Moving Further toward an Anthropology for Liberation
Faye V. Harrison
Association of Black Anthropologists
American Anthropological Association
Faye V. Harrison
Although this book is clearly a product of the late 1980s and early 1990s, it is still
relevant and needed now as we prepare ourselves and our discipline for the challenges of
21st century life. Since Decolonizing went out of print a few years ago, many colleagues
and students from all around the COW1tryhave asked me when the book would be
available again. Three years ago I received an email message from Patsy Evans, the
director of Minority Relations at the American Anthropological Association (AAA),
informing me that someone from Pakistan had phoned the AAA headquarters to inquire
about getting copies of the book for her students. Evans wrote:
I am sorry that Decolonizing Anthropology is out of print I’m
not usually privy to requests for publications [at the AAA], so
I was struck [by] the diligence with which [the book] was being
sought out. It made me more zealous in guarding my copy!
(September 23, 1994).
And just a year ago Evans shared another interesting piece of information: a group of
students and faculty at one of the University of California campuses had sent a letter to
the AAA’s publications division urging the organization to reprint the book. This past
March I unexpectedly learned that that petition had been organized by students at
DC-Santa Cruz. Ann Kingsolver had used the book in her “Introduction to Cultural
AnthropologyTheory” course, and when the classfOW1dout that the book was no longer
in print, they wrote a letter and gathered forty-six signaturesto underscore the point that
DecolonizingAnthropology .”isa vital book for thinking about the history and future of
our discipline” (March 4, 1996).
As the editor who organized the publication project and did the tedious computer
work to produce the camera-ready copy, I am happy to know that–despite the limited
number of copiesin circulation–Decolonizinghasbeen taken quite seriouslyover the past
six years. With DC-Santa Cruz being just one example, the book has been assigned as
required reading in both undergraduateand graduate courses. It has been used in courses
on theoryand methods as well asthose on substantivetopics (e.g., political anthropology)
and ethnographic areas (e.g., Central America and the Caribbean). Moreover, the book
has also received some attention beyond anthropology (e.g., in Black and ethnic studies,
and in culturalstudies also). Althoughthe book is more often positioned W1derthe rubric
of the “anthropology of race and postcoloniality,” it has also been recognized for its
implications for the decolonization of feminist anthropology (Bolles 1994, 1995; Morgen
The book was reviewed in American Anthropologist (Smith 1993) and American
Ethnologist (Bolles 1994) as well as in Tok Blong SPPF, a Canadian-based journal on the
Pacific Islands (Shameem 1993). In an article on “Black Anthropologists” published in Black
Issues in Higher Education, Association of Black Anthropologists president Helan Page was
quoted as saying that the book “has help lure Black students to the discipline…They see the
role they can play in changing anthropology’s reputation…and [redefining] what Black culture
really means” (1994:19). The book’s call to decoloniz.e anthropology was also noted in
George Stocking, Jr.’s “postscriptive prospective reflections” on the major contenders for
defining the discipline’s present and future “paradigmatic reintegration” (Stocking 1992:370).
Decolonizing Anthropology was published the same year as at least two other edited
collections that have undeniably made an impact on anthropology; those books are
Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present (Fox 1991) and Gender at the
Crossroads of Knawledge: Feminist Anthropology in the Postmodem Era (di Leonardo
1991). Along with Decolonizing these books addressed the capa.city and the responsibility
of anthropologists to interroga.te, interpret, and theorize the world in historically-specific and
power-cognizant modes of analysis. The several different critical perspectives represented in
these three texts underscore the importance of(re)constructing and employing a repertoire
of theoretical and analytical tools that enables the careful detection and excavation of the
raced, ethniciz.ed, gendered, and classed dimensions of the sociocultural units variably defmed
as cultures and societies; as empires and colonies; as nations, diasporas, and transnational
social fields; or as whatever other local, supralocal, or deterritorialized identities, sites, or
social formations the anthropological gaze discerns. .
In the aftermath of these books’ publication, the discipline elaborated important trends
that have contributed to the ongoing process of “remaking of [anthropological] analysis”
(Rosaldo 1993). For instance, anthropology’s discourse on “race” and racism is no longer
as underdeveloped and neglected as it was just a few years ago. The decade of the 1990s has
seen a proliferation of works that confront the enduring power of “race” as a volatile social
force (e.g., Frankenberg 1993, Harrison 1995, Gregory & Sanjek 1994, Shaw 1995,
Smedley 1993, Wade 1993).
To recapture the authority that some forms of postmodernist discourse deny any form
of knowledge, anthropology needs to confront both discursive and material forms of power
(Wolf 1990). It needs to inquire, theorize, and write against the limits of conventional
concepts of culture (Abu-Lughod 1991, Watson 1991). It must be able to make sense of
culture’s relationship with class, especially when that relationship is “in the closet,” or in a
state of denial, as it is in much of U.S. society (Ortner 1991). To be prepared for the new
century and millenium, anthropology must have the conceptual and methodological breadth
to enable its practitioners to deconstruct discourse (Jordan 1991) and narrate biography along
with autobiography (Behar 1993) as well as COMont the invidious distinctions of “race”
(Gregory and Sanjek 1994, Harrison 1995) and the life-threatening politics of state and
insurgent violence (Bourgois 1991; Hale 1991, 1994).
Whether its inquiry and analysis target the local, the global, or the empirical elements of
mediation (Trouillot 1988) linking the two, anthropology must inspire a critical
interrogation of its own praxis (Harrison 1991; Lutz 1990, 1995) and political economy
(Gordon 1991) as well as engender a more effective instrumentalization of a human
science for liberation (Ibid.).
Decolonizing Anthropology is part of a broader effort that aims to advance the
critical reconstruction of the discipline devoted to understanding humankind in all its
diversity and commonality. This advance is partly dependent upon anthropology’s
diversification and democratization in personnel as well as socially-situated points of
view, which–without assuming essentialized identities or standpoints–are likely to have
some impact on the webbed connections and the accompanying intellectual exchanges and
debates that constitute the discipline and its knowledges (Haraway 1991:191).
The utility and power of a decolonized anthropology must continue to be tested
and developed. They must also be deployed in a struggle to bring cross-cultural and multicultural knowledges to bear on the many real.life situations and problems that scholars
of sociopolitical consciousness dare to probe. May the results of our ethnographic probes
–the data, the social and cultural analysis, the theorizing, and the strategies for knowledge
application– help us envision clearer paths to increased understanding, a heightened sense
of intercultural and international solidarity, and, last, but certainly not least, worldly
July 21, 1997
di Leonardo, Micaela, ed.
1991 Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge: Feminists Anthropology in the
Postmodern Era. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Fox, Richard G., ed.
1991 Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present. Santa Fe: School of
American Research Press.
1993 White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Gregory, Steven and Roger Sanjek, eds.
1994 Race. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Hale, Charles R.
1991 “They Exploited Us But We Didn’t Feel It”: Hegemony, Ethnic Militancy, and
the Miskitu-Sandinista Conflict. In Decolonizing Anthropology. Faye V. Harrison,
ed. pp. 128-49. Arlington: American Anthropological Association.
1994 Resistrance and Contradiction: Miskitu Indians and the Nicaraguan State, J894-
1987. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Haraway, Donna J.
1991 Situated Knowledges: The ScienceQuestion in Feminism and the Privilege of
Partial Perspective. In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature.
New York: Routledge.
Harrison, Faye V.
1995 The Persistent Power of “Race” in the Cultural and Political Economy of
Racism. Annual Review of Anthropology 24: 47-74.
1991 On Ethnography in an Intertextual Situation: Reading Narratives or
Deconstructing Discourse? In Decolonizing Anthropology. Faye V. Harrison, ed. pp.
42-67. Arlington: American Anthropological Association.
1990 TheErasureof Women’sWritingin SocioculturalAnthropology.American
1995 The Gender of Theory. In Women Writing Culture. Ruth Behar and Deborah
Gordon, eds. pp. 249-66.
1994 Review of Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge: Feminist Anthropology in
the Postmodem Era. American Ethnologist 21(4):901-02.
1993[1989) Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston: Beacon
1993 Review of Confronting the Margaret Mead Legacy: Scholarship, Empire, and
the South Pacific and Decolonizing Anthropology. Tok Blong SPPF May, No
1991 Writing Against Culture. In Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present.
Richard G Fox, ed. pp. 137-62. Santa Fe, NM: School of AmericanResearch Press.
J993 TranslatedWoman: Crossingthe Border withEsperanza’s Story. Boston: Beacon.
