Accepted Paper:

The ethic of being wrong: Levinas in the field  

Author:

Don Handelman (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)

Paper short abstract:

Fieldwork anthropology is a unique discipline in academia because it desires and often requires unmediated contact between anthropologist-as-subject and native other-as subject: subject to subject. The ethics of Levinas encourage me to argue that what I call 'the ethic of being wrong' is a special virtue in anthropology.

Paper long abstract:

Fieldwork anthropology is a unique discipline in academia because it desires and often requires unmediated contact between anthropologist-as-subject and native other-as subject: subject to subject. The ethics of Levinas encourage me to argue that what I call 'the ethic of being wrong' is a special virtue in anthropology. Anthropology begins with the other as subject. This is why the ethics of anthropology should be positioned at this conjuncture of self and other, where the anthropologist as subject learns from the other as subject.An inquiry that begins with other as foreground must first be wrong about otherness, and may well continue to be wrong, not as nihilistic pessimism, but as an accurate refraction of human social and cultural formations and confusions and their relations to self-ness - a refraction of the human-ess of Human Being. Consider being wrong, in terms of Levinas' ethics. Levinasian ethics emphasizes the unmediated relatedness of self and other, face-to-face, the priority of other over self, the ethical demand made by other, the unmediated demand that cannot be known, and the necessary response of self to the unknown. The anthropologist tries to relate to others he does not know, others who have priority because they are living their lives in their own habitus in which the anthropologist is an interloper. If he is going to learn, he must put the other before himself, because he can only learn from others in their life. In Levinasian ethics, it is in being wrong that the anthropologist opens and makes space for otherness.

Panel W005
Reflecting on reflexivity in anthropology and social science