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The Devlopment of Reflexive Anthropology Essay

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The Devlopment of Reflexive Anthropology


Reflexive anthropology has pressured scholoars to recognize their own biases and look increasingly inwards when studying “other” cultures. Reflexive anthropology is a break away from the traditional study of a clearly defined “us” and “them,” that seeks to shift towards indentification rather than difference. It attempts to uncover the politics behind ethnography. Reflexivity shows how “we” are effected by “others”, and how “others” are effected by “us.” It holds anthropologists accountable for what they write, and how they represent culture. Anthropologists like Dorinne Kondo and Renato Rosaldo have greatly influenced the devlopment of reflexive anthropology through their enthnographies.

When Kondo, a Japanese-American woman, went to Japan to for research, she was unprepared for how her own identity would complicate her study. Because she looked Japanese, and in some ways “felt Japanese,” but did not have the cultural knowledge and language skills of a true “native,” she was pressured by others to conform. They wanted her to be a “Japanese women,” and she (initially) readily complied. In doing so, the lines between “informant” and “ethnographer” became blurred, as she examined her own transition, and her own “dissolution and reconstitution of self.” It become increasingly impossible for Kondo to write an ethnography from a distanced, us/ them, point of view, as she was (outwardly) becoming more like “them.” Kondo states:

I emphasize here the collusion between all parties involved, for it is important to recognize the ways in which informants are also actors and agents and that the negotiation of reality that takes place in the doing of ehtnography involves complex and ...


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...after the death of his wife that Rosaldo felt the anger and grief that he believed was related to the Ilongots’ feelings. Through his own sad experience, Rosaldo thought that could understand the Ilongot’s deeper reason for headhunting.

Rosaldo’s belief that people might truly be able to understand each other on all levels is quite problomatic. He even states that “the notion of position also refers to how life experiences both enable and inhibit particular kinds of insight” (19). Whereas he applies this comment to his own ablity to understand headhuntung because of his feelings about his wife’s death, he dismissed other cultural factors that differentiate the Ilongot people from himself. Although he is able to feel some sort of connection to his informants through his own pain, he is in no position to be able to state that he understands the culture’s ritual.


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