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The Reflexive Turn

Page history last edited by samuel.johnson@colorado.edu 13 years, 7 months ago

Table of Contents

 


 

 


 

Main Points

     The reflexive turn is a modern movement in cultural anthropology that began in the early seventies. It was prompted by criticisms of anthropology’s culpability in European colonialism, and the growing awareness of feminist anthropologists about how the person of the anthropologist can affect the ethnographies they write.[1]  Specifically, criticisms were born out of anthropologies involvement with the inequalities of European colonialism, and the feminist movement questioned the accuracy of the male-centered discipline of anthropology.  Texts like Paul Rabinow’s Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco[2] experimented with subjective and objective writing styles. This led to the direct study of this new so-called “writing culture” in works like James Clifford and George Marcus’ Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography[3].  This particular study focused on the potential effects that different writing styles had on the finished study’s audience. The “reflexive turn,” by definition, was a figurative look in the mirror by anthropologists.  In the face of post-modernism’s rise, anthropologists began asking themselves if it was possible to create an objective study of a culture when their own biases and epistemologies were inherently involved. Moreover, would it be possible to objectively describe a culture through writing? In the case of feminist anthropologists, they realized that women had access to different parts of a culture than male anthropologists did, and that this affected the information they could gather and created a fuller view of the culture they were studying. As Dr. Laura M. Ahearn, linguistic and sociocultural anthropologist, puts it, "Reflecting on my experiences and the reactions of the villagers to me has been instructive. The stories that follow help to illustrate how villagers conceive of my agency, not just their own." In this case, Dr. Ahearn is employing the concept of the reflexive turn by acknowledging the fact that she is an actor in her own study that affects the final work.

     The reflexive turn forced anthropologists to tell the story of their integration and interactions within the community they were studying. This challenges the anthropologist to not let their story create an impartial view of the culture they are studying.

 

 

 


 

Key Figures

     Over the last thirty years or since the Reflexive Turn came about, anthropologists have had to adjust their process of studying people’s cultures. This change was brought on in an effort to ensure the research remains unbiased and representative of the data versus an anthropologist's own values and beliefs.

     The edited volume of Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, written by James Clifford and George Marcus and published in 1986, has been extremely influential in anthropological concepts and has brought new meaning to the study of ethnography.[4] Their book reminds people that these texts or cultural accounts are written through observation and participation in a society or culture. Separating the personal perspective from the scientific documentation remains a controversial and complex issue.

     In addition to writing the edited volume of Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Marcus and Clifford have accused many Feminist Anthropologists on their lack of formality. Clifford and Marcus argue that in writing ethnographies, one must take a more methodical approach to research and experimentation. Individuals such as Ruth Behar have in turn reciprocated these accusations, stating that Clifford and Marcus do not represent sufficient reflexivity in their research. Instead, Behar would point out, that writing ethnographies is like telling a story, and one must avoid sounding too authoritative in their approach. In her paper, Rage and Redemption: Reading the Life Story of a Mexican Marketing Woman, Behar states, "One common problem in life history writing is that the typifying narrative or frame provided by the ethnographer as an authority on the culture often speaks past, rather than to, the native narrative" (226).[5] 

     Therefore the question must be asked, can the observation and reporting of a culture be unbiased or without influence?  This is the question anthropologists must  consider and incorporate into their research, study and ethnography.

 

James Clifford 

 

[6]

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

      James Clifford is considered an influential, yet controversial figure in Cultural Anthropology. His critiques of cultural observations and ethnographies have challenged the core principles of this discipline. 

     This challenge is particularly interesting given that Clifford is not an Anthropologist. Instead, Clifford received his bachelor’s degree in History from Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and his master’s degree from Stanford University. He then went on to get his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1977.[7] James Clifford is now a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and has taught there since 1978. His main focus is in critical and historical analysis, however, his work does not often include field research. As a professor and Department Chair, Clifford works within the History of Consciousness and his research focus includes modern European intellectual history, the history of Anthropology, Melanesian studies, and cultural criticism.[8] 

    In addition to being a professor at UC Santa Cruz, Clifford has been a visiting professor at the University College of London, Yale University and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Clifford has been a prolific publisher and has written many widely recognized books, including The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature and Art in 1988, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century in 1997, and On the Edges of Anthropology in 2003. He was also the editor of Writing Culture: the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, with George Marcus in 1986. 

