EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Reflecting on reflexive anthropology

Location Dept. Arch Anth M1
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Don Handelman (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) email
Terry Evens (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) email
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Short Abstract

This workshop aims to explore the notion of reflexivity in anthropology, especially in relation to the relationship between the ideal of objectivity and the aspiration for social change.

Long Abstract

The theme of reflexivity in anthropology has been developed theoretically with considerable regularity in recent times. Of course, as a critical scientific discipline, anthropology may be innately reflexive but it is not all thematically so. The notion of a reflexive anthropology is not distinguished by the fact that it entails self-criticism, but by the consideration that the self-criticism it prescribes is morally pointed. Though the resulting critiques vary greatly in character and quality, it would be hard to deny that in important respects the idea of a reflexive anthropology is salutary. Nevertheless, reflexive anthropology raises crucial questions as regards the relation between the ideal of objective research and analysis, on the one hand, and the aspiration for social change on the other. Even Foucault, whose thought has served as an impetus for reflexivity in anthropology, held that the intellectual can provide instruments of analysis, but certainly cannot say 'Here is what you must do!' In light of this issue, it behoves us to reflect on the idea of reflexivity in anthropology.


Reflexive anthropology and social activism: is there a difference between 'doing good' and 'doing good research'?

Author: Terry Evens (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)  email
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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.

Wittgenstein and the ethical reflexivity of anthropological discourse

Author: Horacio Ortiz (East China Normal University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper tries to explore what the late writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein can tell anthropologists about the ethical reflexivity of their discourse. Several approaches of Wittgenstein's late writings, starting with Kripke's influential analysis (1982), have tended to read in them a theory of language, or even of regulated praxis, in which action would "work" within an interactive context (see also, for instance, Das (1998) and Chauviré (2004)). Yet, I would like to explore what seems to be a more radical insight in Wittgenstein's writings. In the Philosophical Investigations (1953), Wittgenstein develops an analysis of the talk of rules, which applies to his own writing and corresponds to major features of any anthropological discourse which would seek regularities in action and describe them in terms of rules. Wittgenstein remarks that the talk of rules should not be understood as a representative moment, as a replication of phenomenal reality in the realm of words. To say that someone is following a rule, is not to represent, in the spelling of the rule, a rule that would be in that person's head. It is to say something about the way in which we could learn to perform such action. The rule works thus as a "signpost" (Wegweiser). To talk the language of rules when describing someone else's action is thus not to neutrally represent it, but it is to engage in a relation with the reader of the description. This relation, which can be that of teaching how to act like others, or at least how a human being could possibly come to act in such a way, has an ethical import.

The ethical reflexivity that I would like to explore in Wittgenstein's late writings does not concern the classical ethical question about the respect of the observed persons by the observer. It concerns the more general question of the ethical import of describing someone's action in terms of rules. This question, as it is opened by Wittgenstein's talk of rules, has been developed by several authors. I would like to explore the difference between two of them, Michel de Certeau and Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu follows a Kantian critical approach to scientific discourse, and seeks in the talk of rules a way to bring to the conscience of the author the regular, repeated and reproduced relations of power that constitute action as a play in a particular field. The language of rules allows for the reader to liberate herself from such relations (1994). Michel de Certeau seeks in the language of rules a way to open the reader to a multiplicity of possibilities of action, which escape and go besides and beyond hegemonic discourses and practices (1994). In both cases, the language of rules is assumed to have an ethical import, which is understood in the terms of Kant's pragmatic anthropology: the language of rules about another person's action is not just a representative language, but a talk about what the subject can become. The alternative set by Bourdieu and de Certeau allow us to address both the critical and the creative ethical potential of anthropological discourse. This allows us to think about its inscription in today's contemporary ethical and political major questions. My research as a PhD candidate is on "financial value" in contemporary finance, at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (my advisor is Marc Abélès). I did three internships in different financial companies in France and the US, and around 70 recorded interviews with professionals. The ethical import of my anthropological endeavor was raised by many of the people I was observing, as well as by the debates concerning the political importance of corporate finance today. The ethical reflexivity of anthropological discourse seemed thus necessary to stabilize my object of study, as well as to understand the interaction in which I was engaged as a participating observer. Drawing from two short examples form my research in which this question arose, I will try to show that a pragmatist reading of Wittgenstein's late writings concerning the talk of rules can help deeply to stabilize an ethical reflexivity about our anthropological discourse.

