Anthropologist of powerful institutions - development, science or government - at times find their work ignored or rejected. We analyse such responses ethnographically, to shed light on this work of unknowing, and reflect on anthropological assumptions about the value of truth and critique.
This panel takes Pilate's ethical question, and Foucault's reflections on 'parrhesia' -- "truth told in conditions that may occur at a cost for those tell the truth" -- as point of departure to situate anthropological truth(s) in the world. Anthropology has a tradition of trying to 'speak truth to power', with very varying success, as anthropological truth-saying is commonly ignored by the powerful institutions at whom it is directed. The purpose of our panel discussion, however, is not to extend the tradition of anthropological complaint - "we are not heard" - but instead to study ethnographically our hoped-for interlocutors' work to pass over, reinterpret or silence anthropological statements. Such empirical documentation of the 'unknowing' of anthropological knowledge also casts doubts over the conventional anthropological valuation of revelatory or iconoclastic 'critique'. If truth-telling remains inconsequential, for the social order that is revealed and for the speaker of truth, might there be more effective critical tools, and what would be their effects? The contributors to this panel - social anthropologists who studied large-scale, powerful institutions of development, medicine, science and governance that epitomise contemporary global social forms -- will each present a brief summary of an 'element of truth' about the particular world they studied, and then document ethnographically the responses that this truth generated among the studied institutions and groups at whom it was addressed.