Jun 18, 2009

On Collaborative Anthropology

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I came across this interesting post today. Anthropologist Max Forte reflects on Collaborative Anthropology:

Thus far, whenever I have spoken of “collaborative” work between researchers and their non-academic partners (because one can also speak of collaboration between researchers themselves) I have tended to present an argument that was only “positive,” and by that I mean this was presented as the way to go in decolonizing the discipline, heightening its public engagement, and opening the process of knowledge production to less elitist/”professional” modes. There are a number of limitations, however, that need to be addressed…

Read the post for his full reflection on these issues. Collaborative Anthropology or ethnography is an approach to ethnography most associated with the good work and leadership of Luke Eric Lassiter. Lassiter writes on his home page:

Collaboration is inherent to all fieldwork practice.  Collaborative ethnography both highlights and focuses this collaboration — specifically that between ethnographers and their interlocutors — and moves it to center stage.  It seeks to make collaboration an explicit and deliberate part of not only fieldwork but also part of the writing process itself.  Community collaborators thus become a central part of the construction of ethnographic texts — which shifts their role from “informants” (who merely inform the knowledge on which ethnographies are based) to “consultants” (who co-interpret culture and its representation along with the ethnographer).

Clearly, this effort aligns with the interests of Cultural Sustainability. What may be a useful distinction is a Cultural Sustainability practitioner may more centrally consider a range of projects to collaborate with communities beyond writing, and see the production of action to serve the communty’s interests as determined through collaboration as the goal of ethnographic engagement.  Either way, the ethical and political issues that Forte raises in his post deserve to be considered carefully.

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