Black Issues in Higher Education
J994 Black Anthropologists:AggressiveUnit of American Anthropological
AssociationCommitsto Diversity and Redefining Black Culture. December 29,
Bolles, A. Lynn
1994 Review of DecolonizingAnthropology. American Ethnologist 21(4):900-01.
1995Decolanizing Feminist Anthropology. Paper presented at the annual meeting of
the American AnthropologicalAssociation. November 15.19. Washington, D.C.
Bourgois, Philippe .
J991 Confrontingthe Ethics of Ethnography: Lessonsfrom Fieldwork in Central
America. In Decolonizing Anthropology. Faye V. Harrison, ed. pp. 111-27.
Arlington: American Anthropological Association.
Shaw, Carolyn Martin
1995 Colonial Inscriptions: Race, Sex, and Class in Kenya. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
1993 Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview. Boulder: Westview Press.
Smith Raymond T.
1993 Review of Decolonizing Anthropology. American Anthropologist. 95:782-3. Stocking, George W Jr.
1992 The Ethnographer’s Magic and Other Essays in the History of Anthropology. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
1988 Peasants and Capital: Dominica in the World Economy. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press.
1993 Blackness and Race Mixture: The Dynamics of Racial Identity in Columbia.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
1991 Rewriting Culture. In Recapturing Anthropology. Richard G. Fox, ed. pp. 73-92. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.
1990 Distinguished Lecture: Facing Power–OJd Insights, New Questions. American
Anthropologist 92(3 ):586-96.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND DEDICAnON
This book represents the culmination of a four year project that began with the
invited session, “DecolonizingAnthropology,” that Angela Gilliam and Faye V. Harrison
co-organized under the auspices of the Association of Black Anthropologists(ABA) for
the 1987 Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. “Decolonizing
Anthropology” was the ABA’sfirst invited session, marking the organization’s new status
as an officially recognized unit of the AAA. The contributorsto this volume owe a debt
of appreciation to Willie Baber, Delmos Jones, and Carlos Velez-Ibailez for their
contributions as discussants for the 1987 session. Their enthusiastic and supportive
remarks, along wjth encouragementfrom Manet Fowler, Hazel Reid, Hebin Page, Donald
Nonini, Tony Whitehead, Ira Harrison, and others, prompted the ABA to pursue the
publication of the papers presented in that dynamic, provocative, and, indeed, inspiring
session. We also gratefully acknowledge the advice and constructive criticism received
from several reviewers who must remain anonymous. This project has benefited
immeasurably from Angela Gilliam’s enthusiastic input. Conflicting responsibilities and
commitments precluded her from co-editing the book; however, her comments, reactions,
and suggestions were an important source of intellectual and moral support.
Without the financialsupportreceived from the Universityof Tennessee-Knoxville
and Brown University’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America the ABA
would not have been able to produce this volume wjthout the sponsorship of an academic
press. Special gratitude is due to Rhett S. Jones, the current Director of the Center for the
Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, who along with other members of the Center’s
Executive Committee, John Ladd (the acting director when the ABA proposal was
accepted), Robert Lee, Martin Martel, William McLoughlin, and Fayneese Miller, agreed
to award the ABA a grant-in-aid in support of our critical scholarship.
The Journal of Peace Research must be acknowledged for transferring the
copyright for “Confronting Anthropological Ethics” (1990; 27:43-54) to its author,
Philippe Bourgois, who in turn transferred it to the AmericanAnthropologicalAssociation
for the re-publication of his article in this book.
The editor is forever indebted to William L. Conwill, from whom she received
continuous and unconditional support, understanding, and patience. Without his
commitment to family–and to anthropology’s possibilities–this volume might not have
been completed. I would also like to thank Katherine Lambert for assistance with the
This book is dedicated to the memory of SI. Clair Drake, Professor Emeritus of
Stanford University. Dr. Drake was an activist scholar who devoted his life and work to
the struggle for decolonization, liberation, and human dignity.
ANTHROPOLOGY AS AN AGENT OF TRANSFORMATION:
INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS AND QUERIES
Faye V. Harrison
Movin.: Furtber toward an Antbropolo&)’ for Liberation:
An A.:enda from tbe Peripbery bebind tbe Veil’
With the turn of the century rapidly approaching, anthropologists committed to
applying knowledge to action and struggle must re-assess the state of the discipline.
Since the late
I960s, critiques of anthropology’scollusion with and complicity in colonial
and imperialist domination and proposals for more socially and politically responsible
disciplinary agendas have been numerous (e.g., Gough 1968, Hymes 1969, Lewis 1973,
Asad 1975, and Huizer and Mannheim 1979).In spite of varying attempts at revision and
reform, anthropology remains overwhelmingly
a Western intellectual–and ideological–
project that is embedded in relations of power which favor class sections and historical
blocs belonging to or with allegiances to the world’s White minority. While these global
relations no longer adhere to classical colonial principles or forms, they retain,
nonetheless, the basic substance of colonial contro\. Hence, the contemporary world
systemis neocolonial in its structure and dynamic.When anthropologistsfail to recognize
anthropological inquiry as an historically-specific set of discourses “which the West
deploys in order to make sense of, define, and figure out and render intelligible how
world ordered by [Western] capitalism works” (Magubane and Faris 1985:93, 101), their
contributions are all the more vulnerable to being complicit if not in fact collusive with
the prevailing forces of neocolonial domination. Magubane and Faris (1985) take the
strong position that anthropology as currently constitutedmust cease to exist. For crosscultural knowledge to advance human emancipation, activist intellectuals must move
beyond what many Marxists and other progressives have contributed (see Gordon in this
volume). It is not enough to rethink anthropological insights in light of an historicized
political economy (e.g., Wolf 1982). Despite good intentions, radical anthropology
“remains part of what people in the Third World consider suspect– as an invention of
their enemy” (Magubane and Faris 1985:92).Whereasmost of anthropology’scritics have
a reinvention by expunging the most obvious bourgeois and colonial elements, and
then rethinking and reordering what remains, Magubane and Faris argue that
science of humankind based upon premises of freedom and equality cannot emerge until
the anthropology born of the rationalist and liberal intellectual tradition is destroyed.
Can an authentic anthropology emerge from the critical intellectual traditions and
counter-hegemonic strugglesof Third World peoples? Can
a genuine study of humankind
arise from dialogues, debates, and reconciliations amongst various non-Western and
Western intellectuals– both those with formal credentials and those with other socially
meaningful and appreciated qualifications?Is genuinedialogue and reconciliationpossible,
and, if so, WJderWhat conditions? How can anthropological knowledge advance the
interests of the world’s majority during this period of ongoing crisis and uncertainty,
marked, on the international level, by the cooling of the Cold War, serious dilemmas and
setbacks in socialist development, the escalation of conflict in the Persian Gulf and the
emergence of a “New World Order” led miJitarily by the U.S., growing
ecological/environmental problems, the imposition of dehumanizing and recolonizing
structural adjustment policies upon debt-ridden “developing” nations, and the heightening
of North-South Contradictions; and, on the national level, by backlash and threats to civil
rights, hostile reactions to multiculturalism, deindustrialization and economic
displacement, a widening gap between the rich and the rest, and the intensification of state
repression in ghetto and barrio communities? Questions such as these should be taken
to heart by anthropologists preparing themselves for the global Challenges and crises of the 21st century.
One of this volume’s objectives is to reassess and, hopefully, transcend the
limitations of the radical and critical anthropology that has emerged from the debates and
experiments of the pas! Iwo decades. Critiques of critiques and provocative syntheses will
provide the ground for mapping a path or paths to an anthropology designed to promote
equality- and justice-Inducing social transformation. The perspectives expressed in the
fOllowing chapters are those of activist anthropologists committed to and engaged in
struggles against raCist oppression, gender inequality, class disparities, and international
patterns of exploitation and “difference” rooted largely in capitalist world development.
According to UJin (1991), political economy and postmodernism along with “the
feminist trajectory” are currently competing to define “the critical anthropOlogical project.”
