The Role of the Reflexive Ethnographer

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The Role of the Reflexive Ethnographer

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The role of the reflexive ethnographer has been constantly defined and redefined since the beginning of the study of anthropology. The use of reflexivity has and will always be questioned in anthropology. Malinowski, who was a pioneer in the field of anthropology, discouraged the use of reflexivity; he, instead, believed that anthropology was scientific and could produce “concrete evidence” (Malinowski 17).

Reflexivity is way in which anthropologists try to get rid of this scientific and rigid anthropology; it is a move towards an emotional and self-reflective anthropology. Reflexivity denies the structuralism which Malinowski and Levi-Strauss attended to. In addition, reflexivity tries to diminish the authority which anthropologists such as Malinowski and Levi-Strauss claimed to have. Thus, reflexivity is an attempt to humanize rather than structure a society. Although reflexive anthropology aims to liberate itself from authority, it often does just the opposite; ethnographers such as Behar and Kondo use their supposedly humane approach to anthropology to position themselves within the field of anthropology. However, their attempts to recreate anthropology by emotionalizing it produce interesting and somewhat effective ethnographies. Visweswaran, another female and self-proclaimed reflexive anthropologist, explores what it is to be a reflexive feminist anthropologist in a field that is dominated by men. Reflexivity is thus a hot topic for past and present ethnographers to discuss.

With the help of the women’s movement and the rise of feminism, female anthropologists were able to publish their own ethnographies. However, women ethnographers conti...

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...ocially allowed to be anthropologists: “Anthropologists would only become articulate about borders thanks to the writing of Chicanas like Gloria Analdua and Sandra Cisneros--who had to invent their own borderland anthropology in poetry, myths, and fictions because it didn’t exist in the academy” (Behar 174). The solution to anthropology, according to Behar, is reflexivity. By being reflexive, Behar writes, one can “respond vulnerably” to others’ writing. Ergo, she pleads for an anthropology that breaks your heart. Behar’s authority lies in this pleading. In this essay, she is implying that she is more vulnerable or more feeling than other anthropologists or literary critics. This establishes her authority as the reader sides with her emotional state.

In summation, reflexive anthropology is an anthropology which looks upon the self in relation to the Other.
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