Thursday, October 30, 2014

What is the legacy of an anthropologist -- Edward H. and Rosamont B. Spicer Foundation

Anthropology is the study of humanity. It is carried out by individual men and women which is the legacy of all those who have, those who are, and those who will add to the discoveries and traditions that are the basis and core of our discipline, our science, our profession, and our passion. That is, today's anthropology is the legacy we, as the intellectual heirs of our founders, have been entrusted with to honor, to build upon and to apply for the benefit of humanity. Have you made plans for preserving and passing on your legacy?

One such legacy is that of the late Edward H. Spicer and his wife, Rosamond.

The Edward H. and Rosamont B. Spicer Foundation is a non-profit foundation incorporated in the state of Arizona. Its mission is to honor and further the legacy and life works of Edward H. and Rosamond B. Spicer in the fields of anthropology, community development, and social justice. The foundation was founded by Scott Spicer, Ned's grandson and Lawson Spicer and several of Ned's former colleagues and students to honor the memory and further the work of the Spicers

In Edward Spicer'and his wife Rosomond's case, their legacy is to be found in the combination of his body of work, the depth of which has just been scratched.  And second in the students he trained with his unique perspective of anthropology as both a science in the pursuit of knowledge about the human condition and a body of knowledge about that condition that could and should be used to bring about a better world

The body of work

A listing of Spicer's major works can be found first in James Officer's Spicer biography published in the National Academy of Sciences  Biographical Memoirs V.68 (1995) and second his papers located in the Edward H. and Rosamond B. Spicer Archive at the Arizona State Museum Library. It is from these resources that the legacy is to be found, picked up, and carried forward by all who hold these values.
Ned Spicer was invited to participate in a symposium, organized by Thomas Weaver of the University of Arizona, entitled  "Anthropology in the 1990's: Conditions, Needs, and Prospects." The symposium was held in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in San Francisco in the winter of 1974. The subheading of the symposium was, "Suppose They Began the Twenty-First Century and Forgot to Invite Anthropology!!!"

Ned presented his paper entitled, "Anthropology in the society of the 1990s", on February 28, 1974.
Twenty years later, in 1994, the paper was republished in Human Organization with a forward by his widow, Rosamond Spicer, under the title, "Reassessing Edward Spicer's Views on Anthropology in the Society of the 1990s: How and Why This Paper by Edward H. Spicer Was Written" (Spicer, Rosamond 1994 Human Organization, Vol. 53. No. 4, pp. 388 - 395). From her forward, we can gain an insight into Ned's thinking and approach to the future.
Rosamond observed that

"In preparing this paper on the future of cultural anthropology, Ned apparently gave it a great deal of thought. As was his habit, he wrote down voluminous notes and lists of ideas. He also made a number of starts, each different from the last.”

“At one point he wrote, 'I react strongly against nineteenth century economic-determinism, that technology and physical environmental conditions are the essential factors to consider in forecasting. I rather look to the future in terms of the adaptation of social structures and cultural orientations to one another in the context of the influence of firm cultural products. I shall therefore take off from consideration of the probable alternative trends which we may expect in the form and functions of societal structures and cultural value orientations.'  “

“Such a point of view was always the basis of his thinking and writing." (p. 388)

In describing Ned, Rosamond says,

"His interests, reading, and studies ranged through drama, literature, economics, city planning, philosophy, history, poetry, the environment, and all the fields of anthropology. All of this vast array of information and understanding he brought to bear in some way or another on any project he undertook, on any subject on which he wrote.”

“Perhaps one of his outstanding characteristics was his ability to synthesize, as was so evident in his Cycles of Conquest. I have long thought that the practice of that art of synthesis was connected with another, the appreciation and writing of poetry. I mention all these aspects of Ned because they seem to be contained in the following paper." (p.388).

It was his global interests and ability to synthesize vast amounts of material that I remember from my first graduate classes with Ned.  I was drawn to his Community Development Seminar where  he challenged us to look at the problem at hand from multiple points of view. He asked us, “What are the “felt needs” of the various parties in this change situation?” He encouraged us to seek a synthesis of these views as a way toward understanding the issues and their complexities. As community developers, he taught us that our job was to help the parties to synthesize their shared interests. Our job was to facilitate, not impose, problem resolution.

Ned was a humanist who understood and taught the connection between a people’s past, present and how these shaped their future. In his paper on the February day in 1974, he outlined 5 trends in the social and cultural environment that he felt would shape the next 20 years for anthropology.

