Reflexivity

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Reflexivity

Anthropologists research and write. They participate and observe in order to produce ethnographies. While some anthropologists venture to “exotic” lands to study the “natives,” others conduct ethnographic research within their own culture. Despite the diverse cultures they examine and the use of a tape recorder instead of a pen and a notebook, the ethnographic process is virtually the same. Or is it? Although similarities between ethnographies exist, when it comes down to it, ethnographies differ from one anthropologist to the next and one culture to the next based on the writing techniques applied by the ethnographer, the position of the anthropologist (age, gender, class, culture), and his or her life experiences. Some ethnographers use reflexivity, a writing tool that personalizes ethnography as the anthropologist writes about his/herself in the work. In a reflexive ethnography, the anthropologist positions his/herself in relation to the examined culture and writes about his/her ethnographic experience, an experience which hopefully bridged the gap between the anthropologist’s culture and studied culture, converting the “outsider” status of the anthropologist to an “insider” position. Reflexivity allows the ethnographer to show how and why it is that he/she empathizes with a culture and to allow the audience an opportunity to identify with a culture that is not his/her own. Ultimately, reflexivity conveys the importance to acknowledge the similarities and differences that exist between cultures.

In a reflexive ethnography, anthropologists locate their position in another culture and outline their experiences inside and outside of the examined culture. George E. Marcus describes reflexivity as “the practice of positioning” (Marcus 198).

Reflexivity “locates the ethnographer . . . his or her literal position in relation to subjects” (Marcus 197-198). In other words, reflexivity conveys to the audience that the ethnographer “was there.” In most cases the ethnographer uses phrases such as, “I realized,” or, “I examined,” or simply “I.” This declaration of first-hand cultural knowledge grants the ethnographer authority to write about and understand a culture because he/she participated and observed the culture in action. Renato Rosaldo writes about positioning and the authority it gives him to write about the Ilongot tribe. In “Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage,” he writes, “The ethnographer, as a positioned subject, grasps certain human phenomena better than others. He or she occupies a position or structural location and observes with a particular angle of vision .

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