An aim of this book is 10 pjace another claim onto the site of anthropological debate and
Contestation. The trajectory that is advanced here is informed in considerable measure
by the inteJlectual, eXlslential, and political experiences of Third World peoples and their
allies. In other Words, thIs volume seeks to challenge anthropologists to take more
seriously the critiques, constructions, and theoretical deliberations of scholars belonging
to neglected, penpheralized, or erased traditions that have long confronted and chaJlenged
colonial and neocolonial structures of power and economic relatiqns, The major impetus
for transformation and for theorizing sbout it must come out of the experiencesand
struggles of Third World peopfes in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the
Caribbean, and “the belly of the beast,” namely the “internal colonies” within the so-called
The trajectory outlined here is a synthetic one that draws upon four major streams:
(I) a neO-Marxistpolwcal economy, (2) experiments in interpretive and reflexive
ethnographic analysis.(3) a feminism which underscoresthe impact race and class have
Upongender, and (4) traditions of radicaJ Black and (other) Third World scholarship
whichacknowledgethe interplay between race and other forms of invidious difference,
notably class and gender For anthropology to be able “to theorize the sociocultural
:errain” of late capitalism, it must, as Ulin and others argue, reconcile the tensions
)etween Marxist pOlitical economy and interpretive/textualist approaches. An authentic
‘Iudy of humankind must also reconcile lensions between critical Weslern and Third
Â¥orld intellectualtradiliuf1S (cf. Johnson 1988).2 This collection results from a project
with its beginnings in an invited session that organized and encouraged such
reconciliations among female andmale anthropologists of diverseracial, ethnic,class, and
Race, Gender, and Class Inequalities at the Heart of the World System
The contemporary sociocultural terrain of the world system is one that is shaped,
colored, and violently distorted by what Haviland (1990) designates as a form of global
apartheid. He targets this internationalized White supremacy as one of the world’s
principal problems. Arguing that South Africa and the situation in the world at large are
strikingly similar, he explains that on the global level apartheid is
a de facto structure…which combines socioeconomic and racial
antagonsims and in which (1) a minority of whites occupies the pole of
affluence, while a majority composed of other races occupiesthe pole of
poverty; (2) social integration of the two groups is made extremely
difficult by barriers of complexion, economic position, political boundaries,
and other factors; (3) economic development of the two groups is
interdependent; and (4) the affluent white minority possesses a
disproportionately large share of the world society’s polticial, economic,
and military power (1990:457-458).
Whether in South Africa, PapuaNew Guinea (seeBuck’s chapter), or on the global level,
under conditions of apartheid racial exploitation is inextricably interwined with patterns
of class formation that arise in situations and contexts of coloniallimperialist expansion
and domination.. where land alienation, coerced labor exaction, and repressive state power
are key featuresof the socialformation(cf. Magubane 1979). Haviland insists that the
world system of apartheid engenders.structural violence which is built into and “exerted
by situations” such as world hunger, over-population,pollution,and cultures of discontent.
In other words, he traces the source of humanity’s major contemporary problems back to
enduring race/class inequalities.
Paradoxically, despite the pervasiveness of racialized structures of inequality,
neither mainstream nor radical/critical anthropology has contributed a wealth of insight
and knowledge to our understanding of racism and the sociocultural construction of racial
differences (see D’Amico-Samuels’ chapter). While anthropology is in the position to
benefit andmaturefrom feministtheoriesof kinship(e.g.,Collier andYanagisako1987),
the state (e.g., Sacks 1974, Silverblatt 1987, Gailey 1987), politics (e.g., Bookman and
Morgen 1988), economic life (e.g., Bossen 1989; Lamphere 1987), and social inequality
(e.g., Collier 1988, Caulfield 1981), the anthropology of race is a relatively
underdeveloped and sorely neglected domain. Anthropology’s preoccupation with
redressing ethnocentrism does not exonerate it from neglecting to confront, both in
intellectual and sociopolitical terms, racism/White supremacy as a major ideological and
institutionalized force in today’s world. The connotationsof a racialized Other.-its most
extreme and invidious form being the Black Other..have been and, unfortunately, still
remain underpinnings of many anthropological assumptions and perspectives (Pandian
1985; Blakey’s chapter)
The emphasis v.ithin the discipline on cultural differences has diverted needed
attention away from differences constructed ultimately from the political and economic
processes that have given rise to the dominant pattern of world development. Class,
gender, racial, and ethnic differences cannot be reduced to “cultural diversity,” especially
when the latter is ofien a smokescreen behind which power disparities and economic
polarizations lie unaddressed or inadequately treated. As Rollwagen (1988: 153-154) and
Wolf (1982:3 87) note in their treatments of the world system, the very concept of culture,
which has been so central to sociocultural anthropology, must be reconstructed, and
culture theory must “take account of larger [contexts and wider fields of force]” (Wolf’
1982:387). Moreover, a critical theory of culture must be freed from the Social Darwinist
implications of many evolutionist postulates concerning human cultural variation.
The centrality of race is finally being recognized by some feminist scholars (e.g.,
Sacks 1989, Morgen 1988, Moore 1988) who, over the past two decades, have matured
from three phases of feminist anthropology (Moore 1988). The third phase (following one
devoted to the study of women and another focused on gender) is concerned with
deconstructing sameness and understanding differences–understanding, for example, how
race and class shape and divide gender identity and experience (see D’Amico-Samuels’
and Harrison’s chapters). Recent studies point to the integral parts both genderization and
racialization play in the consolidation of ruling class hegemony in state societies (e,g”
Silverblatt 1987 and 1988, Greenberg 1980) and in the international division of labor
(Nash and Fernandez-Kelly 1983; Leacock, Safa et al. 1986). Anthropologists have
reached a point where they can potentially formulate theoretical explanations that place
the race/gender/class intersection at the very center of such phenomena as economic
development, social change, and the politics of domination, resistance, and contestation.J
If anthropologists are to contribute to the study of race and its intersections with
gender, class, and ethnicity, then they would benefit from revisiting and critically building
upon a body of knowledge produced by anthropologists who were generally forced to
work and struggle In an intellectual periphery (see Harrison 1988). The results of Allison
Davis’ collaborative scholarship, e.g., Children of Bondage (1940) and Deep South (1941),
SI. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton’s classic Black Metropolis (1945), and Drake’s two
volume tour de force, Black Folk Here and There (1987, 1991) are just examples of
classic works that have yet to receive their deserved attention and appreciation within
anthropology. (See Harrison  for further discussion on the peripheralization of
Davis’ and Drake’s activist scholarship and critique of racism,)
What’s ‘Postmodernism’ Gotta Do With It!
cultures. According to this model, the production of knowledge takes place outside the
realm of values and politics and under conditions of unbiased objectivity (Jordan n.d.).
This posture serves to mask and authenticate the underlying logic, value orientation, and
ideology of a Eurocentric intellectual supremacy (see Joseph et a!. 1990 and Amin 1989).
Postmodernism is a general epistemological orientation influenced by poststructuralism, hermeneutics, and neo-Marxism. It can be argued that it represents an
intellectual response largely by Western White males to the challenges to Western
hegemony and White supremacy in a world marked by the ascendance of postcolonial
nationalisms, Japanese capitalism, and feminism (cf. West 1988 and Harding 1987)
There are feminist critics who go so far as to argue that postmodernism is “fundamentally
a sexist [and, one could add, racist] response that attempts to preserve the legitimacy of
androcentric [and Eurocentric] claims in the face of contrary evidence” (Mascia-Lees et
al. 1989: 15). Ironically, postmodernist literary experiments that essentially undermine the
ontological status of the subject have risen in academic popularity when women and Third
World theorists are challenging the universality and hegemony of Western and
androcentric views. This has grave implications for the legitimacy and authority of
counter-hegemonic contributions within the domain of established academia.
Although the postmodernist turn’s critique of positivism and realist writing is
certainly a significant contribution, its other features are seriously problematic. Jordan
(n.d.) points out a number of serious limitations: the extreme relativism and skepticism
(cf. Fischer 1986: 194) which invalidate radical critique from the ranks of the pol itically
engaged (cf. Mascia-Lees et a!. 1989); the reaction against scientific dogmatism that gives
rise to a denial of the validity and reliability of theoretical explanation (cf. Friedman
1987); the appropriation and neutralization of the concepts of contradiction, power, and
authority (cf. di Leonardo 1989); the conceptualization of dialogic relationships as textual
strategies rather than as concrete collaborations (e.g., co-authorship and co-editorship)
between ethnographers and informants; “dispersal of authority” as a narrative technique
or style rather than as a means of empowering informants (e.g., by imparting research and
writing skills to them); the privileging of the force of rhetoric over institutionalized
relations of power (di Leonardo 1989); the absence of attention to racism and class
inequality in poetic treatments of authority and power; and a notion of cultural critique
that is largely limited to giving privileged Americans the benefits of cross-cultural
knowledge. Jordan concludes that postmodernism privileges poetics over politics, and
its politics is that of academia and not of the world at large. (See his chapter in this
volume.) As Fabian (1983) notes, the dilemmas postmodernism poses cannot be resolved
by textual and epistemological means; they can only be resolved through political
struggle. A genuinely critical/radical anthropology must “go beyond the relativizing of
narratives to challenge the exploitative and hegemonic social practices and social
formations among our co-subjects of anthropological inquiry” (Ulin 1991:81).
