Accepted paper:

To intervene or not? The field comes into darwin


Chris Haynes (University of Western Australia)

Paper short abstract:

Using ethnographic examples, I explore the moral dilemmas that arise from witnessing awkward encounters between White people and actual or potential Aboriginal informants in the Northern Territory's capital city, Darwin.

Paper long abstract:

The Northern Territory's capital city, Darwin, plays host to thousands of Aboriginal visitors at any one time. Darwin also serves as a base for anthropologists who work in many different capacities throughout the northern parts of the NT, some permanent residents and others visiting for weeks or months. This paper presents ethnographic examples of the (now relatively common) awkward, sometimes even hostile, encounters between Aboriginal and White people in public places like streets, shopping centres and buses, that reveal the differences in values and interests of the members of both groups. Some of these involve actual or potential informants who, in common with the rest of the Aboriginal visitors, have come to Darwin to attend meetings, visit relatives, receive medical treatment or simply have a good time. The encounters range from the relatively innocuous to expressions of violence and assault. And although it might be assumed these incidents are alcohol inflamed, this is not always the case. As anthropologists on the spot, how do we intervene? Do we pretend not to be there? The assessments we make, often within seconds, clearly depend on the severity of the situation. Yet, there are many other factors we face, for example whether participants are part of our own professional or social field, whether we know one of them, or whether we are conferred with fictive kinship. I explore the moral dilemmas we face as the field of our workplaces extends into the capital city.

panel Ethn03
Intimacy & information: dilemmas of power, trust and property in the informant encounter