Accepted Paper:

Reflexive anthropology and social activism  

Author:

Terry Evens (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Paper short abstract:

Activist anthropology risks, ironically, failing to take advantage of the faculty of reflexivity and to reflect on it critically enough.

Paper long abstract:

In recent decades ethnographic science, consonant with 20th century physical science, has come to acknowledge that there is no observed in which the observer is not participant. If the beholder shares in the determination of the beheld, then she cannot lay claim to a view from nowhere, a completely objective perspective. Given the inevitability of a particular and hence biased perspective, it can become ethnographically attractive to choose one's bias in a considered manner directed primarily at not so much doing 'good research' as, simply, doing 'good'. This paper suggests that there has been too little thought given in the discipline to the implications, for ethnography and social activism, of the critical truth that the view from nowhere is indeed pie in the sky. The paper argues that the vital fact of the beholder's share relativizes and complicates, but does not collapse, the distinction between research and activism, and that in the absence of attending diligently to the relative force of this distinction, activist anthropology risks, ironically, failing to take advantage of the faculty of reflexivity and to reflect on it critically enough.

Panel W005
Reflecting on reflexivity in anthropology and social science