A decolonizing and decolonized anthropology can indeed benefit from an
“experimental moment,” but one directed toward the empowerment of its studied
populations. Jordan’s fieldwork (see his chapter here) demonstrates how concrete
collaborative relationships can serve to disperse ethnographic authority in the direction of
the traditional “objects” of study. Jordan’s research (as well as the analyses that all the
,. According to its enthusiasts, postmodernism has moved onto anthropology’s
“cutting edge” and has the potential to liberate the discipline from its dysfunctional
modernist/positivist/realist legacy (Turner 1987:72). In the social sciences modernism
is characterized by the positivist/realist model of science, which in anthropology
legitimates the authority of the outsiderlWestern researcher in the study of non-Western
other contributors present) demonstrates how cultural critique as politicized deconstruction
of various hegemonic ideologies and discourses can be a significant and necessary
component of broader struggles for equality, social and economic justice, and far-reaching
Also at issue is the dissemination of ethnographic representations to wider
audiences that include the ordinary folk anthropologists typically study. Experimental
ethnographies are generally geared to the cultural and intellectual tastes of educated
Western readers. Anthropologists need to experiment with a wider repertoire of
communicative strategies. techniques. and media in order to address more–but not
necessarily all–of their work to lay readers. It also must be recognized that the published
text is not the most accessible, appealing, and effective mediim for communicating with
some, if not many. of the audiences that anthropologists need to reach. Ethnography can
also be presented through such media as video, film, and drama (see Harrison 1990a and
D’Amico-Samuels’ chapter). When ethnography is in written form, it must be straightforward and clear if a broad cross-section of readers is to be engaged. Bettylou Valentine’s
approach to ethnographic writing entailed extensive inputs and co-editing insights from
her African-American inner-city informants. The resultant ethnography on ghetto life
styles (1978) did not, however, compromise its intellectual contribution.
It is important to recognize that artistry, creative experimentation, and disciplinary
boundary blurring, which are so very prominent in postmodernist anthropology, are not
, peculiarly “postmodern.” Zora Neale Hurston and Katherine Dunham are just two
examples of intellectuals who, through the use of literary art and dance theatre, took
anthropological insights and knowledge to wider audiences beginning more than five
decades agonlong before pos/modernism, pos/colonialism, postindustrialism, or pos/-
anything was in vogue. (See Aschenbrenner  and Mikell  for intellectual
biographies of these peripheralizedanthropologists.)
throughout the U.S. Conservatives are inclined to believe that cultural literacy is
necessarily based on assimilating the “facts and truths” associated with the Western
intellectual tradition.Consequently,when universitiesand schoolsystems “accommodate”
multiculturalist curricular changes, academic “standards”are lowered and the “politically
correct” “propaganda”of special interest groups is “forced” upon the majority (cf. Moses
1990).The historical experiences and intellectualcontributionsof “minorities”and women
are relegated to the status of special interest trivia and are not viewed as deserving of
scholarlyvalidation outside of the establishedstudy of “socialproblems” or the authorized
curricular menu of expendable “add and stir” electives. Institutionalized anthropology is
not untouched by these sentiments. A socially responsible and genuinely critical
anthropology should challenge this iniquitous reaction, and, furthermore, set a positive
example by promoting cultural diversity where it counts, at its very core.
Joneshas pointed out how “native”anthropologistshave historicallybeen relegated
to the ranks of overqualified fieldwork assistants. He has stated that
the native anthropologist is seen …not as a professional who will conduct
research and develop theories and generalizations, but as a person who is
in a position to collect information in his own culture to which an outsider
does not have access (1970 :31).
The Politics of CaooD Settio:
A decolonized anthropology requires the developmentof “theories based on non-Western
precepts and assumptions” (Ibid.); however, “there is as yet no set of theoretical
conclusions generated from the point of view of native anthropologists” (Ibid.:30). A
question that must be raised is this: when natives of the various cultures denied history
and intellectual authority do indeed theorize, are those theories legitimated? Are they
even acknowledged as higher order explanations?Lutz’s analysis cogently demonstrates
that even when a sizable quantity of women adhere to the publish or perish rules, their
contributionsto the literature can be and, in effect, are being erased. In her view erasures result when contributions are not cited nor included in literature overviews. An additional
means of partial erasure or peripheralization occurs, however, when works are cited for
reasons other than their actual theoretical import. This “tracking” process diverts and
restricts attention to minor or secondary points concerning “interestingethnographic data”
or narrow geographically-specific topics. While the latter are not at all insignificant, the
authority to explain and generalize beyond the specificity of limited field data (and, in the
case of Black scholars, beyond knowledge/masteryof the “Black condition”)isthe bottom
line in effectively influencing the direction and scopeof inquiry. Is there a “glass ceiling”
in academia comparable to what women and people of color have encountered in big
business? Ultimately, canon setting is a process embedded in institution’alizedrelations
of power and authority. Research and scholarship “designed to contribute to the
empowermentof disempowered groups [require] appropriate institutionalbases, and these
can be built only in part [if even that much] from existing foundations within, for
instance, such established institutions as schools, colleges and universities” (Harrison
1990b:10). Counter-hegemonic analysts must be concerned with “shifting the center of
authority and legitimacy …from those…institutions which our people do not control to
Harrison (1988) and Lutz (1990) have exposed trends within anthropology which
have effectively peripheralized or erased significant contributions made by peoples of
color and women from the canon. These trends have served to reproduce andro- and
Euro-centricbiasesin the assumptions,concepts, and theories at the core of the discipline.
Although anthropology is preoccupied with human cultural diversity, multiple cultural
perspectives-.particularlyThird Worldlnon-Westeml”minority” perspectives–have been
distancedfrom sites of cross-culturaltheory-validation (cf. Blakey 1988:4; cf. Hsu 1973;
see D’Amico.Samuels’ chapter). The underlying assumption seems to be that cultural,
epistemological, and theoretical perspectives outside of the Eurocentric canon are less
adequate, less “universal,” and less “scientific” –in other words, inferior; and both
modernist and postmodemist approaches have placed “native” theorizing on tenuous
These hidden but deeply ingrained presuppositions are not unrelated to the
conservativebiasesreflectedin the multiculturalism/culturaldiversity debatesbeingwaged
more democratically structured bases which embody the interests and priorities of
ordinary…folk in their diversity” (Ibid.:11). 4
Native anthropologies (Jones 1970) and meaningful reconciliations between
Western and non- Western theories and epistemologies (Johnson 1988) are contingent upon
a sociopolitical climate and institutional alignments that allow for and support the
democratization of intellectual and theoretical authority. Outside of this context of
politically engaged authority dispersal, radical’ anthropological scholarship is vulnerable
to the vagaries of trends and vogues which influence the ways that critical and potentially
emancipatory knowledge is neutralized and appropriated (see Gordon’s chapter).
Perspectives on DecolooizioE AothropoloE)’
Gilliam’s critique of U.S. militarism is premised upon a “parallel” analysis that
employs conceptsoriginally constructedforstudying the exoticizedOther. Drawing in part
upon Buck’s compelling deconstruction of the “cargo-cult” construct, Gilliam elucidates
the relevance of this “millenarian”notion for understanding the logic and workings of the
military-capital accumulation complex.She connects global racism, capital accumulation,
Christian fundamentalism, and the hegemonic definition of masculinity with the U.S.’s
militaristic responsesto geopolitical conflicts and strugglesfor egalitarianism in Grenada,
the Persian Gulf; and elsewhere.
The reification of Otherness is problematized by a number of chapters, but
D’Amico-Samuels, Harrison, and Gordon are especially forthright in their assertions
concerning the concept of “the field” and the relations of affinity, kinship, and solidarity
that anthropologists may have with the peoples among whom they work. On a whole,
these chapters question whether anthropology can continue to be preoccupied with
constructions and representations of Otherness if the discipline is to undergo a thorough
process of decolonization.
Contrary to the extreme versions of the “ethnography as fiction” approach, the
analyses presented here do not express the “epistemic skepticism … and explanatory
agnosticism or nihilism” (West 1991:xxi) that is strongly reflected in “deconstructive”
trends today. Among the anthropologistsrepresented here, theoretical explanations are
sought to be acted upon in creative, socially responsible, human-centered ways.
