectuals. In Intellectuals: Aesthetics, Politics, Academics. Bruce Robbins, ed. Pp. ix-xxvii. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Said, Edward 1978 Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books. Sangren, P. Steven 1988 Rhetoric and the Authority of Ethnography. Current Anthropology 291405-424. Scheper-Hughes, Nancy 1979 Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1982 Ballybran. Royal Anthropological Institute Newsletter 51: 12-13. Wilson, Thomas M. 1984 From Clare to the Common Market: Perspectives in Irish Ethnography. Anthropological Quarterly 57:l-15.

V O L . 52. N O . 3 F A L L 1993