The five trends that Ned chose to characterize the society he envisioned for the 1990s were the following:
(1) increasing intercommunication among the peoples of the world;
(2) increasing occupational specialization with accompanying organic differentiation within societies;
(3) increasing failure of technological solutions for the resolution of human problems in acceptable ways;
(4) increasing assertion and self-expression of ethnic groups within nation-states; and
(5) increasing reaction against centralization in political and administrative structures.

He stated "In general, continuation of these trends will, I believe, result in a society more heterogeneous than it was in the 19th or any previous century, more aware of its heterogeneity, with stronger than ever tendencies to compartmentalization, with increased awareness of and interest in non-technological and non-economic factors affecting human life, and with a growing tendency to view the nation-state in a wholly new light, especially with reference to its ethnic components and its political and administrative units." (p. 389)
Now. nearly 40 years later, it might be worth considering just how prescient Ned’s predictions were for the 1990s and for the 21st Century. It is time to evaluate the predictions and further the legacy

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why do we need to think about our Legacy!

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary a legacy is 
  “1. something (such as property or money) that is received from someone who has died and  2.  something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past.”
A legacy can be envisioned as a “cultural atom.” It is initially the symbolic remains of the life of a once living and breathing human being. It is the material evidence of that person’s existence, the biological continuity of his/her presence, and the psychological impression left on one’s contemporaries and successors. The legacy, like “culture”, exists in the corporate memory or tradition of the “group(s)” impacted by an individual’s action and activities during a specific time and in a specific place. What that legacy is, its meaning and impact on the future, are a mixture of the desire by the deceased to influence the future and the futures evaluation of the deceased’s life. A legacy is where personality and culture meet for better or worse. It sets the stage for the next generation being both the source of wisdom and the curse that comes from the “sins of the fathers”.
As professional anthropologist, trained in a tradition passed on to us by those who came before us and as the ones who will be passing on that tradition, we should be both personally and collectively concerned about our legacy.  As knowledge producers and members of the knowledge industry, i.e. researchers, scholars, teachers, and advisers, we have a duty to insure that our work products are made available to our heirs.

Buried on page 4 of the 2009 version of the AAA ethics code, under the major heading III Research, subsection, B. Responsibility to Scholarship and Science is the following item:

6. Anthropological researchers should seriously consider all reasonable requests for access to their data and other research materials for purposes of research. They should also make every effort to insure preservation of their fieldwork data for use by posterity.

Like so many of the “ethical principles” of the AAA, this provision is a wish that has never been truly addressed by the profession in terms of an actionable item. It is offered only as a suggestion with little thought of the important role it might play in the future development and management of the profession and the science.

This is a very important observation. If you read the various versions and note the changes that have taken place in the AAA ethics statements, you would see that there is considerable concern about how one's work will be received, first, by those studied and, then later, with the human subjects issues imposed by sponsors on how the research and data will be managed. Research is made even more complex by the technology for digitally recording field observations and now digitally archiving research documents in their original form. This technology makes public’s access and data retrieval, through legitimate or illegitimate means, easier. It also places the access and use of such data beyond the researcher’s control. Today, the ethical issues involved in human subject research are more complex and challenging.

Concern over one's legacy is not restricted to cultural or social anthropology. It applies to all the sub-disciplines in ways that are both shared across anthropology and which are specific to the sub-discipline. 

Another reason for the original question is that these data are, to the extent you have ownership and control of the data, your responsibility. If you are concerned about how your material might be received, then you have to be concerned about the disposition of your material after your death. Once you are no longer alive, you will have no control over what is saved or how it will be used. Thus, planning and executing a Legacy Plan for the disposition of your materials -- planning for your legacy -- at some point of your career is crucial. This might mean physically destroying material that you don't want to be passed on, or assigning it to a trustee with an embargo on the release of the material to the "public" for some period of time, or you can just leave it to chance.

The challenge we face today is a black or white ethical choice. Remember, one can never expect to satisfy everyone. The choices are: What value do you feel your data might have for the future of the science vs. What harm do you feel that public release of your data  might have do to the individuals and society you studied? 