From the ContriblJtors
This volume explores the epistemological,methodological, political, and ethical
parametersof a mode of anthropologicalinquiry geared toward social transformation and
humanliberation.Building uponearlier critiques,this collectionoffers criticalperspectives
on anthropologyas colonial discourse(Buck), the invidiousbiodeterministic implications
of hegemonicmuseologicalcategoriesand representations(Blakey), cultural critique and
politicized discourse deconstruction (Jordan), ethical hierarchies and tensions between
professionalism and higher moral and political values (Bourgois), reflexivity and
ethnographicpolitics(Harrison),the constraintsof hegemony upon popular consciousness
and struggle (Hale and Gordon), and millenarian underpinnings of U.S. militarism
D’Amico-Samuels,Harrison, Bourgois, and Gordon offer perspectives on various
waysthat anthropologists–as”organic intellectuals”or otherwise–can engage themselves
politically with the peoples and communities that host ethnographic investigations. The
importanceof demystifyinghegemonic ideologies and producing/co-producingforms of
knowledgethat can be useful and potentially liberating for the world’s dispossessed and
oppressed is highlighted in several chapters, particularly in those by Buck, Jordan,
Harrison,Gordon,Hale, and Gilliam.Bourgois,Gordon, and Hale offer insightful analyses
of conflicts and struggles around human rights violations, militant ethnic selfdetermination, Fourth World ideology, Anglo-hegemony, and revolutionary politics in
Nicaragua and elsewhere in Central America.
Blakey and D’Amico-Samuels underscore the racist underpinnings of many.
anthropological perspectives and concerns, from the conventions associated with
exhibitingthepeoples and culturesof Sub-SaharanAfrica in museumsto postmodernism’s
preoccupations and intertextual biases. The insidiousness of racism is especially
underscoredwhen Blakey discussesthe problem of the racially oppressed consenting to
biological determinist assumptions about “race,” and when D’Amico-Samuels briefly
mentions her painful estrangementfrom her family because of her commitmentto racial
equality. Harrison explores the impact race combined with gender and class have upon
self-identity and political consciousness, and how the latter inform and influence
The Intended Significance of this CoJ/ection
This collection aims to go beyond antecedent critiques, proposals, and agenda by
advancing an analytical comprehensiveness generally lacking in most of the earlier
contributions. Analyses presented here confront the major sources of “difference,”
inequality, and structural and symbolic violence in the world today. Race and class
disparities, which anthropologists are too prone to neglect or ignore, are joined with
gender to assume their rightful place at the center of political as well as theoretical
This book amplifies the central role of politically responsible Third World
intellectuals. While earlier critiques have dealt with “native” anthropologists and the
significance of their prospective contributions, this volume attempts to press this issue
further. In a world in which de facto apartheid prevails, and where biodeterminist
presuppositions are extant in popular beliefs and in “scientific” research on race and
intelligence, the disciplinary role and potential leadershipof Third World anthropologists
is a thorny but imperative issue. The varieties of Marxist political economy.
postmodernism, and feminism that Ulin (1991) identifies as the major contenders in
determining the contours and content of “the critical anthropologicalproject” are overly
Eurocentric and, exceptfor feminist anthropology,androcentric.How can an authentically
critical anthropology equipped to identify and help solve the world’s problems be
dominated by even well-intentioned and truly radical representatives of the world’s
minority? Authority dispersal cannot be limited to textualist experiments in representing
Others when the prevailingpolitical climate and epistemological tenor calls into question
the very legitimacy of the explanations and resolutions that historically defined Others
The papers here also suggest that for meaningful dialogue and reconciliation to
take place across boundaries of culture and nationality, race, class, and gender, much
more than logically-sounding talk is required. The political-authority structure and
political economy of professional anthropology must be seriously dealt with and changed
before conditions can exist for the kinds of principled debates and syntheses that can
generate human-centered inquiry. Only on such an altered terrain can Western and nonWestern anthropologists truly work together as partners with equalized access to
institutionalized resources and power.
Finally, this book underscores anthropologists’ responsibility to struggle not only
for the enhancement of Third World intellectuals and the politicization of First World
researchers but also for the empowerment of those most alienated from and dispossessed
of their rights to democratizedpower and the material benefits of economic justice. The
perspectivesoffered here challenge the received dichotomy between “pure” and “applied”
science,or that between socialscience and advocacy which the proponents of “value-free”
research assume. Knowledge-production and praxis are inseparable. The conceptual
separation built into the received tradition has served to shroud the role Western research
and scholarship have actually played in rationalizing and providing useful information or
“intelligence” for sociopolitical control and economic development–at national and
The views expressedin this volume do not exhaust the ideas which can contribute
to the subversion, decolonization, and transformation of anthropological inquiry.
However, the papers included here effectively contribute to the book’s principal goal: to
encourage more anthropologiststo accept the challenge of working to free the study of
humankind from the prevailing forces of global inequality and dehumanization and to
locate it firmly in the complex struggle for genuine transformation.
Acknowledgments. Many thanks are due to Willie Baber, Angela Gilliam, and Arthur
Spears for their generous and helpful comments on an earlier version of this essay. and
to Pem Buck, Deborah D’Amico-Samuels,Edmund “Ted” Gordon, Yvonne Jones, Glenn
Jordan, Yolanda Moses, Donald Nonini, Helan Page, and others for the insightful
conversationsthat stimulated my thinking about anthropology’s possibilities for making
a real difference. This essay is dedicated to the legacy of Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane,
the founder and first president of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique
(FRELIMO).A sociologist also trained in anthropology, Mondlane was on the faculty of
Syracuse University’s anthropology department during the 1960s. His activism and
scholarship (e.g., 1969) reflected his concern with racial and national oppressions, the
liberation struggle, and education’s role in reproducing colonial orders. In 1969 Mondlane
was assassinated in Dar es Salaam.
1. This is an allusion to W.E.B. Du Bois’ prolific contributions on “the color line” an.
the “veil” of separation (Harrison 1992).
2. This emphasis on the critical traditions within both Western and Third Wod,
intellectual trajectories is made in recognition that neither Western nor any non-Westen
scholarship is homogeneous or monolithic. There are oppositional paradigms withil
Western intellectualism that can potentially make an important contribution to aJ
authentically transformative anthropology.
3. In her role as a discussant for the 1990 AAA session entitled, “Other Appropriations
When Symbolic Violence Becomes Symbolic Capital,” Brackette Williams pointed ou
that domination and resistance are not opposite processes or phenomena, as is ofter
implied. The problem of contestation has been neglected.
4. Before the U.S. withdrew its support in 1985,UNESCO represented an important sill
for the production of innovative and internationalist knowledge. That scholarshi~
challenged the unequal distribution of the world’s material and ideological resources ~
well as the theoretical justifications for global disparities. The U.S. withdrawal–undel
the Reagan administration– sabotaged a major international source of institutional
support–the United Nations–for “non-aligned” Third World scholarship (personal
communication from Angela Gilliam; Gilliam 1985).
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Caulfield, Mina Davis
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1979 The Politics of Anthropology: From Colonialism and Sexism Toward a View fror
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1969 Reinventing Anthropology. New York: Vintage Books.
Johnson, Norris Brock
1988 Image and Archetype: Male and Female as Metaphor in the Thought of Carl C
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ETHNOGRAPHY AS POLITICS
Faye V. Harrison
Since the late 1960s there has been considerable discussion on and heated debate over the
political underpinnings of anthropology (e.g., Asad 1975). Today, more than two decades
after Hymespublished Reinventing Anthropology (1969), few would argue so self-righteously
that anthropology is a politically neutral quest for objective knowledge and truth about the
human condition. In filet, Huizer, in an introduction to a volume on reconstructing
anthropology, states that the conclusion now reached among anthropologists is not merely
that the discipline has significant political dimensions, but that “anthropology [in fact] is
politics, generally the politics of [imperialist] domination” (1979:16).
The heated discourse on anthropology and the politics of (neo)colonialism has revealed
that the crisis of anthropology cannot be solved by merely “adjusting the rules of the game”
or the code of professional ethics (Huizer 1979:10). Nor can anthropology be “reinvented”
by expunging the most obvious bourgeois and colonial elements and then rethinking and
reordering what remains (Magubane and Faris 1985). Magubane and Faris argue that a
genuine science of humanity based on premises offteedom and equality cannot emerge until
the anthropology born of the rationalist and h”beralintellectual tradition is destroyed. I And
such destruction, I would argue, is intimately tied to the demise of world capitalism and the
emergence of a new global order committed to social and economic justice and human
solidarity and liberation. The construction of an “anthropology ofh”beration” to subvert the
established discipline and lay the foundation for a new field of inquiry must be based on
conscious political choices about standing on the side of struggle and transformation (Huizer
Conunitted to what she calls an anthropology of partisan participation, Caulfield
(1979) concerns herself with some of the strategies and tactics that have been used to
cowont the “skeletons in the anthropological closet” (Willis 1969). Interestingly, she claims
that some ofthe most thoughtful and constructive alternatives within U.S. anthropology have
emerged flom Blacks.2 Jones (1970) and Lewis (1973) advocated the rise of native or
indigenous anthropology to challenge and offset the Eurocentric and colonial character ofthe
discipline’s theory, methodology, personne~ and training programs. While neither claimed the
inherent superiority of insider views, they argued that “native” perspectives on both First and
Third World societies must become an integral part of anthropology ifit is to be decolonized.
