Discussion questions, comments etc. for ARM week 11
Aw authority. To me the gist of these writings was to question how we see the ethnographic record. An account is, of course, made from somewhere and emphasizes what the particular ethnographer thinks is the most salient, important, and so on. It is difficult to imagine how one would write a piece without
enforcing one's own views upon the reader. While some experiment with polyphonic means, Clifford argues that, not only is authorship then a tricky notion,
but the authority of the ethnographer is only somewhat displaced rather than removed entirely. I think to this, one could add "pain in the ass." However, I
think it is still important to think about the missing voices in the accounts. As noted throughout Clifford's paper, the participant-observer model is far from unproblematic. I would feel very skeptical reading old accounts based on short stays and little to no mastery of the local language. If we are to take knowledge as place-based or situated, ethnographic accounts are inherently a deprived perspective of the local reality (however aided by what guiding scientific principles). The ethnographer is geographically there but not quite there in the same way those he or she is observing is.
Nader and Gusterson discuss the prospect of "studying up." Clearly, as we have discussed before in class, things change when the people being observed have
legal departments and power/money. As well, studying up does do a lot of work of rendering anthropological work a great deal more relevant for helping to solve the problems facing people in western nations. I liked Gusterson's point that "the objectifying, exoticizing language of anthropology is as objectionable at home as abroad, and one is less likely to get away with it" because I felt he was doing this same thing in his account of nuclear weapons engineers that we read earlier this semester. Indeed, Gusterson notes: "I began to modify this strategy at about the time that I was invited by a group of weapons scientists to present my research inside the Livemore Laboratory itself. I arrived to find that one of the Laboratory's leading weapons scientists had come to my talk wearing nothing but a loincloth and carrying a cane to which he had nailed an animal skull. He shook this at me and grunted whenever my presentation displeased him — which seemed to be quite often." This sounds like a great theme for an STS grad conference party. Regardless, I think that the existence of a belittling kind of tone in some of the original STS studies of science probably had more to do with the ensuing "science wars" than the actual content of the accounts or the concluding arguments. My opinion during my first few weeks in the department was "yeah, I've heard scientists say the same things about science. They already know this stuff but probably took offense because some of the STSers were being assholes about it like they were heroic knights who just slayed the science dragon, illuminating the path to enlightenment for the rest of us with their astute observational abilities."
The Zavella piece too things in another direction, noting how one's identity can hinder one's outsider status just as one's role as an ethnographer can hurt
one's insider status. Mainly it was interesting for me having lived in New Mexico for five years. I had noticed the, seemingly odd to me, insistence being "Spanish" rather than Mexican or Latino/a. I think what makes New Mexico a special case is that so much of the Hispanic population predates the more recent influx of Mexican and Latin American immigration. I took classes with people whose families had lived in the hills of norther New Mexico since it was a part of Spain or Mexico and spoke an anachronistic dialect of Spanish mostly incomprehensible to me (often pejoratively referred to as hillbilly Spanish). This difference of identity is difficult for many New Mexicans to make present given the lack of a clear identifier for their status and the desire to lump diverse groups into census categories or other more encompassing identity markers (shared by so called "Caucasian" peoples as well) which flatten out our differences in ancestry. I think the paper highlights the potential problematics when developing political movements around ethnic or racial lines in that it makes for a potentially difficult situation for those inside that ethnic or racial group which do not wish to be associated, rightly or wrongly, with said political movement. One could conceivable turn the tables on, say, the movement Zavella relates to by asking "What gives you the right (authority) to establish Chicano/a or Latino/a identity for the rest of us?" I can't think of what a potential response would be.
Interestingly, this latest article cluster brings to the front a lot of questions I’ve been asking myself in recent weeks about my own work. STS - essentially a discipline built on studying the inner workings of other fields - seems a particularly relevant target for discussing how we might navigate different ethnographic practices. How many times have we heard the equivalent of, “this is a really interesting study for an STS scholar,” or some other statement implying our position as a participant observer of ongoing activities such that we become a voice of authority in other people’s ventures? I’m not necessarily talking about studying up or down just yet (although I will address this in a moment) but more to the point – how much does STS rely on its outsider perspective as a safety net to not dealing with the kinds of questions anthropologists must endure in getting their hands dirty? Even laboratory studies – the hallmark of STS scholarship – is marked by what Gusterson considers a barrier to certain kinds of participatory observation that forces us to instead rely on polymorphous engagement (similar in ways to Clifford’s polyphonic). But I wonder to what extent STS relies too much on this approach?
