Accepted Paper:

Reflexivity and essentialism in anthropology  


Gudrun Dahl (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper asks whether, as notions of reflexivity and social constructions have spread in social science, anthropology has failed to reproduce and disseminate its messages of anti-essentialism and of culture as being socially and historically contingent.

Paper long abstract:

Reflexivity is an essential aspect of anthropology both in the sense that a reflexive stance to oneĀ“s position in fieldwork is an established part of the traditions of the discipline, and that theoretical development has often emanated from turning the analytical instruments used in studying culture to the disciplineĀ“s own concepts and practice. Doing fieldwork outside her own social setting, the anthropologist has become aware of the cultural and historical contingency of her own concepts. In the recent decade, notions that are wellknown to anthropology such as social construction and reflexivity have gained a wider currency in social science. The present paper will argue that in this process of dissemination, and in the increasing preoccupation of anthropology with Western culture, some aspects of anthropological self-reflectivity have become lost and "reflectivity" has become more of a formulaic demonstration of moral standing. The dimensions along which reflectivity is expected are often represented by a standardized list of social categories which in themselves are essentialising. Rather than reflecting insights into how frames of interpretation are moulded by cultural flows and historically and socially specific contingencies - thus recognizing cultural diversity- the categorizations mobilized for the reflective exercise tend to be based on generalizing and functionalist assumptions of how interest shapes ideas. The notion of social construction, simultaneously, becomes more concerned with the opposition towards naturalism, than with contextual variation.

Panel W113
Creolizing anthropology: connectivity, diversity, and reflexivity in a globalizing world