The end of the connoisseur?

I enjoyed Rex’s post about anthropology as connoisseurship, and have been thinking about it a lot. Then today, during the Remixing Anthropology session, Eric Kansa talked about how centralized search services, like Google, are eroding the power and authority of traditional information service providers. He used the tourism industry as an example, highlighting how efforts to control the staging of local culture are undermined by web 2.0 technologies, but I also saw this as a threat to the role of the anthropologist as connoisseur.

Anthropologists traditionally deployed their authority as connoisseurs to shape and contextualize the context within which “we” learned about and encountered “other” cultures. Hell, we even had a role defining how people learned about and encountered anthropological knowledge. But now that carefully cultivated connoisseurship is becoming less and less important as Google algorithms and Web 2.0 recommendation engines become the primary gateways. Sure, to the extent that anthropologists are indexed in Google their authority is still important, but the first hit for a topic might be a corporate site who understand better how to game the system with search engine optimization (SEO).

Of course, it might not be a bad thing if a website run by an indigenous community can outrank anthropologists on google. There is something democratizing about the shift, which allows the producers of culture to outrank the connoisseurs. But, as Eric pointed out, there is something disturbing about the fact that these algorithms are a black box whose rules are determined by a corporate monopoly. How’s wikia search coming along?

18 thoughts on “The end of the connoisseur?

  1. bq. Anthropologists traditionally deployed their authority as connoisseurs to shape and contextualize the context within which “we” learned about and encountered “other” cultures.

    Persuade me that this is true or, just for starters, a felicitous use of connoisseurship as a metaphor for what anthropologists do.

    Take, for instance, the _Time_ story on Franz Boas recently posted here. Here it seems to me that the metaphor works. Boas did, in fact, do what connoisseurs do. To take just one example, his meticulous and detailed comparison of somatypes built a convincing case that the size and shape of human bodies is molded by culture as well as biology. Substitute vintages for somatotypes and discussion of how geography and weather affect the qualities of wines over a series of years for
    how improved diet or new occupations affect the physical characteristics of H.Sapiens bodies and, yes, the implicit logic is similar.

    Then ask yourself how much of current anthropology stands up to comparison with that kind of geeky, obsessive concern with detail.

    What I suggest is that the Google/new media/tourism threat is not to the kind of anthropology Boas did, but rather to the moralizing journalism that (it seems to me; I would love to be corrected) accounts for so much of what passes for ethnography these days. What we can no longer get away with is, to borrow Mary Douglas’ term, casual “bongo-bongoism.” It is no longer enough to say, “I was there, I know,” in a world where lots of other people have been there, too, virtually if not physically. Merely being exotic is no longer enough to be interesting.

    An anthropology grounded in Boasian connoisseurship/geeky obsession with detail will retain its interest and authority for the same reasons that, to use another example than wine, art lovers continue to read and admire serious art historians. In a world in which increasingly casual encounters with all sorts of stuff multiply, what we in Japan call “otaku” stand out because their obsessions drive acquisition of knowledge that is more than “I was there” (wasn’t everybody?) but instead can say, “I’ve spent years obsessing about my special interest and now know more about it than anyone who isn’t as crazy about it as I am. Google may show you what I know. Do you have years to digest it and develop insights and informed judgments as good as the ones I offer?”

  2. “Anthropologists traditionally deployed their authority as connoisseurs to shape and contextualize the context within which ‘we’ learned about and encountered ‘other’ cultures.”

    Hmmm… did you just invent that tradition? Because as soon as the first person plural is expanded beyond the scope of “other anthropologists” I’m not sure that anthropologists have ever exercised the authority to shape much of anything.

  3. UPDATE: My ever so sagacious wife has observed that my use of “otaku” in my previous message is over the top. We don’t really want to see anthropologists as perverse freaks now, do we. Her more serious point is that serious scholars do what they do to share it with other people, while otaku obsessions are personal quirks.

    I wonder about that, since there seems to be an awful lot of talk about “otaku” (sub)culture these days and occasions for otaku to share their obsessions, at least with other otaku, appear to be multiplying. I say “appear to be” deliberately; I only track this stuff out the corner of my eye. This isn’t a seriously researched observation.

