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Anthropology Essay

1333 words - 5 pages


Anthropology what a vulnerable observer you are! You may well have to jump into the arms of the scientists if you are going to try to keep your grass hut at the academy! -- Ruth Behar

Debates on the role the reflexive plague the field of cultural anthropology as postmodern critics join the bandwagon attempting to claim authority in this dubiously recognized discipline. In the borderline realm between the sciences and humanities, cultural anthropology has tried to find a niche in which it can comfortably rest. For many, this has been in building a foundation of the methodical. If anthropology can classify, categorize, and synthesize, it can assert its legitamacy to the glares of academia. However, in the attempts to salvage its reputation, anthropologists have sacrificed the validity of research by neglecting our subjectivity. Critics have viewed the role of the reflexive as anthropological "naval gazing" leading to introspection and empathy which undermine accurate observation. However, I contend that it is important to include reflexivity in anthropological method. The anthropologist has to recognize not only the effect the surroundings have on him/her personally, but also the effect he/she has on the surroundings. This dialogue comprises data. If neglected, the text in its attempt to be comprehensive would be left incomplete.

The anthropologist Renato Rosaldo has been particularly criticized for his statement on reflexivity in Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. In this work, he revisited his previous ethnography Grief and Headhunters Rage with a new perspective. Many years after his fieldwork, he realized the importance of personal experience in understanding the context. He states, "During all those years I was not yet in a position to comprehend the force of anger possible in bereavement, and now I am." (p.3) Not only does personal experience benefit his own comprehension, but it also filters into his writing to give his readers an account which can reach them similarly. He writes Culture and Truth in an attempt to have his own experience permeate the discipline and have a voice within anthropology. He states, "My use of personal experience serves as a vehicle for making the quality of intensity of the rage in Ilongot grief more readily accessible to readers than certain more detached modes of composition. "(p16)

Ruth Behar speaks out to support Rosaldo's account in the face of viscous critics. In her article "The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology that Breaks your Heart" Behar leaps between formal terminology and personal accounts to emphasize the intellectual rut in which critics find themselves. She explains, "The critics of anthropology that matters to me claim that the price anthropology must pay to survive into the next century is to become science, or risk that the price by becoming nothing." (163-164) She continues to support Rosaldo's sensitive analysis, "Grief and a headhunters rage" is a...

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