Either by limitations in how our discipline trains its young scholars, or by the nature of being an interdisciplinary field, or by resources and contacts afforded to a kind of study typical of crossing multiple communities and discourses – as opposed to typically embedded anthropology. To this extent, do we thus have little choice given the subjects we have chosen for our staple diet as scholars? I am thinking in particular about our prior conversations about archival research as a accepted method of STS work – should we critique this in the same way we might Clifford’s description of the “economy of ethnographic knowledge” dispersed by secondary ethnographic sources?
I am being rhetorical and over critical here, I know. But the reason I bring up these questions is because they get to the heart of studying up vs. down. Considering the considerable resources and time required to do a respectable ethnographic site study of a community (one community – take your pick – a bank, an indigenous group, a law firm, etc.) how successful might we actually be in trying to do vertical and horizontal research to inform our hypothesis from various angles? I think Nader and Gusterson would probably say that the point isn’t to do both – or all – but just that going up or down are both possibilities with unique challenges for each.
But – getting on to questions related to my own work – I don’t think a meaningful hypothesis (i.e. how do democratic technologies allow for new understandings of environment and the self in local communities?) can be answered without asking questions vertically and horizontally. In other words, a robust STS critique would require looking at multiple communities and their endeavors – as well as interrogating institutions of power like the USGS, EPA, state and federal government, and so on. I think that as anthropological ethnography takes the “postmodern turn” we will also need to further abandon site-specific qualifications of our research. Going back to my initial set of questions, however, what is gained and what is lost? Are we relegated to being even more an outsider and thus assert our place of privilege in unfounded ways? Or do we provide more effective voice for the groups we study by making more transparent the spread of power?
You have to keep in mind that Clifford IS writing STS -- its just that the science he is investigating happens to be anthropology rather than chem, physics, etc.
(Thank you for clarifying the context of Clifford’s article, Ron. It was making my head hurt to read it, largely because I felt like I was missing some important background context to make sense of a lot of the trends and conflicts he described)
I think I’m on a similar page with Taylor regarding feeling skepticism while reading the Clifford piece in terms of how to grant adequate authority to writing that came about by questionable means. For example, the discussion of experience (p. 128): "Nevertheless one should resist the temptation to translate all meaningful experience into interpretation. If the two are reciprocally related, they are not identical." I read from this that there is an element of “I was there and I got the t-shirt, so listen to me” in this. I think the part that sticks in my craw is that the researcher is experiencing something with the subjects - filter 1 - then writes about it in some sort of interpretive and often artistic way - filter 2 - then it’s published - filter 2.5 - then people read it and interpret the interpretation - filter 3. How is this different from journalism or art? (not that there’s anything wrong with those... ) People perceive experiential inputs differently (“purity”) and are limited in how much they can see at one time. Kroeber's praise for Mead's Growing up in New Guinea adds to this unease as it sounds a little too much like art criticism or trendy commentary, especially with the heavy us of “obviously...”. There just seems to be so much interpretation on the merits or shortcomings of the research done on the part of the anthropological community. Mead was praised for her fine work in spite of the short period of time spent, but that was a change that Mead herself brought to the anthropological community (p. 124). I am willing to bet that reviewers would have been much less flattering prior to Mead’s shifting of the standards, criticizing her for lack of depth or lack of focus because of the short time spent and lack of mastery of language. I sense a bit of exasperation from Clifford that anthropologists are trying to do a nearly impossible task with completely inadequate tools - or maybe that’s me contributing to a polyphonic interpretation of his article.