  4. Just thinking about a crucial ingredient of our task as ethnographers: to take time to observe and to reflect on our observations. This entails a respect for ‘social time’ and for the autonomy of social subjects in being (or rejecting to be) our informants. Things cannot be speeded up for the research’s sake, which is, on my view, a very common fault of the kind of ethnography we make nowadays. A proper attitude on the field (not just the ‘I was there’ story, as tourists and even Internet users also ‘were there’) cannot be replaced by the insights provided by a high-speed google search, by a short stay providing superficial data or by the results of disrupting, standardised questionnaires which supposedly allow us to ‘go to the point’.
    So the kind of ‘geeky-ness’ we should aim at is about intensity and rigor, about research taking time to mature. And then, ideally, we become connoisseurs -exactly to the same extent as our informants are.

  5. bq. So the kind of ‘geeky-ness’ we should aim at is about intensity and rigor, about research taking time to mature.


    bq. And then, ideally, we become connoisseurs -exactly to the same extent as our informants are.


    Our aim is, at least in some respects, to understand our informants far better than they understand themselves.

    The clearest example is linguistics, where, as Franz Boas pointed out, the native cannot write the linguist’s grammar of the native’s language, unless, of course, the native is herself a trained linguist.

    There was also Malinowski’s observation in _Coral Gardens and Their Magic_ that thanks to his notebooks and systematic research he was much better prepared to judge the authenticity of Trobriand spells than Trobrianders themselves, who lacked the scholarly apparatus on which his judgments were based.

    I might myself claim, in only some respects I repeat, to be able to understand my Daoist master’s rituals better than he did. Again this is a question of scholarly apparatus. Thanks to my training in anthropology I was able to compare his rituals to counterparts in other parts of the world (_siu kia* “catching frights” in Taiwan and _susto_ in Mexico, for example; both involve recalling souls whose loss has left the patient weak and fretful), something he could not do. Thanks to historians scholarly labor, I could also have an informed opinion on where his particular versions of rituals fit or diverged from models in the Daoist Canon.

    None of this is to claim that we can understand the whole of any, even key, informant’s life, experience, or personal values and attitudes. No anthropologist is ever omniscient. It is only to assert the validity of Bakhtin’s assertion that all cultural understanding is necessarily dialogic, because, as human beings, we see in each other what we ourselves do not see in ourselves.

  6. Thanks for this post Kerim.

    My take on this search engines and such has always been not that they are replacing connoisseurship but that they allow people to find and learn about networks of people with similar taste. I don’t use Google to tell me what the best Africanist ethnography is, I use it to figure out who is in dialogue today talking about ethnography of Africa and to take my lead from Their preferences.

    I think its true that access to all these different points of view (including increasing, but not total, access to Premium Points of View) helps soften the authority of people in positions of authority to pronounce on one subject or another… but eroding the social status of snobs is very different from eroding connoisseurship. Or at least so I think.

  7. bq. My take on this search engines and such has always been not that they are replacing connoisseurship but that they allow people to find and learn about networks of people with similar taste.

    Good point.

  8. This strikes me as a tricky complex of ideas.

    Obsessiveness, rigor, and thus accountability, peer review, and geekdom– these are all related things, right? And together they sort of constitute the core of what constitute legitimate means for producing “real” “expert” “empirical” “scientific” knowledge.

    Web 2.0, google, and social media; all of that’s well and good if you’re taking about information that you need to act on right now, or when your need for confidence in your information is relatively low. But I don’t think they necessarily erode the position of more expertise-driven sources of knowledge… but I think their virtue is in marginally increasing the quality of the ambient information available publicly at near-zero effort. Because of that, it lets you initiate study of a topic at a different and in many ways better position than you could if it was just you, your guesses, your prejudices, and a little common sense heading to the public library.

    But does it constitute a real challenge to expert knowledge? Sure, in something like an academic blog where someone might provide a link to google scholar just to get on with it and quickly frame the discussion of a topic. But most other “new web” tools are basically highly speculative guesses at what might be good ways of organizing and reading piles of information against one another– usually in an intentionally mysterious way, since those algorithms are protected intellectual property that somebody is hoping to make s small, medium, or large fortune off of. Even google’s search algorithm is a black box, just as Kerim noted. And that’s pretty un-rigorous and unscientific, but more to the point it doesn’t give the searcher very much control. And even when they’re being lazy about it, people searching for knowledge are probably always doing so as a way of asserting more control over their world.

  9. Has anyone seen Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married? I don’t know how Demme intended it to be taken, but the movie does a wonderful job of portraying how a certain segment of society consumes select components of, for lack of a better word, exotic cultures. I mean, the movie is an ode to saris, samba schools, ouds, and Orthodox icons, all of them largely disassociated from their source communities. I guess the notion of anthropology as connoisseurship invokes a similar image for me, one of the Vanderbilts in their study listening to jazz on their phonograph, lamenting what a shame it is that the negroes don’t appreciate their own music.

