Accepted Paper:

On methodological relics: etic outsiders, emic insiders, and fieldwork relationships  

Author:

Lorraine Nencel (Faculty of Social Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

Many methodology books on ethnography have adopted not unproblematically, existing anthropological vocabularies. We find that explanations concerning the researcher's positionality (insider-outsider), and the construction of knowledge (etic-emic) have been appropriated uncritically. In this paper we will analyze these and related concepts with respect to what they reveal about assumptions concerning the character of fieldwork relationships and knowledge generation.

Paper long abstract:

Many methodology books on ethnography have adopted not unproblematically, existing anthropological vocabularies. In particular, we find that explanations concerning the researcher's positionality (insider-outsider), and the construction of knowledge (etic-emic) have been appropriated, largely uncritically. In this paper we will analyze these and related concepts with respect to what they reveal about assumptions concerning the character of fieldwork relationships and knowledge generation.

Contemporary anthropology claims to have distanced itself from its colonial heritage through globalization and post-colonial theory, as well as the epistemological upheaval brought about by critical (feminist) anthropologists and the literary turn. Yet binary terms such as emic-etic and insider-outsider remain virtually intact in their usage in methodological discussions. As innocent as they may appear, these terms reify notions of culture and contain several assumptions which contradict present day anthropological practices founded on the plurality of experience and polyphony.

We argue that a critical anthropology must find ways to do away with these relics of past methodological times, departing instead from a perception of anthropological practice that conceptualizes the research relationship for no more and no less than what it is: the fieldwork relationship within which the construction of knowledge takes place. If this is accepted as the point of departure, then there is no room for concepts like those listed above. We call for an end to their automatic, unthinking invocation and a rethinking of the character of knowledge generation grounded in contemporary understandings of research relationhips and all they entail.

Panel W097
New vocabularies of method: experts, ethics and the mutuality of ethnographic fieldwork