Do you have a Legacy Plan? Will your legacy be used by the future anthropologists for the benefit of the science? How can the AAA make actionable the ethical concerns of members for safe keeping their legacy?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What will be your Legacy to Anthropology

What will your or mine legacy be for future anthropology students and the profession? As a member of the 4th generation (1960s - 1980s) of  American anthropology now transitioning into retirement, I ponder these questions:
  • What do I do with my files and data accumulated over 50 years of academic and applied work?  
  • Should I just throw it all away or should I donate it to some archive for "lost" or "gray" anthropology? And where will that be?
  • Is there any "auto-ethnographic" value in these files that might contribute to the present or future development of anthropology and the profession? 
 Why ask such questions, you might ask? As a graduate student I ran across a copy of a dissertation written by Panchanan Mitra, a student of Clark Wissler at Yale in the 1920s, who later became an early founder of Indian (the country) anthropology. He observed as far back as1933 that anthropology is a sub-culture of Western culture. As he states:   
Anthropology ... is the science of man, but it is also a trait of European civilization and its point of the view is that of the European observing the rest of mankind. So the growth of the science is intimately bound to the knowledge and outlook of Europe (1933:1)

  American anthropology is a sub-set of that tradition. As Mitra (1933) stated:

Our regional study of science in America has shown the rise of anthropology here from the science of the America Indian, beginning with the discovery of the New World in 1492, and the theological speculation arising there from. Thus it has been eminently objective and regional from its very start. Philology, Geology, Prehistoric Archaeology and still later evolutionary Biology only modified its outlook. Its museum methods, its German geographical lead, and its close association with the remarkable development of Experimental Psychology and Social Science, mark America Anthropology by the history of its experience as distinct from the anthropology of Europe. (Mitra 1933: 211)

One can conclude that anthropology, like every other scholarly or scientific discipline produced by Western Civilization, is worthy of study in itself. Further, it can be subjected to the same anthropological treatment one might apply to any other intellectual or cultural tradition. As such, anthropology must become reflexive, and the anthropologist must include him or herself  as actors as well as observers in their studies. This applies to all anthropologists, but especially to the ethnographer. As a participant in the society one studies, the ethnographer comes an accomplice to the event she/he reports in the ethnographic context. It is the subjective role which provides both a depth of emotional response to the event and a narrower focus on its meaning than one obtains from the observer role.

In recent years, one new research avenue in ethnographic research is auto-ethnography. This is a reflexive approach which raises some very interesting and challenging issue for the discipline of anthropology and the ethnographer. Auto-ethnography is a process that formalizes the process of including the field worker as “an accomplice” to the events taking place in the society and culture at the time and place being studied. Chang (2009) in her AUTOETHNOGRAPHY AS METHOD Developing Qualitative Inquiry  includes a range of techniques and products from journaling and diaries, to personal essays and presentations as methods for recording one's reflections on one’s experience in the field, both as the observer and as the participant. These sources can then be used to study the role of the professional anthropologist in context and evaluate their impact on anthropology and the profession. It is here where the anthropologist describes and reflects candidly upon the role of Self (the ethnographer's individual Self) in their role as observer as the witness to and the recording instrument for the social and cultural behavior of the Other.

Over the last 50 years, there has emerged a split in American anthropology between those who pursue the traditional academic teacher and sometimes researcher roles, and the social activist/practitioner and sometimes policy researcher roles. The former has adopted the institutional incentive system of the academy which rewards those who pursue the academic career of research, teaching and service, They are expected to contribute to the academic, or basic research literature, through an institutional structure designed to promote research and publication. At the same time, it punishes the latter who opt for the practitioner role which is based on a reward system of client service, policy research and evaluation and consulting.

As a result of the institutional structure, academic anthropology has become nothing more than another academic discipline, limiting itself to the fads and fashion of the academy and research funding communities. Its institutional focus on basic research and publication has created an elitism reflecting the structure of the American post-secondary system as a whole of which it is a part. In the process, it condemns thousands of students and graduates to a professional caste system.Through this internal status system, an informal, mandated path to professional acceptance and recognition has evolved. Those who fail to follow the path are shuts out of the opportunity to do meaningful research and/or to publish it. Here the clientele for the academic product is the disciplinary elite who through a peer review process impose standards designed to defend the prevailing theoretical paradigm(s). The system of academic hierarchy prevents many from ever making a meaningful contribution to the discipline through the traditional hierarchy of affiliation (e.g. Hurlbert, Beverley McElligott  1976,   Rogge, 1976, Roose, Kenneth D., and C.J. Anderson   1970 )

This situation was made worse for those who choose to apply their insights drawn from anthropology to the development of policy solutions to social problems or to actively seek out and find innovative products that are solutions to a need in the marketplace. Here the incentive system is oriented toward the production of practical applications for a non-academic clientele. The rewards are not based on publications nor academic status, but rather on career advancement within the institutional structure, increased income and one's reputation as a problem solver and effective administrator of people and programs. Often what is produced is the proprietary product of the client, and not the practitioner. The lessons learned and made available to future generations from these experiences are rarely available to the discipline and fall into the category of the discipline’s gray literature,