    I certainly don’t mean that anyone on this forum who has championed the notion of anthropology as connoisseurship sees the field as a means to refine their bourgy self-actualization. But I do think that we need to take into account that that’s how anthropologists come off to the wretched of the earth. “Wow, he loves my medicinal herbs/ceramics/oral tradition/kin terms/carnivalesque revalry, but does she really know and care about the people associated with it?”

    John, I know exactly what you mean about native speakers and their knowledge of their language. A brilliant linguistics student I am friends with loves to jokingly say, “Native speakers know nothing about their own language.” I know exactly what he means by that. But there is a real danger that that sort of comment can come off as patronizing in the extreme to a source community. Last week at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference meetings there was an interesting panel in which a number of Native Americans engaged in some way with CRM work addressed their concerns about the practice of archaeology in the US to the diggers in attendance. One fellow made a great point when he pointed out that linguists “are mechanics.” Wonderful mechanics, that understand how to take apart and describe the bits and pieces of a language and tell the speakers things about it that even they didn’t realize were there. But they rarely understand what the language means to its speakers and the larger community—speakers or not—in terms of who they are.

    I say this because I’ve seen established academics take the line that “if we could just teach the locals to value their own heritage then they would know what all the fuss is about.” And there is something about that way of thinking and those that espouse it that I really and truly despise. Again, I’m not claiming that anyone here is “that guy,” but I do feel the need to put some of these things out on the table.

  10. bq. But there is a real danger that that sort of comment can come off as patronizing in the extreme to a source community.

    MT, a real danger? Possibly. But how should one respond to this possibility? Reflexively recoiling into a posture that assumes everyone with whom anthropologists work is a frail, sensitive flower whose feelings may be hurt is to me nonsense. But then, as I have mentioned before, the people whose lives I share and study are frequently richer, more powerful and, yes, smarter than I am. The populations to which they belong are, collectively speaking, the world’s second largest economy (Japan) and roughly a quarter of humanity (China) on the other. And in neither case is cultural pride likely to be damaged by the sorts of observations I have made in previous messages.

    On the whole I find that dealing with the people I work with as fellow adults works just fine. Respect and a reasonable effort to follow local standards of decorum are, of course, essential. But a walking on eggshells fear of giving offense is mostly unproductive.

    This does not for a moment mean that I cannot conceive of groups whose experience has made them particularly sensitive to what they take to be slights. And were I to work with members of such groups, I would certainly aim to be careful not to give offense. But, besides being good manners, any extra care that I might exercise would be a response to this particular situation, not a general principle of anthropological method. A possible danger is not always a present one.

  11. I agree with both John and MTB, so maybe you’re not talking about quite the same thing? In principle there’s nothing wrong with syncretism and bricolage at all, even by the bourgeoisie, and historically they’re ubiquitous. Nearly all existing cultures are the living products of ongoing processes of exchange and hybridization in which symbols, objects and practices are appropriated and repurposed. Without ever getting to that ‘I love you, man!’ level of mutual understanding. That had better not be a problem.

    Getting offensive and offendable about culture is therefore not about ‘culture as usual’, which John seems to be talking about, but ‘culture as grounds or tools of struggle’, MTB’s standpoint. This is when the borders harden up and get defended; how the contents get changed by that is an interesting set of questions.

    So it makes a difference if there’s an active struggle going on. It also makes a difference if you think there’s a problem that needs to be solved, as activists always do. John’s perspective may be at least partly daoist (or maybe I’m projecting), and as I understand Daoism that’s never the case; the thing to do with problems is to dissolve them.

    As for who understands what better/best, it’s worth remembering that not all anthropologists are dumbasses and not all dumbasses are anthropologists.

  12. bq. Blessed are the peacemakers

    Thanks, Carl.

    The distinction you offer between ‘culture as usual’ and ‘culture as grounds or tools of struggle’ is suggestive but also a bit puzzling to this student of Marx, Mao, V. Turner and P. Bourdieu, who generally assumes that culture as usual IS culture as grounds or tools of struggle; a view reinforced, I might add, by a longish career in advertising. Indeed, I find it difficult to imagine a situation in which culture is mentioned and is not used to draw a disputed boundary between an Us and a Them: be it anthropologist and sociologist, elite connoisseur and low-class ignoramus, oppressed and oppressor, and so on.