     James Clifford has received numerous honors and awards during the span of his career, including the Henry Luce Visiting Scholar at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University in 1990, and from 1990 to 1991, the American Council of Learned Societies Research Fellowship. In 1994, he was the Bukham Scholar at the University of Vermont as a spring visitor. Also, in 1996, Clifford was named the Pavish Lecturer at Open University in Milton Keynes, England. His more recent achievements are that he was named Distinguished Professor in the Humanities Department by the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2003. Other accomplishments include an honorary Doctor of Letter degree from his alma mater Haverford College in 2004, and in 2007 the Guggenheim Fellowship at Stanford University Humanities Center. Also, Clifford is the Ushiba Distinguished Scholar at International House in Tokyo this year (2010).[9]

 

George Marcus

 

    

      

 

 

 

 

 

    

      George Marcus is currently the Chancellor's Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. Marcus was previously a professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and during his 25 years of work with the university, Marcus was the Department chair. While he received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1976, his biographical information regarding his former college education is limited. 

     While working at the Department of Anthropology at the University of California in Irvine, he has established further work with the subject area of ethnography and its impact on the Anthropological discipline. He is in some ways trying to reinvent the research process of fieldwork and the writing of cultural accounts within this complex field of study, in an effort to be more reflective.[10] 

     During his work with James Clifford on Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, he points out that Anthropologists often organize their research and data based on personal accounts. Due to this pattern and behavioral approach to field study, an Anthropologists work can often come across as ethnocentric. This has therefore sparked a reaction, and the Reflexive Turn was brought in to address this situation. Marcus urges the Anthropological community to recognize the influence these studies have on other cultures, and speaks out to the movement towards new research methods and reflexivity. 

 

Ruth Behar 

 

 

     Ruth Behar, a Cultural Anthropologist, was born in Havana, Cuba. However, she left when she was four years old, relocating in Queens, New York. She studied at Wesleyan University and received her Bachelors degree there in 1977. She then went on to graduate school, studying Anthropology at Princeton University. She received both her Masters Degree in 1980, and her Ph.D. in 1983 at Princeton University. 

     She has written many books speaking about her travels abroad and the experiences that followed. The titles of these books include, The Present of the Past in a Spanish Village: Santa Maria del Monte in 1986, Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s story in 1993, and The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart in 1996. Translated Woman was translated to Spanish in 2008, entitled, Cuéntame algo aunque sea una mentira: Las historias de la comadre Esperanza. Behar also wrote a book in 2007, exploring her identity as both an Anthropologist and a Cuban native. This book was entitled An Island Called Home, Returning to Jewish Cuba. She is also the co-editor along with Deborah Gordon, of Women Writing Culture, which was published in 1995.

     Behar has received many awards such as the MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 1988, the John Simon Guggenheim award in 1995, and a Fullbright award in 2007. Behar was also awarded the Distinguished Alumna Award in Recognition of Outstanding Achievement and Service, when she graduated from Wesleyan University in 1977. Latina Magazine also honored her with recognition of being one of fifty history-making Latinas in the twentieth century, in 1999.

     Behar is now a Professor at the University of Michigan, where she teaches Anthropology. She is also actively involved in Women’s Studies as well as Latin, Latin American, Caribbean, and Jewish Studies.[11] 

     In her research, Behar practices reflexivity by establishing her positionality as a storyteller, rather than an authoritative outsider. Rather than analyzing structures and how they influence daily life, Behar argues that an Anthropologist should investigate how an actor makes these systems meaningful in the writing of ethnographies. She criticizes that in many Anthropological texts, a researcher “feels called upon to produce to lend weight, meaning, and credence to the native's words” (Behar 225).[12]

     Behar’s approach to reflexivity asks Anthropologists to not just give insight and information about a particular culture, but to write as if they are reading or hearing a story and passing it along. She also states in, Rage and Redemption: Reading the Life Story of a Mexican Marketing Woman, that, “The more relevant distinction for me is Walter Benjamin's distinction between storytelling and information. Information, in Benjamin's analysis, is a mode of communication linked to the development of the printing press and of capitalism; it presents itself as verifiable, it is 'shot through with explanation,' and it is disposable because it is forgettable. Storytelling, on the other hand, is 'always the art of repeating stories,' without explanation, combining the extraordinary and the ordinary; most importantly, it is grounded in a community of listeners on whom the story makes a claim to be remembered by virtue of its "chaste compactness," which inspires the listener, in turn, to become the teller of the story. It worries me that one does violence to the life history as a story by turning it into the disposable commodity of information” (Behar 229).[13] 