Bourdieu, P., Raisons Pratiques, Sur la théorie de l'action, Editions du Seuil, Paris.

Chauviré, C. (2004), Le Moment Anthropologique de Wittgenstein, Editions Kimé, Paris.

Das, V. (I998), "Wittgenstein and Anthropology", Annual Review of Anthropology, 27: 171-95.

De Certeau, M. (1994 (1986)), L'invention du quotidien, 1. arts de faire, Gallimard, Paris.

Kripke, S. (1982), Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Wittgenstein, L. (1953), Philosophical Investigations, tr. G.E.M. Anscombe, The MacMillan Company, New York.

Fieldwork in the mirror cabinet: investigating management by culture concepts in a human resource department

Author: Jakob Krause-Jensen (Aarhus University)  email
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Long Abstract

On the basis of my ethnographic fieldwork investigating how the culture concepts were used in management practices in the company Bang & Olufsen, a Danish producer of home electronics, I want to explore and reflect on the relationship captured in the notion of reflexivity (objectivity and social change) as it was put forward in the abstract for this session: Doing fieldwork among Middle-class middlemen (some anthropologists), who worked on identifying and communicating the culture of Bang & Olufsen was not a straight-forward matter. Studying this social world quickly becomes a meta-commentary offering my interpretation of some people's reflections on other people's perspectives on what they claimed was the essence of Bang & Olufsen. The complexity was immediate, and somehow getting oneself into a position from where to convincingly capture some connections was a continuous challenge. Addressing the question about the relationship between objectivity and the moral stance I will argue that in a corporate, highly ideologized setting, where analytical concepts like 'culture' are instrumentalized and the much celebrated 'change agent' is a role model, a genuine cultural critique - and the ability to say something new and interesting- depends on using reflexivity to avoid 'closure' and to resist the pressure to contribute to social change inherent in the field. In this setting the transformative potential of anthropology might lie in the reversal of a good old Marxist slogan: The managers and consultants have only changed the organization in various ways; the point, however, is to interpret it.

Ritualisation and the reflexive critique of scientism

Author: Christopher Roberts (Reed College)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper argues that the notion of reflexivity provides the resources to construct a post-theoretical perspective that rejects the reifications intrinsic to scientism and grounds the study of human beings not in social, cultural or biological determinants, but in the faculty of reflexivity itself. Specifically, in regard to the study of ritual, I will show how such an auto-critical perspective overcomes scientism (the ideological imposition of natural-scientific modes of knowledge and practice on all scholarly fields) because ritualization and scientific research differ not in kind but in degree, for both deploy the reflexive weaving of received behavior with innovation in recursive processes both to produce desired outcomes (felicitous ritual performances, successful experiments) and reproduce roles for ritual or scientific agents. The objectivity championed by scientism gives way to involvement, for instead of encoding ritual phenomena into a non-ritual metalanguage, there is the charged interface between different ritual systems and conflicting ritual expectations. This view of ritualization as a mode of reflexive practice thus breaks with scientism and all other ideologies that depend upon singular epistemological breaks to separate a given field or discourse from its religious, ritual, or ideological antecedents.

As a constituent aspect of the human species, reflexivity can not at all serve as the distinguishing feature of a discipline. What distinguishes reflexivity in the social sciences is the degree to which reflexivity moves from tacit to explicit knowledge, and the facility of this process depends greatly on scholarly acculturation. It is only by simultaneously employing scholarly, semiotic technologies and underscoring their limits that scholars will begin to account for the objectively determined social structures at the very heart of subjectivity, thereby making the social sciences truly critical, and not merely the losing competitors of the natural sciences.

Perfect praxis in Aikido

Author: Einat Bar-On Cohen (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)  email
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Long Abstract

The body needs to reflect in order to study, learn, and embody movement, to become proficient in praxis. This reflection does not utilize words or other signs. But the body needs to stop reflecting in order to achieve perfect praxis, to master that praxis. By looking at the pacifistic Japanese martial art Aikido, I suggest that in movement as a form of 'I do' lies potentialities of sense making without representation, of forming a social world directly through the moving body. Aikido creates a world of perpetual rolling movement without acceleration, without slowing down, a movement that could go on forever, where the two opponents continuously exchange roles. It employs the potentiality embedded in the body of compiling all semiotic levels including words and signs into a non-dualist (non-representative) somatic reality. Thus, non-reflective perfect praxis permits transformation. The participants of Aikido transform themselves and the world as they move, while annihilating violence.