Gray literature, in anthropology, is that vast body of information and observation made by anthropologically trained individuals that has been produced to achieve a specific, often limited or proprietary purpose, for a non-academic public, private client or specific audience. Such materials are often time sensitive, contextually limited, problem specific, and politically or subjectively biased to reflect the employer's interests. Yet, they also can provide an insightful glimpse into our understanding of the institutions that produced them.(e.g. Nader, Laura 1972)

In the tradition of anthropology, these materials are as valuable as the oral histories collected by the 19th and early 20th century ethnographers. Those oral histories attempted to “salvage” what was left of the “native” or “indigenous” cultures that were undergoing rapid acculturation, assimilation and/or extinction brought on by Western cultural expansion and imperialism. Today, these records are a valuable resource for the ethnohistorian and our understanding of cultural change.

In the academic debate between the proponents of scientific vs. humanistic anthropology, history has played and does play a crucial role. A historical dimension is a necessary condition in the development of an anthropological theory of cultural dynamics. Unlike most other subject that mankind seeks to understand, human events are always unique on the individual human level. Such events happen once and only once. They can’t be replicated in the experimental sense that physics, chemistry, or biology can repeat events.  Human cultural events can only be recorded by witnesses to the event at the time and place of the event. 

In the Western tradition, ethically, morally and legally, the researcher should not and cannot experiment on another human being without that the subject’s permission. This does not mean that humans do not use other human beings as guinea pigs. Such research must respect the limitations that the rule of “informed consent” imposes upon the researcher. Another way such research can take place is when the researcher and authorities dehumanize their subjects, such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiments using American Blacks or the Nazi WWII experiments on Jews as subjects, so that the subject’s humanity is passively ignored or formally denied.

Ethnography is even more restrictive regarding experimentation on moral, philosophical, and practical grounds. The ethnographer is ethically bound by the profession to leave the subject community in a state that would, as much as reasonably possible, not prejudice a future researcher's chances of coming back and be welcomed to study the same group. On a practical basis, this ethic makes the reflections and recordings of the field ethnographer’s personal experience even more valuable to the interpretation of the field data he/she has gathered and for preparation of others to go into the field. 

The field experience can be treated as the observation of a natural experiment. The ethnographer’s observations become the record of the natural experiment that takes place when the Stranger (the ethnographer) comes to live and study the Other  (the subject). The auto-ethnography is the record of the context in which the Stranger is transformed from the status of Stranger to the status of “not quite One of US” as seen from the Other’s point of view.

The challenge as a practitioner is that we are defined initially by the Other’s status structure. We are hired or engaged for a position in an established status network. That network exists in the institution(s) that our client controls and interacts with. This is a reversal of the tradition observer/participant role of the academic researcher. 

The academic researcher starts from the position of observer. Beginning by studying the literature on the topic, the culture, and context of the proposed research, the researcher arrives at the site as the Outsider/ Observer and Stranger. He or she becomes, to the extent permitted by the subject, a participant in the society and experiences the culture only after being accepted by the Other. The ethnographer experiences this acceptance from the point of view of the status position assigned to him/her by the Other. In order to better observe the natural experiment that is his/her focus of study the ethnographer must play the role expected of one assigned to that status. Mead’s study of adolescent girls in Micronesia reflect the interaction between the Observer and the Participant status and role as seen from the researcher and subject points of view

On the other hand, the practitioner becomes the participant first by taking a job (a status) with an employer or client. He or she must do so if they wish to apply their anthropological insight to the job in order to become a better and more effective observer in the institution. Before he/she can become the observer, the practitioner must begin by demonstrating the skills called for in the job. One’s success as a practitioner anthropologist begins with his/her technical skills and are expanded by how these are informed by a holistic integration of these with the observations and understanding of system in which the job is a part.  The observer role is a means for establishing the legitimacy for an observer or advisory status within the client social network.

As an anthropologically trained observer, the practitioner is prepared to evaluate his/her role in a holistic sense. He or she is able to reflect more deeply on the meaning of his/her place in the institution as well as the institution’s mission. Such reflections when recorded and documented become part of the gray literature that constitutes the corpus of autoethnography. Unlike the literature search done by the academic prior to entering the field, the auto-ethnographic process begins when one enters in the field and is completed only after leaving the field, if done at all. It is the personalized 'administrative" record of the field work prepared by the field worker.