On the topic of the shift towards not needing to master a native language, rather that a proficiency adequate to using it be sufficient, I find an interesting connection to the conundrum of “studying up” discussed in Nader and Gusterson. Issues of access (both skill level and getting past Security), dishonesty, retribution, and “offensive” language (I too liked the Livermore Lab example! Taylor - I second your idea. But I like reading stories and narratives that exoticize my mundane experience because it’s good food for thought. Sci-fi?) make me wonder to what extent these are problems specific to “studying up” and to what extent they show deep-seated problems with anthropological methods (only exposed when the subjects had legal departments and could say, “Hey, that’s offensive!”). “Studying up” seems MORE important to me to prove the efficacy of methodologies and attitudes of researchers and to really educate people about hard-to-reach communities. I liked Nader’s reflections on how things would look if we studied the colonizers rather than the colonized (p. 289); it’s a very important method for critically analyzing a situation, especially one with a significant power/privilege differential. I used to enjoy messing with the conservative, conventional people in the Navy by questioning their dearly held assumptions, much to their confuddled distress. However, I paused to ask myself whether 1) there are some cases where you cannot tell if they are “up” or “down” from you, and 2) whether issues should be framed as “up” and “down” because they only legitimize perceptions of power hierarchies that may rely heavily on perception rather than actuality. It comes down to a question of “what does ‘up’ mean?” Is “up-ness” defined by how many barriers you hit, or are there barriers when you try to go “up”? I am curious as to what extent the question, “ Can we still have authoritative, valid research without participant-observation?” was spurred on by the push to do more “studying up”.
Fun link for the day: https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html
“Body Ritual among the Nacirema” -- Is this “studying up” or “studying in”? :)
O my gosh! I never can write as much as you guys write! !!
anyways! This week’s readings were so interesting for me because of their relevance to my topic of study . They answered many questions that I had in mind to ask for months. questions such as :
why do anthropologists study mostly poor and powerless social groups? what is the main aim of doing an anthropological work? are anthropologists the angels who are going to escape poor of a world enmeshed with inequalities? are anthropologists are post modern prophets aiming at changing the power asymmetry between poor and rich? why just interviewing? why just participant observation? why a professor asks the students to do 80 interviews and the other asks just for 60? Does the quantity of subjects makes the research more credible and accurate?
what if participant observation is subjective and not objective? how can we hinder this kind of subjectivity? and etc.
Most of these questions and similar ones were answered in this week’s readings.before i start with my main argument, i would like to confess that I like the ways social scientists play with words. i love concepts such as studying up, intensive ethnography, colonial and post colonial modes of representation, polymorphous engagement and ...
I think studying up and down is mostly important in scientific or technological controversies in which ethnographers should not restrict themselves just to one relevant social group . ethnographers should avoid being trapped in one side of controversies. they should not be “ captives of controversies” how can they avoid this situation ? by polymorphous engagement.
besides studying down and up i would like to add the concepts of “ studying horizontal vs Vertical” . In cases where we need to study multiple sites, if the subjects share the common features , for example both are from “ up groups” . in order to study social structures, i think we should extend the scale of our study to a broader scale to be able to study other relevant groups which are horizontally at the same level of our subjects of study. for instance , in my own research , I am going to study why developing countries question the science of climate change? i should not limit myself to Indian climate change skeptics, i extend the sites horizontally to American and IPCC scientists. I study climate change scientists vs contrarians. This is studying vertically but if i study Indian, American and IPCC scientists , it is horizontal studying.
I’d like to see the people in anthropology try to make it really clear what their ideas are of the people they’re trying to study up. I’d love to see them tell their subjects that they think they’re the scum of the earth, the capitalist plight that’s keeping decent people at bay, and keeping the poor poor. And then I’d like to see somebody from outside of the elites of anthropology (we are STSers, are we not? we want to challenge the elites and experts of everything we see) who has a differing view of the issues (let’s say, a conservative) try to do the same research by telling those same people the same truth, that they don’t want to study them to topple them, but to reinforce what they’re doing right and show others how to succeed by following in their footsteps. Now, who do you think would get more access, by simply telling the truth?
Even more, let’s see some studying up in universities, let’s see the power structures of TAs over undergrads, let’s see the way professors debate the fate of students (both grads and undergrads), etc. Let’s have a “pseudo researcher” come in and, simply telling the truth, saying that she thinks that places of higher education are corrupting the minds of the young. And then asking the professors to open up their lives, academically, and be a stranger with a notebook, sitting in on meetings, writing sessions, etc.
I was exaggerating, as I have tended to do this past semester. But only if you bring this idea up do you open people’s eyes. I’ve had ideas, beliefs, and even fundamentals challenged so far, and I can honestly say that this has helped me grow, reinforced some and shattered others. And the only truly productive thing that I could do for the short time I have left here is to return the favor, and act as a sort of an extreme straw-man, and hope to not cause too much of a stir.
What I want to argue is that if one starts out with a highly biased idea of the subjects they’re studying and then asking why they aren’t openly greeted by those subjects, it’s hilarious. If we go by Gusterson, and say there’s a “Roger and Me” syndrome, then it’s more than hilarious, because in a kind of passionate rhetoric against capitalist institutions, the question then becomes why aren’t these pigs that are responsible for the crap our country is in right now aren’t more open to talking to us?
