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Taking Sides

Taking Sides: Ethics, Politics, and Fieldwork in Anthropology

Heidi Armbruster
Anna Lærke
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Taking Sides
    Book Description:

    Concerns with research ethics have intensified over recent years, in large part as a symptom of "audit cultures" (M. Strathern) but also as a serious matter of engagement with the ethical complexities in contemporary research fields. This volume, written by a new generation of scholars engaged with contemporary global movements for social justice and peace, reflects their efforts in trying to integrate their scholarly pursuits with their understanding of social science, politics and ethics, and what political commitment means in practice and in fieldwork. This is a book of argument and analysis, written with passion, clarity and intellectual sophistication, which touches on issues of vital significance to social scientists and activists in general.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-408-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Heidi Armbruster and Anna Lærke
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction. The Ethics of Taking Sides
    (pp. 1-22)
    Heidi Armbruster

    This is a book about the impossibility of removing the anthropologist and her mode of learning from the composite site of ethics and politics. The ethical¹ is not meant here as a prescription of some universal value scheme, but rather as an invitation to consider questions about the value orientations of a discipline and its practitioners in the contemporary historical moment. Ethical questions about what one should do or how one should act towards others impose themselves within the practice of a science whose primary object is cross-cultural understanding. Anthropology seeks this understanding on the scene of politics, that is...

  6. Chapter 1 Starting From Below: Fieldwork, Gender and Imperialism Now
    (pp. 23-44)
    Nancy Lindisfarne

    This chapter is about gender and imperialism in the Middle East, but my starting point is fieldwork in anthropology. I begin with a brief discussion of the fundamental contradiction between conservative politics and our main method of study, participant-observation. It is a contradiction that frames the limits of anthropological studies today, as it has in the past.

    The method of participant-observation systematically focuses on the everyday, and on otherwise unheard, or muted, voices. Because anthropologists pay attention to the lives of ordinary people, they see society from below. From there, power and privilege stand out in sharp relief. This creates...

  7. Chapter 2 Arriving in Nowhere Land: Studying an Islamic Sufi Order in London
    (pp. 45-64)
    Tayfun Atay

    For more than two decades, certain theoretical and methodological reorientations have opened the way to lively debates in social anthropology. At the heart of these debates is a shift in the interest of anthropological practice from the description of ‘other cultures’ to the investigation of the anthropologist’s own position in fieldwork.¹ Anthropologists are now expected to take into consideration their own experience in the field, and to construct the text on the basis of ‘reflections’ upon interactions with people in the field (Crick 1982; Tedlock 1991).² Many times, this is complicated by the political constraints of the fieldwork situation, which...

  8. Chapter 3 Friendships and Encounters on the Political Left in Bangladesh
    (pp. 65-88)
    Nayanika Mookherjee

    Public anthropology’s call for anthropologists to engage as public intellectuals outside academia is considered by many in the discipline as a necessary political statement (Gonzalez 2004a).¹ This is based on the assumption that anthropologists side with the oppressed and that their views are in agreement with the principles of ‘progressive’ and ‘radical’ politics. When leftist anthropologists examine progressive movements and the activists and intellectuals engaged in such radical politics, they tend to share the values of the intellectuals they study. At the same time, research on such projects may critically highlight the contradictions, inequalities, injustices and compromises that are also...

  9. Chapter 4 Doing Fieldwork Within Fear and Silences
    (pp. 89-118)
    Panagiotis Geros

    The discussion here relates to an uncomfortable experience that constantly accompanied me during my fieldwork in Damascus, Syria.¹ The people I worked with, the Christian communities of the city, often seemed to be defenders of a political status quo to which I and the majority of Syrian citizens were opposed. This made me explore more closely the polymorphous workings of power in Syria. I looked carefully at the ways various social practices, apparently unrelated to ‘politics’, were structured and constrained by the authoritarianism of the regime that has ruled the country for more than three decades. It is the case...

  10. Chapter 5 Memory, Ethics, Politics: Researching a Beleaguered Community
    (pp. 119-142)
    Heidi Armbruster

    Insan insan-yo, they said again and again, ‘human being is human being’. I did fieldwork in the late 1990s with Syrian Christians in Southeast Turkey and Berlin, and it was one of their frequent phrases. They used it to tell me, in a laconic way, what they thought about their community’s move to Europe. The phrase often contained the qualifier ‘in Europeinsan insan-yo’ as well as nonverbal cues of disappointment and displeasure. From the perspective of European thought, and its master-ideologies of liberalism and democracy, it sounded like a phrase advocating equality and human rights. But for those who...

  11. Chapter 6 Confessions of a Downbeat Anthropologist
    (pp. 143-174)
    Anna Lærke

    I think most ethnographers recognize it – the way in which writing is supposed to take them out of ‘the field’, and ‘the field’ out of them. And writing does indeed put lived experience into a frame, cutting off new associations and hedging in old ones. In most cases, I presume, the process of writing-up flows easily and makes all the entanglements of fieldwork bewilderment seem worth while. In other cases, like mine, it is a recurrent, almost tortuous process of meanings found and then lost, loyalties displaced, and purposes dislodged. Vincent Crapanzano has put it like this: However much the...

  12. Chapter 7 We Will Not Integrate! Multiple Belongings, Political Activism and Anthropology in Austria
    (pp. 175-198)
    Sabine Strasser

    In her recent work¹ Nancy Lindisfarne calls for a critical and political perspective in anthropology that challenges systems of domination such as patriarchy, religious fundamentalism, nationalism and class exploitation. As fieldwork ‘starts from below’ and focuses on the ‘lives of ordinary people’ (this volume), participant-observation is an appropriate tool for analysing and critiquing inequalities of the new world order. Noting that anthropology follows, rather than creates, public opinion, Lindisfarne emphatically demands the discipline’s more active political engagement.

    In the following, I describe different modes of political activism and compare their distinctive intellectual, participatory and religiously motivated types of political involvement,...

  13. Chapter 8 Taking Sides in the Oilfields: For a Politically Engaged Anthropology
    (pp. 199-216)
    Heike Schaumberg

    It is no surprise that in today’s uncertain world, a new generation of anthropologists and social scientists express concern over research methods and ethics in relation to ‘conflict zones’. Since the United States emerged victorious from the Cold War, seemingly as the unrivalled leader of capitalism, subsequent administrations became obsessed with reaffirming U.S. hegemony over the challenges posed by rival contenders. A new era of wars destabilized ‘world peace’, a euphemism that, conveniently for advocates of ‘capitalism with a human face’, ignored the Cold War era’s many bloody conflicts. Anthony Gidden’s ‘Third Way’ (1998) provided economic neoliberalism with a much...

  14. Chapter 9 Ranting and Silence: The Contradictions of Writing for Activists and Academics
    (pp. 217-256)
    Jonathan Neale

    It is not easy to be both an academic and an activist. The values, the audiences and the constraints are different. Sitting down to write, you can feel yourself pulled in two different ways. The result is often muddled thinking and murky prose. There is too much ranting for an academic audience, and too much gobbledygook for the activists. In many cases, there is no prose at all, only silence, and pages crumpled in the wastebasket or erased on the screen. This chapter is about coping with the tensions that work to silence the activist academic, and offers some suggestions...

  15. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 257-258)
  16. Index
    (pp. 259-262)