New Conversations, New Truths

Commentary on “Politics and Pitfalls of Japan Ethnography: Reflexivity, Responsibility, and Anthropological Ethics”

Author: Sabine Frühstuck


The American Anthropological Association's Code of Ethics does not sufficiently acknowledge the challenges posed for anthropologists who “study up” and “across” rather than “down” the partly imagined power hierarchy within which the researcher and her host members position themselves. The Code proves inadequate for the ethical dilemmas that emerged from the four projects presented in this volume on the worlds of urban feminists and right-wing conservatives, activists and policy-makers of a local community revitalization project, an indigenous minority in the process of reclaiming its present, and corporate soccer functionaries. Several features distinguish these articles from previous work on the subject of ethics in anthropology: It is no longer necessarily nor exclusively the ethnographer who does the writing. The contested claims to ethnographic authority, access, and representation are closely related to the importance of the production and circulation of texts. The will to be loyal to one's consultants does not in all projects appear as the most ethical manner to pursue fieldwork. The power relations that anthropologists engage mirror the fluidity and flexibility of power relations among their research subjects that appear exacerbated in study-up projects. As anthropology's focus has become increasingly urban, cosmopolitan, and Western, conventional understandings of ethnographic authority, access, and power relations are contested and problematized in new, more complex ways.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan

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December 2007
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