Gusterson comes back and talks about how we ended up opening up his own research, just as his subjects opened up their environment (more unofficially than not)
Yes, it IS important to study up and that was one of the questions I’ve been trying to answer myself. But I think that studying up needs to be informed even more by STS. What is the social construction of those that need to be “helped” by anthropologists? Why is it that when the question of why “we” see certain people as the “citizens” that need to have access to tools that would enable them to live democratically in a society that calls itself a democracy, and not other people, it gets transferred into a notion that one only cares about oneself? It’s easier to ask these questions when the subjects are part of a different community, part of a different environment, where the researcher can point and say “there is injustice here” or claim somewhat of a bias-free judgement of power structures. The involvement of researchers in the environment they study changes everything. Or at least it should change everything if we’re actually STS-ing this. To be fair, if we end up STS-ing we’d be left with not a lot. :) I’ll stop now just so I don’t end up overstepping my position again.
Natural science analog- the scientist can’t see the gecko’s finger hairs by herself. So she builds an electron-scanning microscope to see them. You need the tools to do your work. (Can’t wait to discuss The Mangle.)
This week’s readings brought up more questions than they answered. As we have discussed in the past (I think it was last week) there are certain institutions, cultures, or groups that will be fundamentally more difficult to access. As Nader notes, the individual looking to redress grievances, or in the anthropologist’s case understand conflict or controversy, may be blocked by organizations meant to deflect such inquiries. PR departments and special assistants have a wide range of skills that are meant to represent their interests in the most flattering light. Private companies, the wealthy, and institutions that are bound up between these two social entities, have tools to deal with professional inquiry and information gathering. Poor people do not have such resources. Utilizing the same methodologies for both groups (to the extent that they can even be neatly categorized as such) is not only methodologically unsound, but it belies a certain ignorance of how modern secular societies work.
Sabrina asked how the work of an anthropologist is different from that of a journalist or artist, in relation to the Clifford piece. I would posit that the filter metaphor communicates necessary but not sufficient qualities of what is going on and who is recording it. Whereas the journalist is looking to construct an account of events, the artist is looking to make a normative statement. I think (and it is my reading that Nader would agree with me) the anthropologist is in search of providing both while not assuming those two things are distinct entities. Nader mentions “normative impulses” 285 which act as motivators. Clifford’s “modes of authority” make room for this normative motive as well.
I always try to find a common assumption in all of the readings in any given week. I don’t see any of the authors engaging the broader trend of professionalized anthropology, academic capitalism, or even various sub-categories of anthropology (medical anthropology, cultural anthropology, etc). Zavella begins going in this direction, when she speaks about her personal perspective as a Chicana feminist. But what I want to know, is to what degree present-day anthropology is studying “up?” Can a group of professionals claim to be going “up” or is this more of a “sideways” move, to a group of people that have high barriers to entry? In the case of laboratory studies, it is most certainly a sideways move. Lawyers and doctors are slightly different, business elites and finance different still. The highest would appear to be an ethnography of the U.S. Senate. But what moved? I get the sense that these are socio-economically powerful institutions, yes. Bankers and optomologists are equally well off, and a U.S. Senator could be either one (Mel Martinez and Rand Paul are examples of these respective occupations) but once they become a senator, it is the access to press secretaries and other staff members that push them “up.”
Maybe I object to the terms “up” and “down” since they assume a linear direction, which offends my post modern sensibilities. I much prefer “far” and “near” as better spatial metaphors. The poor, but also evangelical churches with rich congregants (see Smith, 1998) are “near” because we can gain access. But first nations and the supremely powerful are very “far” because of their high barriers to entry. This seems like I’m nit-picking semiotics, but I think it is an important distinction. As we see from all of the authors’ points of view, any given anthropologist has access to various socio-economic groups, based on their personal backgrounds. Its all about our ability to get that first informant, or get a position in the organization that lets us talk to the group of interest. These authors seem (less so Clifford) to be treating anthropology as a monolith that sits in constant relation with these other groups. That does not seem very helpful. We have people with access to all kinds of socio-economic strata, its just a matter of how many are “close to” the action.