Reflexivity, native anthropology, interloper anthropology

Author: Don Handelman (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)  email
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Long Abstract

It is still something of a truism in Anthropology that the native anthropologist studying the native moral and social order of which he or she is a member, will be more reflexive, someone whose reflexivity will be more augmented by native knowledge, than will the interloper anthropologist who comes from elsewhere and must learn just about everything from scratch. The reflexivity of the native anthropologist will enable her/him to generate ethnographic knowledge that will be deeper, more comprehensive, more nuanced, of greater intimacy. The native anthropologist is intimate with the culturally unsaid yet practiced. Therefore the native anthropologist is more capable of an interior critical appraisal of that moral and social order than is the interloper anthropologist. Yet is this so? Reflexivity is grounded in practice. Practice is grounded in the common sensical taken-for-granted moral and social order. These premises are practiced into existence over and again. Thus there is a loop of tacit knowledge (to use Michael Polanyi's idea) between the premises and practices of social existence, one that natives and native anthropologists likely master early on in their lives. This loop between premise and practice establishes tacit parameters of comprehensible discourse for natives and for the native anthropologist. This is common-sense knowledge which sets taken-for-granted 'limits' on expectations, patterning, and consequences of practice, thereby dampening and occluding native reflexivity. The interloper anthropologist, though he or she likely will come to know far less than the native anthropologist, may discover these tacit parameters, and so understand something of how native practice limits its discourse in common sensical ways, even as natives (and the native anthropologist) may feel that this is not so or makes no sense.

Reflexivity and ethical awareness

Author: Kerstin B Andersson (Uppsala University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper explores the relationship between reflexivity, objectivity and moral and ethical practices in the anthropological enterprise. Anthropological research is situated in the intersection between the global and the local, in the dynamics of the specific ethnographic field and the interrelation to national, transnational and global relationships and processes. I will elaborate on those issues in relation to the anti orientalist and postcolonial body of theories. Anti orientalist and postcolonial theories entered social sciences as a critique of western hegemonic dominance. The aim was to contest the authority of institutional orders of knowledge in Western intellectual and philosophical paradigms and the oppressive power relations in them. The body of theories emphasises the necessity of critical and self-reflective practices. An analysis should include a critical reflection and deconstruction of theoretical and methodological assumptions of Western social science. Anti orientalist and post colonial approaches have turned to a pre dominant postmodern methodology. Although, the postmodern approach entails negative consequences, amongst other it gives way to an apolitical anything goes relativism. The point that I will put forward is that methodological and theoretical debates should be closely related to a political context. In my reading a phenomenological approach and the approach developed in radical phenomenology might be a way of rendering the subaltern voices without denying the right to give moral, ethical, political standpoints and taking into account political awareness and responsibilities. I will illustrate my argument through the specific ethnographic context of the Kolkata intellectuals.

Revisiting reflexivity: autobiographical ethnographic writing and home anthropology

Author: Hadas Yaron (The Academic College Tel Aviv Yafo)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper focuses on searching new venues for autobiographical ethnographic writing and its implications in the context of 'reflexivity'. The paper draws on a doctoral research I conducted at the Jezreel Valley in Israel - a rural area located at the northern part of the country. In this research I investigated the relation between land practices, ideas and representations of the surroundings and the political space and sphere examining long -term processes, forgetting and change, thus brining together the past and the present into one field of investigation. Conducting field research in the valley however, also brought me to family narratives and experiences, since in being there I returned to a place where close family members used to live in the past. The research therefore was a 'home anthropology' project in very concrete and personal terms. The effect this connection had on my position in, and experience the field as well as the inclusion of close ones in the research process opened questions with regard to the relation between investigator and informants and the position of the ethnographer in the field. In this paper I therefore suggest to re-visit reflexivity by way of focusing on the inquiry and narration of the self as part of the ethnographic process. By focusing on different examples from the field and the ethnography I intend to explore how the autobiographical could offer a new venue for researching the self and the other in a critical manner. I will also return to the question of the relation between fiction and ethnography, exploring how involving the self contributes towards the creation of new ethnographic text which departs from the style and form of a scientific one or contributes towards a balanced and fair inquiry and repreasentaiton.