 

Renato Rosaldo 

 

     Renato Rosaldo is considered to be one of the world’s foremost anthropologists. [14] His areas of study include sociocultural anthropology, specific to Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Latinos within the US. [15] After graduating with a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1971, Rosaldo took his research to the Phillipines, conducting fieldwork among the Ilongots of northern Luzon, where he authored Ilongot Headhunting: 1883-1974: A Study in Society and History.[16] His publication of Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis revealed his Postmodernist approach to the Ilongots sacrificial tradition of cutting off heads when mourning the death of a loved one. This method of Postmodernism helped Rosaldo to understand another culture in reflection of his own, implicating the idea of reflexivity in anthropology. [17]

     Rosaldo has also edited a number of works including Cultural Citizenship in Island Southeast Asia: Nation and Belonging in the Hinterlands, Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader, and The Incas and the Aztecs, 1400-1800. [18] More recently, Rosaldo carried out research in San Jose, California on cultural citizenship resulting in his contribution to Latino Cultural Citizens: Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights.

     Receiving an American Book Award, Rosaldo is also an established poet. His collection of bilingual poems called Prayer to Spider Woman/Rezo a La Mujer Araña, was given recognition from the Before Columbus Foundation in 2004.  [19]

     President of the American Ethnological Society, Director of the Stanford Center for Chicano Research, and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at New York University, Renato Rosaldo is clearly an accomplished anthropologist. Previously a professor at Standford University, Rosaldo currently educates the students of NYU as the Professor of Anthropology.  [20]

 

 


 

Key Texts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Crack in the Mirror: Reflexive Perspective in Anthropology

     The collective works presented in the book A Crack in the Mirror: Reflexive Perspectives in Anthropology, were largely influential in encompassing the meaning of the turn towards a reflexive anthropological movement. Edited by Jay Ruby, professor in the Department of Anthropology at Temple University, in 1982, the anthology serves to convey to the reader the main ideas presented in the reflexive turn. In the introduction, written by Ruby, it is said that “to be reflexive is to conceive of the production of communicative statements as interconnecting the three components thusly: PRODUCER, PROCESS, PRODUCT”, essentially summarizing the role of symbols and communications through out the book as a means through which to reflect on one’s own social practices in one broad sweep.[21]

     Another said point of the text is the symbolic component involved in the reflexive turn, stating that this particular theory, in emphasis on self reflection in regards to one’s relation to their culture, is “reflexive in the sense of showing ourselves ourselves...arousing consciousness of ourselves as we see ourselves”.[22] This excerpt comes from just one of the 11 various ethnographic and theoretically argumentative essays which comprise the bulk of the work. 

     Responses to the book were mixed. Some critics felt as if the terminology used through out the work served only to leave more questions as to the function of the reflexive turn, and found fault in the book’s tracing back of the origins of the movement, arguing that more in depth connections to other anthropological schools of thought were needed.[23]  However, many others in association with the specific study of the reflexive turn cite this book as one of the earliest calls for attention of the reflexive theory, and praise its ability to bring to light some of the very first experiments involving the ideas of this new theory.  Many hold it in high esteem as voicing the thoughts behind the theory in a strong, powerfully effective manner.[24] 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author

     Clifford Geertz’s publishing, Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author, focuses primarily on emphasizing a change towards the reflexive in terms of ethnographic writing. Through the book, published in 1990, Geertz stresses the importance of moving towards a more reflexive anthropological community as a whole. The author states that “good anthropological texts are plain texts, unpretending. They neither invite literary critical close reading nor reward it”, in effect providing anthropologists with the fundamental basis of how to construct their ethnographies in a reflexive manner.[25] 

     This is the purpose of this specific example of Geertz’s many works, to educate the anthropological community on a new style of writing. The author successfully showcases the fundamentals of the reflexive turn in addition to providing evidence of its validity. Geertz  argues that “the criticism of anthropological writing...ought to grow out of a similar engagement with it, not out of preconceptions of what it must look like to qualify as science”, thus playing on the ideas of the superiority of the emic point of view, rather than a purely objective and quantitative analysis.[26] 

     Geertz’s Works and Lives ends by urging the reader to take the information he has provided them with not in vain, but to utilize it in their own subsequent works. The author calls for the anthropological community to “adjust itself to a situation in which its goals, its relevance, its motives, and its procedures all are questioned”.[27] What is meant by this is that a study of a culture cannot be complete or valid unless one has looked back and reexamined with a more watchful eye their findings, rather than simply relaying their first impressions. In stating this, Geertz maintains his emphasis on reflective analysis of one's ethnography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco

     Paul Rabinow’s ethnography, Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco,  is a prime example of the turn towards reflexive writing styles in anthropological works. Largely influenced by the writings of Geertz, Rabinow’s publication takes an in depth look into the processes of his exploration and studies in Morocco. Rather than simply recounting the information he discovered and the implications which it for him unearthed, Rabinow proceeds to also inspect his own relationships with the people he encountered.

