Ethnographic Writing And Relationships With Research Subjects

1361 words - 5 pages

Anthropologists conduct research in order to answer specific questions about a particular group of people and their culture. Most anthropologists use fieldwork to collect their data, which is then interpreted within their ethnographic writing. When collecting their data, anthropologists use many different approaches such as developing relationships with their informants, but do not illustrate these relationships in their actual writing. Anthropologists Claire E. Sterk and Philippe Bourgois are two of the anthropologists that emphasize their relationships and the importance of gaining trust of their informants in their perspective articles studied. In Bourgois’ article “Crack in Spanish Harlem” and Sterk’s article “Tricking and Tripping: Fieldwork on Prostitutes in the Era of AIDS”, both anthropologists write about their engagement with their informants, but do so in different ways. Sterk focuses much of her ethnography on the relationships formed, and the information and trust gained as a result; Bourgois, however, spends only a small fraction of his ethnography on his relationships. Both illustrate information about their perspective-studied cultures, the difficulties faced in gathering their fieldwork, but they differ in the amount of information they chose to include in their actual ethnographies.
Over a ten-year span Sterk, immerses herself in the lifestyle of prostitution in the New York City and Atlanta area: she walked the streets with the prostitutes and observed their interactions with the various customers, and ‘pimps’ in order to gather the majority of her data. In order to gain their trust, Sterk had to go through a number of tests, and it was essential for her to have the right connections to experience the full understanding of prostitution, she says, “the prostitute immediately put me through a Streetwalker 101 test” (Sterk 2003: 15). She found this method though tedious and painful an accurate and non-biased way of understanding the true essence of prostitution and what the women have to go through. She stresses the importance of trust in these relationships, because it would ultimately provide the specific information needed for her ethnography. Keith Bletzer calls Sterk a ‘field instrument’ and says that the anthropologist, “strives toward ethnography where self is the field instruments to learn about ‘the other’” (Bletzer 2003: 261)
She explains one particular way she was able to gain the women’s trust, “Being supportive and providing practical assistance were the most visible and direct ways for me as the researcher to develop a relationship” (Sterk 2003: 6). She then continues to say, “Gradually, my role allowed me to become a part of these women’s lives and to build rapport with many of them” (Sterk 2003: 6). Being supportive towards the women and interacting in their daily lives opened doors to closer observation to discover the difficulties they went through, which essentially was the purpose of her studies (Sterk:...

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