    To me the point of dispute between myself and MTBradley is what I assert in my most recent post, i.e.

    bq. Walking on eggshells fear of giving offense is mostly unproductive.

    I recall, for example, a senior Japanese ad executive whom I asked to describe the difference between his own “burning generation” of corporate warriors who had rebuild the Japanese economy after WWII and the new graduates of his alma mater for whom he throws a party each year as a way of keeping a finger on the pulse of recent trends. He said, “The young ones now are too gentlemanly, too polite. They stay inside their bubbles and avoid conflict.” In contrast, he said, his generation were, “so eager to understand what each other were thinking that we trampled into each other’s hearts with our shoes on,” a statement whose force is amplified by the Japanese custom of removing one’s shoes before crossing the threshold and entering a private interior.

    Personally, I do not think it wise to go rashly trampling into the hearts of the people whose lives I hope to learn something about. But I do wonder if an excessive delicacy is not a substantial barrier to doing serious fieldwork.

    What do you think?

  13. “But I do wonder if an excessive delicacy is not a substantial barrier to doing serious fieldwork.”

    I’m not really addressing real time ethnographic data gathering. Whatever works there works. My thinking springs more from the knowledge that many American Indians take umbrage at a (comparatively wealthy, usually white) anthropologist standing up in front of them acting the expert about their history and culture. On the other hand, many American Indians do have a deep interest in their own history and culture and are quite interested to engage with an appropriately humble academic of any stripe.

    You have to remember that Indians have had the BIA telling them about their own culture for almost two centuries now. The experience of having an outside entity consistently telling you what you are, have done, and need to do politicizes things. The situations are not really parallel, but can an anthropologist expect to be able to unproblematically address an audience in Japan regarding the Japanese occupation of Korea or the Japanese Army’s actions in Nanking? I imagine it might be more likely if the anthropologist had previously established a track record of actually caring about Japanese people (and not just tea ceremonies or discourse markers, etc).

    “Getting offensive and offendable about culture is therefore not about ‘culture as usual’, which John seems to be talking about, but ‘culture as grounds or tools of struggle’, MTB’s standpoint.”

    By which you mean something along the lines of ‘culture you’re unconscious of’ and ‘culture you’re conscious of’? One could certainly make a similar distinction for ‘tradition’.

  14. Actually, MT, I do remember all that stuff. I claim no expertise in Native American studies, but I’ve been around long enough to know about the smallpox blankets, the BIA, the boarding schools where children were forbidden to speak their native languages, and lots of clueless folks who have, over the years, preached either assimilation or cultural chauvinism, both preaching down their noses to others they regarded as less than competent adults. I’ve also got a nodding acquaintance with Said on orientalism, subaltern and postcolonial studies. I was there when the news broke about anthropologists lending a hand with the Phoenix program in Vietnam and heard rumors about some prominent figures in the discipline being involved with the CIA and the overthrow of Allende in Chile. In short, I am aware that, like any other human population, we anthropologists include a predictable share of villains and fools, along with occasional heroes.

    My dog in this fight is the notion that we ought to respect the people who share their lives with us and, as far as possible, level with them in our interactions. Thus, to me, it is equally wrong to play an over-protective motherly role, trying to keep them from exposure to things that might hurt their feelings, as it is to play a let-me-set-you-straight patriarchal role that ignores how they feel. Both are parent-to-child games; neither is the interaction of one adult with another. It is,I suggest, only that kind of adult-to-adult interaction in which the dialogue described by Bakhtin and, thus, serious cultural understanding is possible.

    And, Lord knows, it can be hard. As I write I am still reeling from an unusual but perhaps exemplary weekend with “my people” here in Japan.

    It began with a three-day conference on Practical Applications of Knowledge Management (PAKM2008) at Keio University. I thought I’d learn something useful about social network analysis; instead I found myself listening to people talk about information-system ontologies, rule-based expert inference, and the problems of getting experts to cooperate with knowledge engineering projects and companies to continue them. About half the speakers were Japanese, the rest mainly German, leavened with a sprinkling of Chinese, one Vietnamese, one Iranian woman, and at least one Indonesian.