In true reflexive fashion, the bulk of this book is written as Rabinow looks back on his time in Morocco. Instead of a mere transfer of his notes taken at the time, the author has taken a step back and reexamined the fieldwork he conducted. In doing so, Rabinow finds that he “became increasingly aware that these ruptures of communication were highly revealing, and often proved to be turning points”, indicating that a reflective perspective allowed the anthropologist to see things in his own work that he had not noticed at first glance.[28]

     Rabinow writes that “this book is meant to be a whole, in which the meaning of each chapter depends on what comes after it. What the book does and these experiences are about is themselves”, making a very characteristically reflexive argument, in that he wishes to portray the experiences themselves rather than only giving the reader what he has drawn out of them. Instead of telling them what he concluded, the author rather relays his findings in a fashion that allow room for the reader to also make some conclusions of their own.[29] This allows for the reader a better understanding of Rabinow’s conclusions and more chance to feel a stronger connection to the study.

 

 

Women Writing Culture

     

     Women Writing Culture, edited by Ruth Behar and Deborah A. Gordon, is a exploration of the ways in which the female identity relates to interpretations of cultural and social issues. The two anthropologists, in their publication, consider the ways in which different cultures, societies, races and even financial institutions have molded the role of the women in different parts of the world. The women also attempt to discuss any problems or benefits that may arise from the anthropological standpoint of women researching, observing, and analyzing women-determining whether gender provides bias for the better or worse. 

     The book does so in a reflexive fashion, in that the works of many female anthropologists such as Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict are interpreted by a new set of standards. Behar and Gordon reflect on the findings of these women, among others, in attempts to find new information about the ways in which they gender has contributed to and been shaped in the anthropological and ethnographical worlds. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography

     Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, written in 1986, came out of a discussion amongst many prominent anthropologists of the 1980s.  Ten anthropologists including Paul Rabinow, Vincent Crapanzano, Talal Asad, George Marcus, and James Clifford, gathered to discuss “the making of ethnographic texts” at a symposium in April of 1984.  “All were involved with advanced, ongoing work in textual criticism and cultural theory.”[1]  The essays contained in this book were presented during the 1984 seminar and all critically examine the primary job of ethnographers – writing.  “The seminar sought both to reinterpret cultural anthropology’s recent past and to open up its future possibilities.”[2]

     Many of the essays in Writing Culture discuss “power inequality, world-systems constraints, and institutional formations that could only partly be accounted for by a focus on textual production”[3].  This compilation of essays serves as a sort of handbook for cultural anthropologists as it attempts to express the possibilities and limitations of ethnographic writing and analysis[4].  The essays embrace the values of the reflexive turn by urging ethnographers to critically question themselves, their role, and the textual presentation of their fieldwork. 

     Co-editor James Clifford writes in the introduction, “the fact that [ethnographic writing] has not until recently been…seriously discussed reflects the persistence of an ideology claiming transparency of representation…the essays [in this book] assert that this ideology has crumbled”[5].  This book attempts to address the crisis of misinterpretation and misrepresentation in anthropology and to help ethnography deal with the concept and interpretation of “the truth” as well as proper representation of reality.[6] 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan

     Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan, written by twentieth century anthropologist Vincent Crapanzano, is an ethnography which is characteristic of the reflexive turn as it challenges the traditional distinctions between subjective and objective writing styles.  Crapazano explains “Tuhami is an experiment…I have been deeply concerned with the anthropologists’ impress on the material he collects and his presentation of it”[7].  He believes that anthropologists have too often and incorrectly claimed neutrality in their fieldwork and he wants to “call attention to a culturally constituted bias…a blind spot within the anthropological gaze”[8].  Crapanzano advises other anthropologists to explore his methods and that old methods lead to improper characterizations and skewed realities of cultures.

By eliminating himself from the ethnographic encounter, the anthropologist can deny the essential dynamics of the encounter and end up producing a static picture of the people he has studied and their ways.  It is this picture, frozen within the ethnographic text, that becomes the “culture” of the people[9].