As for Morar’s straw man argument. I see where he’s coming from, but I think you might be assuming a motivation that isn’t there. As one example: Nader discusses, we need to study “up” so we can compare white-collar crime with street crime so we can understand the construction of individual action and systemic illegal acts within the judiciary system. It has nothing to do with taking down the corporate pigs, but everything to do with understanding why street crime is characterized as an individual act and white-collar crime is seen as systemic failure or a lack of oversight. The adversarial tone you are, no doubt, picking up on from some of the department has to do with an unjust system, not necessarily the intentions (which is different than actions) of individuals.
The use for this group of readings for us as students in STS seems to be focused around the particular considerations we face as we interrogate groups that do not look like the groups of traditional anthropology. We are faced with new challenges to ethical behavior and representation (e.g. we’re expected to know better at this point) and as a result we have to be much more aware about what we are doing and how it contributes or takes away from a constructed kind of authority or ability to do research in a given domain. That being said, I would like to point out that this seems to be fairly obvious from a practical standpoint. If we are serious about the change we’re trying to make in the world, we have to take into account that we’re acting within structures that don’t necessarily welcome change in different directions.
In the Clifford piece, I see a lot of the concerns that have come up in new studies of the poor, especially when combined with the idea that our research should do more than just mark them while we hide in our castles and benefit from them or reify ideas about them that they might not express themselves given the authority. Collaborating with people then, as Gusterson sort of suggests later, of our own western culture might be easier due to that translation barrier being lower, but it still seems to come from a place of wanting to study people or cultures as these static things that can be mounted like bugs- dead and stable – instead of really engaging with that site in a way that gives the people who you are writing about the ability to speak in your work. As a researcher, my job is to give to people the opportunity to speak on their culture the best I can while at the same time providing my expertise and ability to talk about various structures. When our interpretations differ, it’s going to be a little difficult to find that negotiation that we can both live with, but that’s the nature of the beast.
I see Gusterson and Nader doing really good work in terms of trying to grab us as researchers doing ethnography and shaking us whilst beating us about the head to wake up and stop crying because it would’ve been so much easier to do studies of ‘strange and different’ cultures of non-western societies without the weight of our discipline dragging on us, but that we have to wake up and accept that that was an experiment into one way of looking “urgent anthropology. Surely it should be the needs of mankind for the study of man that lead the way.” (Nader, p. 308). Nader does a great job of pointing out that we are living in a world that needs examination and solutions that can be reached y engaging the world that we already live in. This is resisted, in part, because of issues like Access:
The most usual obstacle is phrased in terms of access. The powerful are out of reach on a number of different planes: they don't want to be studied; it is dangerous to study the powerful; they are busy people; they are not all in one place, and so on. (Nader, P. 302)
To which Nader points out that the notion of participant-observer might not be well suited in the ways that we currently hold it. We may need new ways of looking at these structures or new rules about how to behave in relationship with them. If the concerns of Clifford and many of the authors in the section on working with indigenous communities are to be taken seriously, does that mean we have to give the same kinds of protections to large, powerful organizations? Surely you don't want to make them unwelcome to outsiders, but one thing about the wealthy besides their reading of the things that we publish is that they’re able to make their values, outlook and ideals the ideals of society. I don't think we’re the powerful in that relationship that has to walk on eggshells as much as being slightly below or at equal footing. Another way of saying is this is that I think many of the powerful or hard to access groups that we might study are such because they are adept at protecting themselves from being represented in ways that might be true, but they wouldn’t like. Additionally, I felt that Gusterson was alluding to the idea that outside cultures are easier to study because all the guards, run surrounds and safeguards that we might dodge as outsiders (or at least be able to see them) we are unable to see or go around because we’re in the culture that we wish to study. To some extent, our inquiry makes us the target of the deterrents that we’re complaining about and we can see that even in outside field sites, other systems are bringing their deterrents to target us for the behaviors of our forerunners.
So… We change our tactics and come up with new methods. If the powerful builds a wall, we go over it. If they barb wire the fence we go under it, etc. If the relationship is hard to make that affords us powerful, we’ve got to learn to be more personable people. Ethnography is hard precisely because to do it well, you kind of have to be somewhat likeable. Also, there seems to be this sense that there should be ‘fairness’ to study that allows any researcher to study anything they want in a weird twist of the ‘disinterested’ norm. I think Gusterson and Nader point out that the fact is that what you can study depends much on the particular position of the researcher and we have to focus our energy into studying up into areas where we can gain access due to our social position.