As a product of the participant role, these internal observations by the practitioner can be incorporated into the preparation of future anthropologists working with the Other. They can form a basis for the later literature review by the academic before going into the field. The gray literature can also be treated as part of the data used in evaluating the natural experiments that are used as the basis of a scientific anthropology. 

The problem we face today is that much of this data is being lost to the discipline. It is being lost because there is no formal organized structure for acquiring, evaluating, archiving and retrieving these data. The proliferation of the practitioner role has opened up tremendous opportunities for anthropology. But these opportunities exist only as theoretical and pedagogical potentials. Unless the profession recognizes and addresses that potential in time, these data will lost forever. 

So the question facing both the profession and the practitioners is, 

What will be your legacy?”


Hurlbert, Beverley McElligott  1976  "Status and Exchange in the Profession of Anthropology"  American Anthropologist Vol 78, no.2 p. 272 - 284

Mitra, Panchanan  1933  A History of American Anthropology. Calcutta, University of Calcutta

Nader, Laura  1972  "Up the Anthropologist—Perspectives Gained from Studying Up" In: Dell H. Hymes (Ed.) Reinventing Anthropology. New York, Pantheon Books, 1972. p. 284-311

Rogge, A. E, 1976 "A Look at Academic Anthropology: Through a Graph Darkly" American Anthropologist, Volume 78. Issue 4. December (Pages 829 - 843)

Roose, Kenneth D., and C.J. Anderson   1970 A Rating of Graduate Programs. Washington: American Council Education

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What is the difference between Ethnography and Anthropology?

Ethnography and Anthropology are terms that sometimes get confused in the public's mind. This is in part due to the role ethnography plays in cultural and social anthropological research. And in part by the dominance of the socio-cultural sub-field in the organization and teaching of anthropology. What I want to do here is attempt to clarify the difference and interdependence of these two terms. 

Ethnography is a method of study and data collection involving a trained observer documenting the life of an extant people or group using a participant/observe strategy. It also refers to the product of such research which takes the form of a monograph organizing, describing, and analyzing the data collected. Ethnography is the method most common used by social and cultural anthropologist to collect qualitative data, although it is also used by archaeologist and biological anthropologist for certain types of problem that require data from living people or people living in a natural environment.

Anthropology is the scientific discipline that focuses on the human species, its origins, its evolution, distribution, commonalities and diversity in the way human organize and adapt over time and space. It is self reflective since humans are both the subject of the study and the instigators of the study. Anthropology is the coalescence of the social science movement begun in the late 18th and early 19th century when Western (European) society began to apply the ideal of science to study itself. That is when social philosophy began to shift from a subjective focus to an objective one regarding mankind. Anthropology took on the problem of the study of the non-European and non-literate (no written history) peoples that Europeans encountered in their commercial and imperial expansion out of Europe.

Ethnography became the method adopted to gather first hand information to document the lives,societies, and cultures of the peoples encountered. In a way it is the same approach as a field biologist or primatologist uses except that human have language and express both their emotions and the reasoning through language. Fieldworkers who learn the language are capable of participating as well as observing the life and culture of their subjects. Language also enables a degree of interaction between observer and subject that is not possible in the case of field biologist. Thus the anthropologist can, through ethnography gain a deeper understanding of his/her subject than the field biologist, At the same time, the ethnographer can never be certain how much of what is observed is as meaningful to the subjects as it may seem to the observer since the observed is also observing the observer and reacting to him/her. This is a far more intimate relationship than one finds in most science. It might be equated to the medical researcher using her/himself as the guinea pig.

Short answer Anthropology is a discipline Ethnography is a method

Friday, August 8, 2014

Do you have the people skills to be a "career" anthropologist?

I was recently contacted by a graduate student from a prestigious local university where I had volunteered to provide counseling/mentoring assistance. The student is enrolled in a PhD program and going through an identity crisis -- to be an academic/researcher or to pursue a career outside of the academy, i.e. real world. The student wanted to discuss options in "consulting" and "management" as career paths. I have done a bit of  each  most of my professional career, so I accepted the student's request to meet and discuss the topics.

Arriving at a time and place, of course, is always a challenge first time out. So when we didn't connect immediately, we exchanged emails and eventually synchronized our schedules. Personally, I found the meeting to be interesting and hopefully the student did too. But there are a few things I observed that, should we meet again I will have to bring up, especially if the student plans to succeed in the real world. This is what I want share here.