Native contributions cannot be restricted to the input of otherwise inaccessible data. Natives
must penetrate and reconstitute the core of the discipline’s discourse by constructing theories
premised upon alternative sets of priorities, visions, and understandings.3 The crystallization
of native anthropology (or anthropologies) can contribute to the decolonization of
anthropological knowledge and authority, a process that is an integral part of the larger
struggle for h”beration.
While in agreement with Jones and Lewis, Caulfield explicitly demarcates a role for
progressive Whites by emphasizing the importance of cross-cultural communication between
Westerners and non-Westerners. She argues that the cross-cultural sharing of perceptions,
experiences, and knowledge is essential for constructing valid comparative theory and
devising effective strategies for social transformation. Drawing upon the work of
Stavenhagen (1971), who applied Freire’s pedagogical notion of dialogics to ethnographic
research, Caulfield points out the importance of information about the operations of the total
system that the Western/outsider tieldworker can bring to a dialogue with his/her host
Among the WesternlWhite anthropologists who have been most successful in rendering
sensitive and insightful etlmographic accounts of oppressed populations as well as in engaging
in constructive cross-cultural dialogues are women-particularly feminists (e.g., Shostak
1981). Nash (1980:3) and Huizer (1979:26) suggest that women’s binary view or “dual
consciousness”-similar to the dual or double consciousness attributed to Blacks and other
racial minorities-gives them an advantage in understanding the kinds of populations that
anthropologists typically study. The women to whom Nash and Huizer allude enjoy the
privileges which attend their racial, class, and national statuses. Yet, because they are
women, sexism-i.e. male supremacy-bas given them a taste of oppression. This contradiction
or status inconsistency gives rise to special sensibilities and powers of perception, which in
turn inform and privilege their work as anthropologists.
A privileged relationship between a feminist etlmographer and the oppressed people
she may study is not automatically rooted in her womanhood. Such factors as race and class
condition and differentiate gender identities and consciousness of oppressions (Moore
1988:7). Consequently, the special insights, sensibilities and commitments to which Huizer
and Nash point emerge only when the ethnographer is successful in reconciling differences,
combatting internalized racism and the privileges of Whiteness and atl1uence, and struggling
to builda commonground. .
W.KB. DuBois (1903 [1961:16-17]) introduced the double consciousness concept
in his perceptive treatment of the complex and contradictory character of the Afro-American
experience. Being enculturated and socialized in U.S. society, Blacks are Americans, sharing
many basic sociocultural features, ideals and goals with their White counterparts.
Nonetheless, given their Aftican cultural heritage (which Du Bois did not emphasize) and the
bitter reality of racial oppression, Black Americans have a distinct social experience marked
by an uneasy and painful duality-”two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two
warring ideals in one black body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it ftom being tom
asunder” (Du Bois 1961:17). The struggle to attain wholeness, “to merge [a] double selfinto
a better and truer self’ characterizes the Aftican American experience (Ibid.). Behind the veil
of racial inequality, many Blacks come to have a gift of “second-sight,” (Du Bois 1961:16)
a distinct lens that exposes dimensions of American society unseen, unexperienced, and
denied by most of the nation’s citizenry. Under certain circumstances, the intense agony,
anger, and alienation (Allen 1990) of double consciousness can be transformed into socially
and politically constructive energy (cf. Allison Davis 1983), such as that characterizing Du
Bois’ praxis as a pre-eminent (yet, in the context of the U.S., a viciously repudiated)
Drawing upon a somewhat different but related notion of second-sightedness,
Johnnetta Cole, a Black female anthropologist, says that “solutions to problems [e.g.,
anthropology as politics of capitalist/imperialist domination] are often found by people who
can see out of more than one eye” (Essence 1987:34). Cole-now president of Spelman
College, an historically Black women’s college-believes that Black women, for example, may
be expected to find solutions “to many of the problems we face today” because of their ability
“to see out of their Blackness, out of their womanness, often out of their poverty, and
sometimes out of their privilege” (Ibid.).
Following and extending this logic and intuition about dual consciousness and the ability
to see out of more than one eye, I suggest that anthropologists with multiple consciousness
and vision have a strategic role to play inthe struggle for a decolonized science ofhulTUlnlc1nd.
Multiple consciousness and vision are rooted in some combination and interpenetration of
national, racial, sexual, or class oppressions. This form of critical consciousness emerges
ftom the tension between, on one hand, membership in a Western society, a Westerndominated profession, or a relatively privileged class or social category, and, on the other
hand. belonging to or having an organic relationship with an oppressed social category or
people. Granted, all persons subjected to various oppressions do not necessarily or
automatically develop this special ability to see the world critically, and members of dominant
social groupings may sometimes cultivate radical and revolutionary relationships and
commitments to the exploited peoples of the world. Notwithstanding these two tendencies,
the conjuncture of multiple subaltern statuses and bases of Otherness, combined with the
apparent irreconcilability between them and the ideals and normative expectations of “the
ftee world” (i.e., “the ftee world” of capitalism, the American dream, or middle-class
privilege), may heighten and intensifY counterhegemonic sensibilities, vision, and
understanding (cf. Worsley 1984:36-37; Mohanty 1991:36).
In view of the increasing interest in interpretive and experiential ftameworks within
anthropology (e.g., Clifford and Marcus 1986; Marcus and Fischer 1986; Turner and Bruner
1986), and the rise of a critical, dialectical social theory which attempts to transcend the
dichotomization of orthodox Marxist political economy and phenomenological excavations
of systems of meaning (e.g., Taussig 1981, 1987), the anthropologist’s ability to understand,
more or less in the sense of Weber’s notion ofverstehen, should be seen as an important
advantage or tool in constructing knowledge. The anthropologist with verstehen, rooted in
arelationship of “organic cohesion” (Gramsci 1971:418) with the studied population and in
real political solidarity, is well equipped to establish more equal relations of ethnographic
production as well as to construct valid, reliable, and politically responsible representations
ofherlhis host community’s sociocultural life. Anthropologists with dual or multiple vision
may be uniquely able to convert their “extra eyes” into useful research tools and effective
As implied above, ethnographic research, upon which anthropological discourse is based,
isintrinsically political,regardless ofimmediate or intended research focus. The ethnographer
studying an apparently politically innocuous and neutral phenomenon, nonetheless, carries the
dirty laundry-filled baggage of a research tradition which usurps the authority to construct the
Other as object of national-, class-, and gender-biased inquiry. When the ethnographer
chooses to investigate more overtly political phenomena in an intensely political climate,
In what follows, I willdiscuss my own fieldwork experience in the politically charged
setting of Kingston, Jamaica during the late 1970s. My discussion, albeit clearly reflexive, is
not meant to be an exercise in self-indulgent subjectivity. Rather, my intention is to present
an ethnography of ethnographic experience as a heuristic means of uncovering the salient
political and ideological processes that conditioned the lived experiences of the studied
population as well as those of the fieldworker herself. By analyzing my research agenda and
goals, fieldwork techniques and problems, the local setting, and the larger context ofJamaican
underdevelopment and Jamaican-American relations, this account will illuminate the manner
inwhich a multiple consciousness based on nationality, race, color, class, and gender can be
heightened by ethnographic experience and then in turn converted into a useful research
instrument. Through this discussion I attempt to contribute to a general understanding of
the various roles ethnographers can play in decolonizing anthropology and in anti-imperialist
Research and Political Choice
I decided to undergo my rite of passage into professional anthropology in Kingston
largely because of Jamaica’s political climate during the 1970s. I wanted to witness and, in
some way, support the changes being attempted in a nation which had been relegated to the
peripheral status of being in “Uncle Sam’s backyard.” I eagerly sought to understand
first-hand Jamaica’s experiment in socialist reconstruction, its successes as well as itsfailures.
My goal was to help enlist anthropological analysis into the struggle for Caribbean
transformation. Whatever contribution I might make would be minor compared to the activist
research trajectories of Caribbean intellectuals themselves (e.g., Beckford 1972, Beckford
and Witter 1980, Brodber 1975, Rodney 1969, Stone and Brown 1977, Smith 1989).