     The observations noted in fieldwork are the presentation of the subject and the understanding of the observer.  According to Crapanzano, the negotiation between the two is often misconstrued so that the reality of the culture being studied is actually the reality of the observer.  Crapanzano claims he does not argue for a new anthropology, but rather a better understanding of the relationship between ethnographer and study subjects.  He states that anthropologists have a responsibility to the people they study and ethnographies should not mistake the understanding of the anthropologist to necessarily be the reality of the people. [10]

     Crapanzano’s ethnography revolves around a man named Tuhami, a Moroccan tile maker who Crapanzano interviews to understand how symbols play a role in an individual’s life.  He states that many anthropologists look at symbols on a cultural level, but none have yet to understand how an individual appreciates cultural and ritual symbols in their daily life.[11]  He believes this neglect has led to a misunderstanding of rituals and symbols because they have only been studied in general rather than at an individual level.  Crapanzano writes in his introduction that his work is an experiment, written in an unconventional format, in order to shock fellow anthropologists.[12]  His work is truly characteristic of works during the reflexive turn and Tuhami is Crapanzano’s effort to grapple with the constant questioning of roles and authority within the discipline of anthropology while creating an accurate representation of an individual who is negotiating his life in his own culture and in the presence of an anthropologist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reinventing Anthropology 

     “Toward a Reflexive and Critical Anthropology” by Bob Sholte, is an essay in anthropologist Dell Hymes volume Reinventing Anthropology.  Sholte writes in response to what he calls a “malaise” among his anthropologist colleagues, a sentiment he feels is palpable in their literature and at their meetings.  His essay is an attempt to offer “suggestions for the reflexive and critical study of anthropological traditions and to draw from such a perspective for some programmatic conclusions for ethnographic praxis”.[13]  It is evident through Sholte’s writing that the reflexive turn is merely taking off in his field and the crisis has struck the anthropology community quite hard.  His goal is to raise questions and point towards answers that can help unify the field in finding a cohesive and objective way to carry out ethnographic research.

     Sholte’s hypothesis is that “intellectual paradigms, including anthropological traditions, are culturally mediated, that is they are contextually situated and relative…if anthropological activity is culturally mediated, it is in turn subject to ethnographic description and ethnological analysis”.[14]  He argues that there must be delineation between the science of anthropology and the ethnographic representation of cultural traditions.  Sholte questions whether there can be a universal paradigm for ethnography if it is solely dependent on and determined by the culture and context it attempts to understand.[15]

     Ultimately, Sholte argues that a cyclical process of understanding and reflection makes an objective and scientific anthropology more likely.  “The comparative understanding of others contributes to self-awareness; self-understanding in turn, allows for self-reflection and (partial) self-emancipation; the emancipatory interest, finally, makes the understanding of others possible.”[16]  In sum, by understanding oneself, one can have a better understanding of the Other because they will be more aware of their role, thus less likely to confuse their own reality as that of their subject’s. 

 

 


[1] Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus, eds. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California. 1986. Vii. Print.

[2] Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus, eds. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California. 1986. Vii. Print.

[3] Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus, eds. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California. 1986. Vii. Print.

[4] Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus, eds. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California. 1986. Vii. Print.

[5] Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus, eds. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California. 1986. 2. Print.

[6] Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus, eds. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California. 1986. 25. Print.

[7] Crapanzano, Vincent. Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. ix. Print.

[8] Crapanzano, Vincent. Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. ix. Print.

[9] Crapanzano, Vincent. Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. ix. Print.

[10] Crapanzano, Vincent. Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. x. Print.

[11] Crapanzano, Vincent. Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. xi. Print.

[12] Crapanzano, Vincent. Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. xii. Print.

[13] Scholte, Bob. "Toward a Reflexive and Critical Anthropology." In Reinventing Anthropology, edited by Dell Hymes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan 

Press, 1999. 431. Print.

[14] Scholte, Bob. "Toward a Reflexive and Critical Anthropology." In Reinventing Anthropology, edited by Dell Hymes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan 

Press, 1999. 432. Print.

[15] Scholte, Bob. "Toward a Reflexive and Critical Anthropology." In Reinventing Anthropology, edited by Dell Hymes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan 

Press, 1999. 432. Print.

[16] Scholte, Bob. "Toward a Reflexive and Critical Anthropology." In Reinventing Anthropology, edited by Dell Hymes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan 

Press, 1999. 448. Print.

