Scholarship, sentiment and strife in Australian anthropology
David Trigger (University of Queensland)
Paper short abstract:
The paper canvasses changing relationships with study participants over several decades of research in northern Australia. What have been the implications of being variously included, excluded, embraced emotionally and confronted? How do such relationships become entwined with research outcomes?
Paper long abstract:
Desire to achieve cross cultural understanding through empirical study, arguably informed by European Enlightenment ideals seeking a science of society, was a key motivation from the beginning of my fieldwork in northern Australia. My paid job was to record sites of significance to Aboriginal people and my broader doctoral ethnography addressed the complexities of intercultural relations in a post-settler nation. After 35 years of relationships with residents of the Gulf Country I now reflect on both certainties and ambiguities in my life as an ethnographer. My informants have been fictive relatives wanting to incorporate my family members in the city into the idiom of kinship, Christians hoping for my salvation, activists wanting my collaboration in a politics of indigenism, individuals desiring my support for their economic aspirations, claimants of rights in land and cultural heritage seeking my performance as an expert witness in court, and persons variously affectionate, inclusive, respectful, and yet at times aggressive, hostile and dangerously abusive. The paper will canvass these multidimensional relationships seeking explication of what it means for the researcher's personal life to engage so broadly with subjects of study encountered over many years.
Moral certainty and ambiguity in research: anthropology's enlightenment legacies and the politics of ethnography