Accepted Paper:

When suspiciousness is part of culture  


Márton Bisztrai (Eötvös Loránd University)

Paper short abstract:

Israeli officers, Islamist activists and censoring local intellectuals. All are actors who have been following my research since 2006 in a religiously mixed town in Palestine. Their suspiciousness is an ethical and methodological question, but especially a context and driving force of the reality.

Paper long abstract:

Research among Christian Palestinians is loaded with the double circle of suspiciousness. The external one is represented by the risk admitting "I'm Going to the West Bank and study Palestinians' life." in front of an immigration officer when entering Israel. It also includes distrust from the Palestinians towards "the foreign who could be a spy with these strange questions." My academic interest on the Christian-Muslim relationship in the West Bank obviously amplified the mistrustful atmosphere.

Another circle of suspiciousness exists too. Christian Palestinians often explained their position "being trapped between Israel and the Muslims". But others denied this interpretation and prohibited my research about identity and general values among university students, because they were "afraid of the results and my interpretation". Behind the rejection lies an everyday strategy that I was taught among the first: Count everything and always keep the three steps distance! This is the internal suspiciousness. In the physical and mental border situation - where Christians live in their narrowing security zone - "a too long step" to any direction is dangerous.

At the beginning situations like the mentioned ones are frustrating and automatically cause ethical and methodological dilemmas. But from the perspective of an embedded researcher these are important reflections on culture.

In my paper I will discuss that on one hand control and suspiciousness limit the anthropologist's margin but on the other hand the existence and different forms of suspiciousness are relevant "information" about the social milieu, and an important context around our research partners' reality.

Panel P085
Under suspicious eyes: surveillance states, security zones and ethnographic fieldwork