This political and intellectual concern developed out of my earlier experiences-as a
child growing up in the South in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement; as a university
student involved in the campaign to exonerate and ftee political prisoners such as Angela
Davis, a Black scholar/activist ftamed for kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy; as a
fledgling ethnographer exploring the politicization of adolescents in a poor, working-class
West Indian neighborhood in London, England; as an activist concerned with providing
grassroots political education, building alternative organizations, and mobilizing support
for Southern Aftican liberation struggles; and, finally, as a graduate student stimulated by the
debates among social scientists regarding uneven capitaIist development, class formation in
peripheral formations, and the rocky road to socialism
Jamaica in 1978 and 1979 was highly charged, volatile, and bursting through its seams.
Michael Manley’s People’s National Party (PNP) administration had committed itself to
democratic socialism It had instituted numerous refonns to secure greater control over the
island’s economy and to narrow the wide gap between the privileged minority of upper and
middle class people and the dispossessed majority (see Girvan and Bernal 1982). The PNP’s
socialist and anti-imperialist stance prompted adverse responses. With the help of the Jamaica
Labour Party (JLP) opposition and sections ofthe national bourgeoisie, a largely U.S. power
bloc (involving the CIA) designed and mobilized a massive destabilization campaign to
undermine the legitimacy and efficacy of the PNP government, and oust it from office (Keith
and Girling 1978:29; Frolander-UlfandLindenfeld 1984:182; Marable 1987:165). Theforces
of destabilization created a climate of intense polarization and terror. Anti-communist
hysteria and unprecedented political violence gave rise to a massive capital flight, bringing the
economy to a near collapse. Its most profitable sectors, bauxite and tourism, drastically
retrenched. Ironically, the economy’s most stable and profitable sphere was illegal– ganja or
marijuana production and trade (Harrison 1990). The international, largely North American
(Harrison 1989), market demand for ganja outstripped that for any of Jamaica’s traditional
exports. Consequently, the “trade” became a major conduit for both desperately needed
foreign exchange and illegal arms.
Despite politically orchestrated blows to the PNP’s legitimacy, the party won national
elections in 1976 by a landslide vote. For the next four years the government continued to
struggle against ongoing JLP/U.S. onslaughts as well as against restrictive International
Monetary Fund (IMF) measures (see Girvan and Bernal 1982:43). The deterioration of the
economy, exacerbated by IMF intervention. generated a political climate receptive to the
JLP’s free enterprise program for national development. Consequently, in 1980 the national
elections resulted in a JLP victory and in Jamaica’s beingreturned to the purview of Westem
banks, transnational corporations, the IMF, and the U.S. government.
Re-Definiog the Research Problem
My original research objective was to investigate how tenement tenants economically and
politically organized themselves to confront the constraints of the urban housing market. I
had designed a project that, by yielding data on tenant associations and networks,
tenant-landlord relations, and tenant relations to the state, would complement the many
studies done on urban squatters in Third World societies, particularly in Latin America. The
direction of my research changed, however, once I became more familiar with the concrete
conditions of Kingston’s “ghettoes” or low-income neighborhoods, labelled “special areas”
by government bureaucrats.
So overwhelmed by the desperate poverty and rampant unemployment, I embarked
upon my fieldwork with the basic intention of elucidating the political economy of
survival or subsistence. During the course of my work, I moved beyond a “survivalist”
orientation and reached the point where I identified as my analytical objective the
characterization of local-level economic and political processes-all of which are not
subsistence-related-in light oftheir locus and role within national and international systems
of economy and power.
I did my fieldwork in “Oceanview,” a “downtown” (“inner-city”) tenement slum not
far ftom Kingston’s historic business district and waterftont (Harrison 1982). An
important PNP constituency, Oceanview is a densely populated area with high
unemployment (74%). Access to the limited wage-work available in the public sector is
controlled and forcefully defended by the ruling party’s local constituency associations and
street gangs affiliated with the government party “machine.” I chose Oceanview as a field
site largely due to my acquaintance with the headmistress of the neighborhood’s main
elementary school. The director of a government squatter upgrading program directed
me to Blessed Sacrament School’s Sister Elizabeth since I was interested in studying
tenements rather than squatter camps or goverment housing schemes. Sister Elizabeth had
worked in Oceanview for 20 years and had earned the local residents’ respect, affection. and
awe. Sister reputedly walked out into the streets during gun battles between “warring gangs”
to successfully demand that the fighting stop.
Sister managed to operate as an educator and social welfare worker in an environment
where the boundaries of political party constituencies and street gang territories playa
determinant role in virtually every aspect oflocallife (see Harrison [1987b, 1988] for
detailed analysis of politicized gangs). She had established a relatively non-partisan
sphere of influence based upon the school and its various activities and programs. Beyond
the formal schooling offered, Blessed Sacrament had an active PTA which addressed a
range of local needs and concerns. The headmistress and the PTA sponsored such projects
as a medical and dental clinic and a consumer goods distribution center which sold some
of the most scarce staples when local and uptown shops had empty shelves. The school
grounds were a sanctuary in what was otherwise a war zone or a “no man’s land. ”
Although Blessed Sacrament asserted Its “nonpolitical” nature, Sister Elizabeth
unhesitatingly entered the partisan political arena to mediate between antagonistic camps, e.g.,
rival gangs. Largely because of her efforts, a mid-1970s truce was effected in the
neighborhood, and in 1978-79her work helped sustain peace (the remnant of a 1978
city-wide Peace Movement)through the pre-electoral campaignperiod, a long time by
Research Among the “Lumpen”
My fieldwork in downtown Kingston might not have been feasible were it not for the
1978 truce between political party-affiliated street gangs throughout the Kingston
Metropolitan Area. In early 1978 rival gang leaders declared a truce in the wake of
“Green Bay,” i.e., the national security force’s infiltration ofa downtown ghetto and the
subsequent ambush and slaughter of top-ranking members of a local gang. The truce
catalyzed the rise of a peace movement designed to forestall the escalation of state
repression and politicized gang violence, and to offer an alternative to party polarization and
“tn’bal war.” While, due to a variety of factors, the formally organized movement was
not sustained for longer than a number of months, its positive impact was felt for more than
a year in Oceanview. Fortunately, my fieldwork coincided with Oceanview’s “peace.”
Although the opposition’s destabilization campaign made Oceanview’s truce tenuous, for most
of my sojourn I was able to work without having to dodge bullets. The resurgence of
political violence began around the time of my departure and escalated to unprecedented
proportions during the 1980 electoral contest.
Although there were some university-based researchers who seemed to be confident of
the feasibility of my fieldwork, the more common reaction to my work ftom university
faculty, some government bureaucrats, and ordinary middle-class people was to discourage
me and to warn me of life-threatening dangers. There was scepticism about the truce, and
it was generallyrecognized that local political cleavages between party activists and between
gangs were sharp and potentially explosive.
Beyond the political complications of working in “special” areas, the prospect of my
being a victim of crime stirred most people I encountered to discourage me ftom following
through with my plans. I was encouraged to select a “nice” middle-class neighborhood to
study, or to have someone arrange for me to interview a select group of
Rastafarians-stereotypic ghetto dwellers-who could tell me everything I needed to
know about ghetto life. Such warnings and suggestions were generally meant to protect
me ITomthe brunt of Jamaica’s volatile climate. However, after talking and interacting with
a wide range of middle-class people-both PNP and JLP supporters-I came to the view that
ghetto inhabitants tended to be indiscriminantly labelled “ruthless criminals” (Harrison
The symbolic construction of the ghetto seemed to be an important element in an
elaborate conservative ideology which attempted to make sense out of Jamaica’s political and
class polarization and its decline ITomthe post-World War II boom of dependent capitalism.
In addition to the “Manleymash up de country” lineof reasoning, which attributed the island’s
crisis to PNP mismanagement and communist leanings, there was the recurrent proposition
that ghetto criminals threatened prospects for restoring the society to its pre-Manley
prosperity and stability. Commentaries on crime rarely placed the problem within the context
of the larger social forces which produced and exacerbated it. It was asserted that the
so-called communists and criminals had to be contained or eliminated for the national
recovery which the JLP and international and domestic capital would supposedly deliver.