 

 


 

Critiques 

      The “reflexive turn” is a recent concept to the world of anthropology.  Because it is so new, it is contested by many. Each anthropologist has his or her own opinion about its use. Reflexivity is now ingrained in every ethnographers work and write up. For example, in Laura Ahearn's book, Invitations to Love, she talks about her own experience with the idea of reflexivity. She says, “As many ethnographers are now realizing, the process of conducting fieldwork is an intersubjective one; ethnographies, therefore, must describe the researcher's relationship with the people who are the subjects of the inquiry. It is with some hesitation, however, that I focus here on positioning myself in relation to the people about whom I write, for it seems to me that the important critiques of the absence of the ethnographer in some previous ethnographies have led to works that are not just self-reflexive but self-centered.” [30] One of the reflexive turn's biggest critiques is that it turns anthropologist's work into biographies.  The ethnographer does not talk enough about the people they're trying to understand, instead they spend to much time on their role in a different society. Anthropologists are putting the focus on themselves, which is not the point of their work. Donna Harris has a different critique. She argues that just because an anthropologist understands his or her position in a particular society they are studying, does not mean that it is making their work any better. She does not understand how knowing your position in society will fix anything. [31] In addition to this, it is also questioned whether the ethnographer can truly understand his or her position in society. To be able to have the insight of what everyone else thinks of you and how you fit into their world is not easy to figure out.  Almost all anthropologists today are including at least a little reflexivity into their writings, but the key is balance.  Including details that might affect the research you're doing is important, but going on about your place and how you fit in for too long is obnoxious.  

     Another critique often presented in response to reflexivity in anthropology is that in placing oneself and one’s own beliefs into a community, the anthropologist runs the risk of integrating one's own story, experiences, and ideas not only into the narrative of the community being researched but also into the community itself, possibly inducing change on the society that, while well-intentioned, might not be for the best of that particular society.  In studying a community using the concept of reflexivity, an anthropologist might and up simply imposing one’s own experiences and beliefs on a problem instead of spending time learning and understanding about the people and what they feel would truly be the best solution.  This critique argues that by trying to help change a society for the better, reflexive anthropologists can often be “naïve romantics or cultural imperialists in disguise.”[32] It is important to keep in mind that, while considering one’s own role in a society being studied can be in many ways beneficial to understanding one’s position in and relationship with the community, it’s also necessary to remember the dangers of situating one's own story too fully not only into the account of the society being studied but also into the society itself, and therefore possibly having an overly self- centered role in the community.

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes

  1. Heather Levi, "Reflexivity in Anthropology", http://science.jrank.org/pages/11001/Reflexivity-Reflexivity-in-Anthropology.htm, (November 2010)
  2. Rabinow, Paul. Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
  3. Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus, eds. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.
  4. Erickson, Paul A., and Liam D. Murphy. "Part III: The Later Twentieth and Earlier Twentieth-First Centuries." Readings for A History of Anthropological Theory. 3rd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2010. 189-91. Print.
  5. Ruth, Behar. "Rage and Redemption: Reading the Life Story of a Mexican Marketing Woman." Feminist Studies 16.2 (1990): 223-58. Print.
  6. Rappaport, Scott. "Two UC Santa Cruz Humanities Professors Awarded Guggenheim Fellowships." University News & Events. 19 Apr. 2007. Web. 01 Dec. 2010. .
  7. "James Clifford ." UCSC Directory of Individual Web Pages. UC Santa Cruz Information Technology Services , 30 Nov 2010. Web. 17 Nov 2010. .
  8. "Directory - James T. Clifford." UC Santa Cruz - Anthropology. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. .
  9. "Research at the BGC - Seminar Series - James Clifford." The Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture. Oct. 2010. Web. 11 Nov. 2010. .
  10. "Faculty." Department of Anthropology University of California, Irvine. Web. 01 Dec. 2010. .
  11. Behar, Ruth. "About Ruth." Welcome to Ruthbehar.com. 09 Oct. 2009. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. .
  12. Ruth, Behar. "Rage and Redemption: Reading the Life Story of a Mexican Marketing Woman." Feminist Studies 16.2 (1990): 223-58. Print.
  13. Ruth, Behar. "Rage and Redemption: Reading the Life Story of a Mexican Marketing Woman." Feminist Studies 16.2 (1990): 223-58. Print.
  14. "How I Write -- Renato Rosaldo Bio." Stanford University. Web. 11 Dec. 2010. .
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