othering ourselves

by pasdelabas

In research there is always an issue of the researcher having power over the researched.  This is typical of anthropological work where the ethnographer comes to their field, spends time, forms relationships and then buggers off stage left,  perhaps to return with a chapter or a copy of a book if they are that successful.  This is of course a partial and partisan version of sets of conditions which will avoid this caricatured account.  The researcher is often young, inexperienced and constantly under a form of personal threat to emotional well being that is born of engaging with one or another other, any other might be the case.  The researcher is not Queen but will often come away with something, a thesis perhaps, a set of data at least and that is in a sense or can be at least, experienced as something stolen, taken by a form of slight of hand.  However much the ethics require that we admit our positioning, that we say ‘I am the professional here to find out about you, your ways’, still the necessity of doing so insists that disbelief be suspended and then the thesis is something removed along with the thesis producer.

This is a very old dilemma in anthropology.

There a field developing known briefly as dialogic ethnography a term introduced by Kate Pahl.  Here the search is on to make explicit how to conduct ethnographic work that doesn’t somehow fall into the trap of othering.  An ethnographic practice that does more, that goes beyond Lassiter’s Collaborative ethnography (2005) and doesn’t work with anybody any more than anyone works with us. Sounds impossible doesn’t it?

I was wondering if it could be a sort of auto-othering, a moment where the anthropologist becomes that other: rather than valuing the other (the liberal ethnographer) maybe we should make of ourselves the other and seek to devalue ourselves even – just to get the balance right.  Sounds horribly possible that doesn’t it?