While conservative middle-class persons were apt to express the most pejorative and
vitriolic characterizations of ghetto life, class and political biases against “the lumpen”
were also at least implicitly present among progressives. Accepting Marx’s description
(1977:75) of the lumpenproletariat as scum and social refuse, orthodox Marxists and
leftists of various other persuasions tend to hold the view that the lumpen is politically
unreliable and dangerous. The most alienated and depressed segrnentsof the ghetto
population are, therefore, often by-passed by revolutionary politicos, who tend to focus
their work on organized labor. As a result, the lumpen-as displaced and discarded labor-is
abandoned to be exploited, manipulated, and victimized by corrupt politicians who resort
to coercive tactics to gain and consolidate power. Of course, there are exceptions to this
tendency, but these exceptional attempts at responsibly mobilizing and channelling the
power of the most progressive elements of the lumpen are rarely sustained. The failures
have in turn reinforced the commonly held stereotypes which serve to isolate the lumpen
ITomthe sociopolitical forces more directly and self-consciously involved in the struggle
I was convinced that much of the negative and sensationalist discourse that
bombarded me was ideological mystification influenced byJamaica’s social crisis. Concerned
that stereo typic ideas would undermine the active participation of the most alienated
Jamaicans in any genuinely democratic movement for socialist reconstruction, I grew more
determined to collect data that would help demystify the ghetto. Fanon (1963) and Cabral
(1969) had demonstrated in their analyses of anti-colonial struggles in Mica that elements
of the lumpenproletariat had played significant roles in h”berationmovements. Worsley
(1972:227) forcibly argued that whether lumpen- or sub-proletarians become a progressive
force depends, in large measure, on the specific historical conditions and on their leadership,
be it ITominside or outside. The emergence of Kingston’s Peace Movement suggested to me
the willingness and the basic ability of the most progressive ghetto elements to transcend the
self-defeating confines of mercenary patronage politics (“dirty polytricks”) and move toward
the formation ofciass-based, extra-local alliances among gangs, youth clubs, wage-workers,
and the chronically unemployed.
If the struggle for radical transformation is to move beyond a haphazard or mechanical
cook book recipe approach to mobilization and insurgency, politicos need a reliable database.
Strategies and tactics must be grounded in systematic and comprehensive analyses of social
conditions. I wanted my research to contribute to an understanding ofthe political potential
of a population too often subjected to egregious misrepresentation and excluded ftom the
benefits and rights of Jamaican democracy. While I was not inclined to romanticize. the
lumpen and elevate it to the leadership of the national struggle, I did believe that that struggle
had to include lumpen participation to be genuinely democratic and mass-based.
Ethnographic Data as Political Capital
To be effective,the ethnographeroftenis compelledto maneuverin a complex political
environment. Party politicspervade almost every aspect of Jamaicanlife. To conduct
fieldwork in a Kingston neighborhood,especiallya ghetto, is to collect what is often
considered potentially sensitive data ITompersons viewed primarily as party constituents-and
often as contested party constituents-who must be controlled. Social research data gathered
under these circumstances are viewed by party activists and government officials as political
property. It is in the interests of the party in control of the research neighborhood’s formal
political affairsto gain some degree of control over the fieldwork in order to use or invest its
results as political capital, or to block paths to sources of sensitive information. Should
political opponents acquire access to such data, the latter could be used subversively.
My role as a researcher presented a perplexing problem for a government community
development program operating in Oceanview. The national director discouraged my
research, arguing that itwould be impossible for me to penetrate beneath the surface of public
personae and social organization. It appears that there was the fear that I had been planted
in Oceanview to collect sensitive data on the workings of the agency.
Almost every day The Daily Gleaner, the conservative newspaper, published
reports, columns, or editorials attacking the PNP for mismanaging the government and
economy. The community development program was vulnerable to attack on a number
of counts. Owing to economic pressures and other factors, the program had failed to live
up to its goal of upgrading local conditions. Seen to benefit landlords rather than tenants,
the program failed to form a wide neighborhood constituency. Key among its problems
were the inability to establish a stable working relationship with “the forces,” i.e., local
gangs, and leadership discontinuity, the result of the too &equent succession of program
directors. Because of the island’s economic decline, the development program had grown
increasingly dependent upon foreign (largely U.S.) aid for its solvency. Desperate for the
largesse of U.S. institutions, the urban agency was, however, placed in the awkward
position of having to negotiate for aid on the terms of an assertively sovereign and
non-aligned nation. American institutions tended to .interpret this posture of national
autonomy as hostile and anti-American, and were inclined to “put the PNP in its place,” in
one way or another. In view of its many problems, the agency was a ripe target for
political attack and sabotage. The possibility that my research-be it “neutral” or “partisan,”
social science or political intelligenct>–wouldnegatively impact the community development
program led the director to discourage me &om studying Oceanview by barring me &om
communicating with his research staff and &om examining the agency’s documents.
Beyond partisan attempts at intervention, another important political interest shaping the
outcome of ethnographic research isthat ofthe locality (see Leeds 1973). Local knowledge,
particularly when concerning, for instance, income-generating strategies (many of which
are illegal) and informal political leadership (which may make or break partisan mobilization
efforts) can be a political resource for the ghetto locality when it exercises a measure of
control over its dissemination and use. Localities like Oceanview have the power to conceal
knowledge and thereby exert defensive leverage in their relations with supralocal centers of
authority/power, which may not operate in ways consistent with perceived local interests and
needs. Local survival may sometimes be promoted by limiting supralocal access to ghetto
residents and by restricting the established authorities’ ability to extract material and human
resources (e.g., taxes, payments for bills, and peoplt>–rightlyor wrongly-wanted by the
police). Fluid and flexible local organization-often invisible to middle-class eyes-may
conceal important units of organization/mobilization as well as the whereabouts of
individuals (who, for example, may have ties to multiple households). The various masks
and scripts, camouflages and disguises which playa part in ghetto people’s interactions with
the state and political party system restrict the latter’s penetration beneath the surface and
buffer the ghetto &omsome of the undesirable consequences of supralocal intervention and
My presence in Oceanview in the wake of the tragic Green Bay Massacre and amidst
the turbulence wrought by the massive U.S. government-supported anti-PNP campaign
added fuel to the locality’s political fires. Oceanview residents were suspicious of
everyone, even their neighbors. However, an outsider &om “a foreign” was a definite
suspect-a police spy or CIA agent. In light of these political tensions, I connnitted myself
to a form of participatory data-gathering which was based on a neutral/non-partisan
stance. Neutrality should not be confused with the negation of politics or the denial of a
political position. In Oceanview’s political environment, to be neutral is to belong to
neither major party’s local network, association, or gang. Neutrality must be continuQusly
negotiated, validated, and defended in a setting where party affiliations, ties, and loyalties are
important determinants of life chances, and where even suspected loyalties commonly
provoke coercive attacks against innocent victims.
I learned early in my fieldwork that unless I could successfully negotiate a
neutralist/non-partisan status, I would be denied access to the Oceanview neighborhoQd at
large. Political party cleavages and gang rivalries can break up families; impose territorial
boundaries restricting physical mobility, interaction, and communication; and make leaving
one’s “yard” (residential compound) for work, shopping, or school a life-threatening risk. In
the most practical terms, I needed a “passport” for safely traversing Oceanview’s streets
without constantly having to worry about the dangers of trespassing on hostile gang and party
territories. In order to collect fairly representative data I needed to be able to communicate
and move across party and gang divisions.
While I supported the ruling party’s basic goals, I also recognized that the experiment
in democratic socialism had uneven and often contradictory outcomes; that the national
directorate’s plans and policies were often not translated into effective grassroots
implementation. I knew that within the PNP, a multi-class party like the JLP, there were class
forces whij;h contradicted and undermined the interests and dreams of ordinary poor people.
I believed that the forces of change could learn &om their mistakes and deficiencies as well
as &om their noble visions and successes. Therefore, I needed to be able to communicate
with people who looked at and evaluated the PNP’s performance &omboth inside and outside
of the boundaries ofthe party’s support. I also needed the same kind of critical vantage point
for understanding the opposition party’s ghetto constituents.
Having Blessed Sacrament as a base for my work enhanced my ability to negotiaie an
interstitial position in local political fields. Since I was perceived to be “Sister’s mend,” I was
almost automatically accepted by some segments of the locality, particularly people with
school-aged children. Another tie that contributed to my interstitial role was that to a
Rastafurian artist and handyman bythe name ofRas John. Sister Elizabeth had recommended
Ras John to me as a possible research assistant. Ras John was considered a “true Rasta”
rather than a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” which refers to the matted haired youngsters androen
whose behavior contradicts the tenets ofthe Rastafurian religious sect. Ras John was highly
respected by local people, and was considered a man of peace and love, without loyalties or
indebtedness to any politicians. His companionship and guidance were invaluable.
Unlike the conventional survey researcher, to whom Oceanview residents had already
had some exposure, I was around the neighborhood on a daily basis, intensively miDgImg
with “socialists” (pNP supporters), “labourites” (JLP clients), PIA members, and street
gangs. To offset suspicions, I intentionally employed an informal elicitation style tbat