About the initial contact:

In the email exchange to set up the appointment, the first message was initiated by the student and was correctly addressed and in the salutation my name was correctly spelled. In my response, I signed the email with my full name. Subsequently, the student responded but misspelled my surname and continued to do so in all subsequent emails.  This could easily have lead to a decision on my part to cancel the meeting. My response would have been, "If you are not concerned enough to spell my name correctly what value are you going to give to my time spent helping you?"


The Meeting: The meeting was scheduled for a local coffee shop, "my office" so to speak. I generally like to hold my first meeting with a client or student in a public setting to see how they act in public and to assess the areas that they might feel free to discuss candidly and what they might prefer to hold back on to discuss privately. An important part of this first contact is punctuality. This student was 10 minutes late and gave only a very cursory or flippant excuse. BAD IMPRESSION. Not being on time can be viewed as a sign of disrespect if not for the person with whom the appointment is made, then at least a sign of how important the meeting is to the one who asked for it. Excuses don't work, an explanation is called for. That, "sorry to be late" is weak. "I had trouble finding a parking spot" especially in the reality of our meeting would have been quite valid.


The Discussion:  When one is asked to counsel or mentor someone, you want to learn both what their concern is for seeking help and also something about where they are coming from emotionally and objectively. That is you want to know what the personal context is which brought them release there  is an issue. This means you want, in this case, the student to carry most of the conversation. To do this the student should be the interviewer. They should have a "story" which outlines who they are; why they have a problem:; what they are looking for in the way of assistance; and most of all why they picked you.   Next, they should have a series of specific questions they hope to find answers to. These don't need to be detailed or require detailed answers. But, they should be topical covering such things as "what do I need to know?" "Where should I look?" What can I expect ?"or What was your experience?" That is, the student should take charge of the interview. It is as much an audition as it is a research project

In this case, I found myself carrying the conversation. The questions that would have lead to answers the student might have been interested in hearing where not asked. Instead I found myself being expected to raise the questions and the answers. There is enough of the academic in me to fall into the lecturing trap, especially when a student takes the passive role.

But as a mentor, there is a buyer's regret that sets in afterwards when you realize that you have lectured the mentee rather than mentored or coached an "aspiring professional."  Lesson: If you ask someone for help -- know what it is you want before hand and use the mentor/coach/counselor's time efficiently, especially when it is given for free. You may think it is free and treat as such, but the mentor does not see it either as free nor worthless just because he/she does not charge you for it.


Follow-up:  After our hour long  "discussion" or better "session," we parted with the normal courtesies. I left it open as to whether the student wanted to do follow-up meeting. Later in the day, since I had mentioned several books that might be consulted to followup on points raised in the "lecture.", I wrote an email to the student with information and links to the source. I include a confirmation of the meeting. Here it is a week later and I have not yet received either a email thank you for the meeting or the follow up information I sent, but more importantly no feed back about what had transpired been helpful or not has come from the student. Which begs the question, Do we meet again? I doubt it.


What has been your experience?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Autoethnography -- Calibrating the ethnographer as instrument

 I've been asked, "Could we define "auto-enthnography" as reflexivity?

I would argue that "reflexivity" is a method, one of several, that might be used to produce a product -- an autoethnography. To be reflective is to think objectively and critically about events, feelings and experiences one has witnessed. It is psychological and not anthropological.

An autoethnography is a scientific study of the "other" from the personal, professional point of view of the ethnographer as both the participant and as accepted as a member by the "other".

Let's look at the word behind the concept. "Auto" means "self", Someone or something is "auto" when it performs necessary functions for itself independent of outside influence. "Ethno" means "group", "race", "culture", that is, a collective set of people, their characteristic, behaviors, and/or beliefs. "Graphy" is a term that is attached to an object to imply a representation of the object such as "photo," "phono," "bio," or "ethno" Thus an autoethnography is a representation of a group, culture, race, or society as seen and experienced by one's self.

From my perspective and readings of "autoethnographic" essays and reports, the key difference between an autobiography which is an exercise in reflexivity and autoethnography is the emphasis on the "ethno" and not the "bio." That is the emphasis and point of view is that of the writer as a member of the group and not the self as the outsider.

How does one do this while avoiding "self-referencing? One does this by distinguishing between the group definition of who the ethnographer is and who the ethnographer believes she/he is. One does this by identifying explicitly what status the Other assigns the ethnographer and how the ethnographer interprets that status. This can be done by comparing the role performance expected by the Other as described in the ethnography for someone of that status with the ethnographer's testimony of his/her experience playing that role in the group.

