Reflexivity: Crossing That Line

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Reflexivity: Crossing That Line

Traditionally, ethnographic works had always been about objective studies of the “other.” The discipline attempts to use non-biased methods to research of our subjects to qualify anthropology into the category of science. However, an increasing number of anthropologists begin to question the existence of objectivity in fieldwork. More recently, some anthropologists advocate the incorporation of the self, or the use of reflexivity, in the research to acknowledge our biases; at the same time, enhance the quality of our ethnographies. Others further assert that reflexivity is the only way to complete ethnographies. These propositions prompted concerns and provoked intense criticisms among scholars from different areas of study. One argument maintains that while moderate use of reflexivity is necessary in ethnographic research as exemplified by Dorinne Kondo and Renato Rosaldo, it is problematic when it is taken too far as did Ruth Behar.

Before use of reflexivity can be analyzed, it is important to discuss what reflexivity is. As its use is controversial, to define the term is complex task. One way to describe it is to characterize it as a piece of work involving the self and some sort of reflection. Another mean to understand the concept is to imagine a mirror; and reflexivity is a description of the images reflected in the mirror, which includes “others” as well as the “self.” Interestingly, even though we have yet to define the idea, many uses and styles of reflexivity exist. Or perhaps, the difficulty to produce a working definition stems from its wide range of uses. For example, Kamala Visweswaran uses reflexivity to evaluate the discipline in which she belongs – namely feminis...

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...r, anthropology is not a coherent discipline and should be divided to accomendate these difference styles of writing ethnography. Nonetheless, all these questions and confusions points out one thing, that subjectivity is inevitable. Otherwise, we would agree on all these issues. But, it is these issues that cause trouble that make the discipline attractive, exciting, and worthwhile.


[1] Behar, Ruth. 1996. Anthropology that breaks your heart. In The Vulnerable Observer: Antrhopology that Breaks Your Heart, pp. 161 –177. Boston: Beacon Press.

[2] Kondo, Dorinne K. 1986. Dissolution and reconstitution of self: implications for anthropological epistemology. In cultural Anthropology 1(1): 74-88.

[3] Rosaldo, Renato. 1993. Grief and a headhunter’s rage. IN Culture and Ttruth: TheRremaking of Social Analysis, pp. 161- 177. Boston: Beacon Press.

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