All posts by maryalice


Mary Alice Scott is assistant professor of anthropology at New Mexico State University. Her research focuses on health disparities in the U.S.-Mexico border region.

False Egalitarianism and Illusions of Inherent Good

Before jumping into some cautions about mentoring as part of critical pedagogy and anthropological practice, I want to point out that I updated my last post to reflect two specific references:

  1. John McCreery’s discussion of teaching/learning as “fellow travellers on a great plain” comes from Stanley Cavell’s book Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism.
  2. I also added a link and reference to the Willen, Mulligan and Casteneda’s article (see full reference at the end of the post).

Although this will be my last post as a guest blogger on Savage Minds, I’m planning to continue writing and thinking about this idea of mentoring. I hope to start a bibliography and maybe continue to write here if anyone is interested for future reference – maybe someone out there will want to do anthropological research on mentoring that captures some of the multiple ways such relationships might develop and play out as John McCreery suggested in comments on my previous post. If you do, I’d love to hear about it.

While there are numerous ideas, critiques, and issues that commenters brought up in the last couple of posts, I want to focus here very briefly on what those interested in mentoring and/or teaching and learning as critical praxis might want to be careful about in engaging this kind of practice. Continue reading

Mentoring in Anthropology: Thoughts on Praxis, Anthropology, and the Teaching/Learning Process

My last post considered some questions about mentoring in anthropology and whether we as anthropologists have anything specific, particular, or unique to add to a discussion that is happening in many places, including the scholarship of teaching and learning, undergraduate and graduate research, schools of education, and specifically in anthropology. The comments on the post provoked a lot more thinking about mentoring on my part, so here I want to pull out some of the comments and questions to elaborate further. I’ll post on one or two questions at a time this week.

Mentoring and Anthropological Praxis:

In my last post, I suggested that mentoring might be something to consider as part of anthropological praxis, which led to questions about what exactly I envision to be anthropological praxis as well as how mentoring might or might not fit in. I’ll elaborate on mentoring more below, but first just a kind of simple explanation of praxis and how we might think about a specific anthropological praxis: Continue reading

Paolo Freire, Critical Knowledge, and Anthropological Mentoring

I’ve gone around and around about how to write this post because I have too many ideas running around in my head. Rather than prolong the agony for myself I decided on the brain dump approach, which makes for a long post. So here’s the brief outline of each segment: a response to a couple of comments on my last post about anthropology and exploitation/power, a discussion of Freire’s critical knowledge grounded in my own youth participatory action research experience, then some musings on and questions about mentoring as part of anthropological praxis.

A response
Before I jump into the next discussion of my current thinking about anthropological praxis, I want to generally address a couple of comments and critiques that folks brought to the table concerning my last post to clarify a little bit what I was trying to lay out and to maybe connect a little more clearly to where I’m going next.

I do not think that most anthropologists necessarily experience fieldwork in the same way that I did in my first fieldwork experience or in the way that Behar’s quote from my last post suggests. In fact, I’ve had two very different experiences of fieldwork that, in their contradiction, really support the idea that anthropology doesn’t have to be this exploitative relationship between researcher and research participant (see discussion of Speaking Out project below). However, as Rex pointed out in his comment, thinking through unequal relationships of power in whatever research context seems to me to be central for many anthropologists…and not just thinking through unequal relationships of power, but also thinking about relationships (between teachers and students, mentors and mentees, researchers and research participants, etc) as potentially humanizing rather than dehumanizing – in other words, a more positive reflection that focuses on capacities. Continue reading

Some Foundations for Anthropological Praxis

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Mary Alice Scott

In attempting to find inspiration for my summer writing projects, I recently picked up The Vulnerable Observer, a collection of essays by Ruth Behar. Another of Behar’s books, Translated Woman, was the first ethnography I ever read, and I was feeling like going back to the roots of my anthropological journey.

Her first essay, aptly titled “The Vulnerable Observer,” begins with Isabel Allende’s telling of the story of Omaira Sánchez, a thirteen-year-old girl who became trapped in the mud during an avalanche in Colombia in 1985. Although photographers and journalists could do nothing to save her, they did not hesitate to watch her and document the tragedy in front of them. Is this witnessing or exploitation? And do we as anthropologists do anything different? Behar (and many others) argues that too often, we do not.

Lay down in the mud in Colombia. Put your arms around Omaira Sánchez. But when the grant money runs out, or the summer vacation is over, please stand up, dust yourself off, go to your desk, and write down what you saw or heard. Relate it to something you’ve read by Marx, Weber, Gramsci or Geertz and you’re on your way to doing anthropology (p. 5).

Behar’s division between the “field” – where Omaira Sánchez lies drowning in the mud – and the “academy” – where anthropologists write grants, reports, dissertations, articles and other projects that are largely disconnected from the humanity of the fieldwork moment – is perhaps more stark than many of us understand our own work to be. In my discussions with colleagues, it is clear that we understand the social and political implications of the work that we do and the urgency of making connections outside of academia as well as within it.

But recognizing Behar’s division calls attention to the violence structuring the anthropological dilemma. As I teeter on the edges of witnessing and exploitation, I think I have (at least) two choices. I can more or less resign myself to the inherent contradictions of my work doing my best to mitigate the more extreme moments of violence when they arise, or I can bring more attention to my daily practice of anthropology.

Continue reading