Why is this important at all to anthropology as a science and how can this be of use to the humanist? As a scientific tool, autoethnography is a calibrating process for the reader and to a degree the ethnographer. It describes and documents the conditions under which the recording instrument, the ethnographer, experienced the culture of the group by defining the status/role positions the ethnographer occupied when making the observations. Anthropology is a natural science, in part, because it has no way of replicating the unique events it records. The autoethnography attempts to capture those aspects of the event that might be replicated and/or evaluated by a trained third party.

For the humanist, this is the source of drama, comedy and tragedy. Drama is all about conflict and cognitive dissonance where status and roles get confused and misinterpreted. For the humanist anthropologist, the autoethnography can be the first step in the process of writing a more philosophical ethnography.

The auto ethnography is not a replacement for the scientific ethnography or philosophical treatise, it is an adjunct to it that provides the reader with the context for the main object, the study of the Other.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Two Cultures of Anthropology

When we speak of anthropology, most often we are referring to the cultural sub-field or the socio-cultural sub-field, of the discipline. The question of whether anthropology is a method or science really only arises in the cultural sub-field. Here is where the dualism between mind and body, individual and society, history vs science, subjective vs objective, are played out on both the theoretical level and the practical level. This is the zone C P Snow labelled the Two Cultures.

We, as cultural anthropologist, use a method we call ethnography as our basic research method and ethnology as our analytical approach. The former is conducted, we claim, by a combination of participant-observer field research where we look for and document the emic and the etic domains of our "subjects." We practice a form of natural history. Our focus is the qualitative data, meaning we seek to describe a society and its culture rather than measure it.

Our analytical method, ethnology, is based on a set of three principles -- holism, relativism, and comparative analysis. We apply these principles when we study the similarities and differences in the ethnographies that comprise the our corpus of ethnographic data. In this regard, "culture" is the guiding concept, or filter for our analysis. Here we seek to arrive at some understanding and consensus of "cultural/social" universals and processes at work in human existence. It is here where we attempt to link our ethnographies with our discoveries from the physical, linguistic and archaeological sub-fields to obtain an overall picture of what it means to be human and what it has taken to become human. This is the goal of the academic research branch of anthropology.

The applied branch, on the other hand, seeks to apply the principles and understanding of the human and institutional processes articulated by the academic branch to the solution of practical problems confronted by individuals and society in the real world of every day life.

In this regard, the academic research branch is free to move between the two cultures of science and humanities, while "applied" branch, whether it is recognize or not, is morally, ethically and possibly legally bound to an application of techniques and principles which can withstand at least the minimal standards of good science, i.e. validity and reliability. The practitioner must balance "generally accepted 'anthropological" standards" with the academic "state of the art."

The divide between Theory and Practice within the discipline has been a costly one for both the development of the discipline and for the thousands of students trained in anthropology who have not been able to find a professional acceptance as professional equals within the broad definition of anthropology as a discipline.

 [In the interest of full disclosure, I am a four field anthropologist (and two branch "academic research" and "applied")].

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Auto-ethnography, a validation process for ethnographic research

Auto-ethnography is the second tier in validating the scientific (objective) observations of the field ethnographer. Auto-ethnography is those observations and recordings that the field ethnographer makes that describe what they did as both observer and more importantly, as a participant in the community being studied.

In socio-cultural anthropology, the data is behavior, human behavior recorded by and through the observations and participation of a human being of the socio-cultural system or subsystem of a community of human actors. The questions that haunts cultural anthropologists are, "How objective is the reporting?" "Can the anthropologist truly divorce him/herself from ones own cultural and gender biases?" "How do we deal with subjectivity?" Unlike the other three field of Anthropology, there are no real external standards for judging the validity and reliability of the data reported.

In archaeology, one has the physical evidence of the artifacts collected, and the maps drawn of the site according to well established mapping techniques and standards including the physical measurements of the relationship between features and feature and artifacts. Because archaeology is a destructive activity, it is crucial that the research and future generations can reconstruct the site from the records long after they have been destroyed in the initial process of recovery.

In biological and physical anthropology there are protocols, standardized physical instruments and biological test. These standard instruments and procedures produce a data set that can be replicated if desired when applied to the same or similar subjects at another time by the same or different trained researcher. This insures the validity of the first study and demonstrates the reliability of the record and procedures used.