    The conference ended Sunday, just after 5:00 p.m. At 6:00 p.m. I met my wife at Roppongi Hills, a massive monument to what can happen when a Japanese billionaire is infatuated with Le Corbusier and the notion of vertical garden cities. We, together with a horde of Japanese art lovers, took in a show of contemporary (South Asian) Indian art at the Mori Art Museum at the top of Mori Tower (Mori being the name of the billionaire). We then took a subway to Shinjuku, for a Lebanese buffet and belly dance performance at a friend of a friend’s restaurant. That finished off Sunday.

    Today was more somber. One of our associates is a member of the Oratorio Choir and was singing in a performance of Brahm’s _German Requiem_ to celebrate the choir’s 80th anniversary. She had given us free tickets, so we were obliged to go. The performance was, for me, a staggering cross-cultural encounter. The women in the choir wore red blouses during a sequence of five short songs by Brahms, then changed to white blouses for the Requiem itself. The Requiem was sung in German, subtitled in Japanese, with the subtitles displayed using white LEDs on black columns set on either side of the stage. Between remnants of high school German, the text provided in the program, and the subtitles displayed on the columns, I found myself plunged by the lyrics into the romanticism and pietism of a 19th century take on Christian eschatology and couldn’t help wondering what all this stuff about dying in the arms of God and “Hell, where is thy sting?” meant to the largely elderly Japanese audience. I was, at the same time, thinking of something my wife Ruth had just told me, that the choir was formed before WWII under the auspices of the YMCA and went underground during the War, when foreign music was forbidden, an incident that resonates with the history of the “hidden Christians” who concealed their worship while Christianity was banned during the Tokugawa Era.

    It was with some relief that, once the concert was over, Ruth and I made our way to a favorite Indian restaurant for the tandoori mixed grill that we regard as a comfort food, only to be bombarded with a tape of pop versions of Christmas carols (the holiday shopping season is well underway in Japan).

    If, as we like to claim, nothing human is foreign to anthropology, what do you make of all this?

  15. When I write,

    bq. To me, it is equally wrong to play an over-protective motherly role, trying to keep them from exposure to things that might hurt their feelings, as it is to play a let-me-set-you-straight patriarchal role that ignores how they feel. Both are parent-to-child games; neither is the interaction of one adult with another. It is,I suggest, only that kind of adult-to-adult interaction in which the dialogue described by Bakhtin and, thus, serious cultural understanding is possible.

    I am raising epistemological as well as moral issues. To these I would I add concern for anthropology’s self-definition as a discipline.

    To me one of the great appeals of anthropology was our claim to be interested in everything human, from biological evolution through prehistory to contemporary culture, society and language. Our initial emphasis on “the primitive” was justified by the grand narrative of progress and the notion that by studying still-existing primitives, whose lives resembled those of our own remote ancestors, we could learn something about humanity as a whole, human nature writ large, and what it means to be human.

    As that grand narrative collapsed and the colonial world that sustained it receded, anthropology broadened its focus to include peasants. Then came studying up and interest in popular culture. In the chapter on Japan that Ruth and I contributed to Ray Scupin’s _Peoples and Cultures of Asia_ we write,

    bq. Doing Fieldwork in Japan.. . brings together chapters by twenty-one scholars. The topics on which they did their research are as varied as the individuals who chose them. In the order in which they appear, they include Japanese teenagers who hang out in Harajuku, Tokyo’s teen fashion Mecca; radical student movements; a rural community in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands; a new religion reinterpreting Buddhist belief and practice to meet the needs of modern believers; an ancient but still thriving pilgrimage on Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands (think Chaucer in a tour bus); a bioscience institute located in Osaka, the commercial heart of Kansai, the southwest of Japan; the impact of JETs, participants in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, on English-language education; the prosecutors office in Kobe, which along with Osaka and Kyoto is one of the three major cities in the Kansai; security policymaking by the Japanese Defense Agency and Ministry of Foreign Affairs; NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster; a quantitative study of women in the labor market and why men’s wages are so much higher than women’s; the impact of mine closure on a coal-mining community in Hokkaido, the northernmost of the four main islands; Japanese bureaucrats responsible for addressing the problems of the elderly, a rapidly growing segment of the Japanese population; Japanese foreign aid (Japan being one of the world’s largest donors); modern Japanese social history, with a focus on the Japanese labor movement; enka, an old-fashioned but still popular music genre, whose role in Japanese popular culture resembles that of Country and Western in the USA; two corporations, a lingerie manufacturer and a foreign multinational in the financial services industry; the creation of tradition in a changing Tokyo neighborhood and Tsukiji, the world’s largest seafood market; the betwixt-and-between lives of reverse immigrants, Japanese-Brazilian workers in Japan; and a review of a long and distinguished career that began with a study of a rural community and has included an award from Japan’s emperor.

