Reflexivity

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Reflexivity

When an ethnographer examines a group of people, she is influenced by her position and understanding of her own culture. Before an ethnographer even begins her research, her opinion is effecting the process of selecting a topic. For instance, Anthropology’s most commonly known researcher Bronslow Malinowsky wrote the Argonauts of the Western Pacific. He did not choose to study a culture similar to his own because of the interest he had in the ‘exotic’. His preferences told him to pick a more remote group of people, the Trobriand Islanders. There has been a history of choosing the opposite of the Anthropologists own culture. Reflexivity is the use of one’s experiences to examine a culture. It is my argument that this reflexivity is necessary in the process of writing Ethnographies.

In Renato Resaldo’s introduction chapter to Culture And Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis, Resaldo comes to grips with his misinterpretation of the “Grief and a Headhunter’s rage (Resaldo: p.1).” Whist studying the Ilongots of the Philippines, Resaldo examined the use of headhunting as an outlet for rage. However, his true understanding did not come until he had experienced the grief [and subsequent rage] of losing his wife. His use of his wife’s death to understand the Ilongot’s bereavement was imperative to his comprehension of an aspect of their culture. Without the admittance of his misunderstanding, the culture would be misrepresented forever[1]. Anthropologists and Ethnographers have a responsibility to themselves to be truthful, but more importantly they have a responsibility to the cultures they study. By including the tragic death of his wife, Resaldo is able to understand what the ritual of headhunting me...

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...t’s photograph. Fortunately, his ability to gather information and organize it [through hours of dictation from his tape recorder] was successful in giving the reader a comprehensive [slightly glamorized] result.

Reflexivity, as with any tool, can be overused. The writer must realize that the ethnography is the result of studying a culture and the recording of their culture is the most important aspect of the writing. When a personal experience can bring a better understanding to the reader then it should be used. The establishment of authority is necessary so that the reader can relate to the ethnographer, however too much emphasis on that aspect can give discredit the ethnography.

[1] Resaldo had misunderstood the Ilongot’s ritual of headhunting for many years and his new introduction to his book addresses the revelation that came after his wife’s death.

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