In linguistics data collection is fairly simple using audio equipment to record the phonetics, and morphemes as well as spoken sentences which once captured can be analyzed by standard procedures. Where and when recording devices were not available, a standardized phonetic alphabet was used to record sounds, words, and word elements. Anyone trained to read and write the alphabet could reconstruct the language as recorded and if necessary test the meanings reported in a translation against what any native speaker of the language in question would interpret the translation.

Cultural anthropology historically has been carried out by lone wolves who went off to an "unknown" or "little" known "primitive" community and came back to write an ethnography in which they described the "culture" of the studied group. This description was to be in objective terms based on the data collected by the researcher in field notes and photographs etc. All of these would be the product of the field worker. Yet there was no calibration the principle instrument, the field worker him/herself, to any "real" standard other than the claims of the researcher him/herself. There was no way to replicate the research at one point in time by a restudy at a different point in time.

As an undergraduate, in the early 1960, I was told that it would be best, if one planned a career in cultural anthropology, that one  have themselves psycho-analyzed before going into the field in order to understand what biases they bring to the field situation. Whether this was ever a widely held belief or practice I can not attest to, however, the idea of some form of "calibration" of the field worker as the recording device struck me as sound at the time. Later, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I experienced what I suspected that process might be when we underwent extensive psychological evaluation before being finally selected to serve overseas.

So how do field ethnographers validate their work and how do they evaluate each others' work?

One of the first ethnographies I read as an undergraduate was Allen Holmberg's Nomads of the Long Bow. Its format was very typical of the time with sections on the social structure and kinship system, the economic system, political and religious systems, the annual group and individual life cycles. As far as I could tell, and I guessed the University of Chicago and my professors at Brown, this was a model ethnography. Yet there was something I found disturbing in the study. It was my first exposure to what has come to be called "auto-ethnography." Let me quote from Holmberg

“…in a society like the Siriono, where the food supply is both scarce and insecure, a person’s status necessarily depends on his ability as a provider of food than on any other single factor. This was clearly brought home to me [Allan Holmberg] time and time again while I was at Tibaera [located along the Rio Blanco in eastern Bolivia]
“One case deserves special mention. Enia (Knee) was the brother-in-law of Chief Eantandu.  He had  had some contact with the outside, but because of maltreatment had run away from his patrón and returned to native life. He was an intelligent man with an unusual ability (for a Siriono) to adjust to White civilization. He was a hard worker and reliable, and he knew considerable Spanish.  His one weakness was that he could not hunt as well as his countrymen. Time after time I saw him leave with his bow and arrows, and time after time I watched him return empty handed, while his fellow tribesman left after him on the same trail and return with game.He was generally referred to as "not knowing how to hunt." He was openly insulted at drinking feasts for his inability to hunt.He had lost one wife to a better man. His status was low; his anxiety about hunting, high. He had, however, made some kind of readjustment to native life by planting more crops and collecting more forest products than the others and trading some of his vegetables for meat. But still he was not satisfied. Noting this condition, I set out to raise his status. First he accompanied me with his bow and arrows on hunting trips. He carried in game which I shot [Holmberg had a shotgun to hunt for his own food], part of which was given to him and which we told others was shot by him. His status began to improve. Shortly thereafter, I taught him to use a shotgun, and he brought in game of his own. Needless to say, when I left Tibaera he was enjoying the highest status, had acquired several new sex partners, and was insulting others, instead of being insulted by them." (Holmberg, Allen 1960 p.60)
Here is a case of autoethnography where the researcher in the role of participant describes how he intervened into the lives of the people he was stdying and was able to test a hypothesis developed in the field about the relationship between male hunting skill and his social status or rank. He also reports on an intervention to teach one of his subjects how to use a shot gun in place of the traditional bow and arrows to hunt meat.

When I read this, back as an undergraduate I was struck by what I saw as the unanswered ethical question -- what happened when Holmberg left? Did he take the shot gun with him? How and where did Enia acquire shells for the gun, if Holmberg left it with him? These questions would not even have come up, had Holmberg not self reported his own role in the lives of this particular Siriono Indian and indirectly in the power struck of the band.

At the time I did not see this as an example of auto-ethnography. The term had not yet been invented. But situation Holmberg describes, did raise certain ethical questions in my mind about just how involved should or could a field researcher become with his subjects in the participant observer role?

It does, looking back on it today, provide an insight into Holmberg, as an activist field ethnographer who later chose to lead the legendary Vicos project..

Source: Nomads of the Long Bow: The Siriono of Eastern Bolivia. Allan Holmberg (Reprinted for the Second-Year Course in the Social Sciences) Syllabus Division, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. March 1960