    bq. This list is long, but it still contains only a sample of what it might. Where are the studies of bar hostesses and geisha, kindergartens, bikers and bankers, blue-collar workers, the homeless, the aging, the comics, the artists, the shamans, the celebrities who make up the geinôkai (the world of the tarento, “talents,” performers and personalities who appear on TV, in movies, in ads), the potters, the fishermen, the cops, the gangsters, the juvenile delinquents, the baseball players, the sumo wrestlers, the account executives and art directors who work for advertising agencies, the women who get out the vote for local politicians, the mothers, the office ladies, the young women who travel overseas in search of handbags, love, new careers and new selves? The list gets longer every day.

    bq. Note, too: When we study Japan, we do not have the luxury of studying the lives of people who inhabit an isolated corner of the globe and, so far as the rest of the world is concerned, have nothing to say about how we describe their behavior. We study the lives of people who are often as highly educated and may be more wealthy and powerful than the anthropologists who struggle to understand how they think, feel, and behave. No place on earth illustrates more vividly the anthropological predicament that Marcus and Fischer describe so well: “We step into a stream of already existing representations produced by journalists, prior anthropologists, historians, creative writers, and of course the subjects of study themselves.”

    Yes, when I read critique of anthropological theory or anthropologists’ behavior, I see critics presenting anthropology as if it were restricted to the study of populations that are marginal in relation to the states that govern their territories and the larger societies in which they are now embedded. And I note a distinct absence of serious reconsideration of what have become sacred cows.

    I imagine myself, for example, talking with two informants. One is elderly. For him or her, preserving tradition is imperative. The other is young. To him or her, some aspects of tradition appeal; but the modern, the now, the future is more important. Whose side am I on? Does it matter if the elder is a Quaker or a Nazi, Chinese or Comanche? If the younger’s desire for change puts him or her at risk, perhaps a fatal risk (one thinks of honor killings). Can I speak, politely but frankly, to either or both about my concerns? Or do I keep my mouth shut and simply record the data I need to pursue my own career?

    I see no easy answers here. I am bothered by reluctance to even ask the questions.

  16. John, I guess one thing that I’m trying to point out is that not all of the ethnographer’s relationships are dyadic. Engaging with a population of a few hundred to a few thousand represented by a sovereign government puts the anthropologist into a kind of relationship with a group that is unlikely to come about with a population that numbers in the millions. The powers that be in American Indian communities know when an ethnographer is nosing around their face-to-face community and a significant portion of that community is going to be exposed to the published results of the ethnographer’s research. (To paraphrase my instructor Jason Jackson, while the chances that the randomly selected Middle American household owns a work of ethnography are vanishingly slim, the chances that the randomly selected American Indian house has at least one ethnography on the shelf is actually quite good.) In your case, John, I assume few if any of the members of the national government of Japan know you exist much less keep track of your day-to-day movements and that only a tiny percentage of Japanese citizens are familiar with your work. That’s not a reflection on the quality of your work but rather on the environment in which it takes place.

    Just trying to suggest that different anthropologists face different issues, I think.

  17. bq. Just trying to suggest that different anthropologists face different issues, I think.

    Me, too. I think we have found common ground. My next question is how best to build on that foundation.

  18. bq. My next question is how best to build on that foundation.

    Two questions leap to mind.

    1. Should informants be named or anonymous? Social science convention says anonymous or with names changed to protect the innocent. Arguably, however, this is part of a mindset that regards informants as research subjects, depersonalized exemplars of what are taken to be generic statements about the group to which they belong. The practice is justified by the fear that naming the people whose lives we study would violate their privacy and, in some situations, expose them to significant danger. Would it not be better, however, to follow the journalists’ convention and ask our informants directly whether they wish to speak on or off the record?

    2. In the _Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography_ Luke Lassiter suggests that informants be given veto power over what we write about them. Consider again, however, journalistic ethics. Journalists despise colleagues who function as PR hacks, propagandists who write only what their sources want and allow them to. In what respect, then, are anthropologists who follow Lassiter’s advice behaving any differently?

    In my own case, I work with people who are public figures and expect to be recognized for their contributions to the industry in which they are prominent. Normally, they want to be named. I show them what I have written and ask for feedback; but I remain solely responsible for any analytic conclusions or critical remarks I make.

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