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Politics of Ethnography:
Translated Woman Part Two
What is particularly important in the discussion
that hovers around the self-consciously
experimental texts is not experimentation for its
own sake, but the theoretical insight that the play
with writing technique brings to consciousness,
and the sense that continued innovation in the
nature of ethnography can be a tool in the
development of theory (Marcus and Fischer
1896: 41-42).
Two theoretical and
methodological currents
• Advocacy in feminist literature (including
• Importance of anthropological confessions
as a methodological shift in ethnography
Testimonial as a type of advocacy
• Literary narrative , Docummentary, (Roots in Latin
American historical fiction)
• Opens channels of communication
• Preserve women’s history
• Accessible (appeals to mass audiences)
• Demystify common assumptions
• Takes a position
• Parallels with ethno-autobiographies (anthropology)
Methodological influences from
• Early critique of fieldwork in the 1960’s: not very
critical, celebratory of the anthropologists as hero
• In the 1970’s: Anthropological confessions:
necessity to show oneself as ethnographer, A move
away from ethnographic realism (Rabinow 1977
and Dumont 1978)
• Malinowski’s diaries: ethnographer not a detached
recorder of culture
Van Maanan (1988)
Highly personalized styles
Stories of fieldwork rapport
Active construction of the ethnography
A world presented in which the
ethnographer plays a part
Not knowing that my
conversations with Esperanza
will continue in later years, I feel
compelled to create a sense of
closure, no matter how artificial,
and I find myself that night
asking some rather crude
questions (156)
Remain realist
• Done to convince the audience of
• Mentions personal biases, character flows,
• Shows him/herself struggling to piece
together the story
Clifford (1983) Two rhetorical
strategies of confessions
• One: to cast oneself as student as an
apprentice of culture; comes to learn a
culture like a child learns a culture
• Two: to cast oneself as a translator or
interpreter of indigenous texts available to
the ethnographer only in the field
Advantages of confessionals
• Stories are more direct immediate and
• Acknowledgement of subjectivity, politics,
structures of power, authorship,
representation, self-representation
A growing discomfort about close links
between the fieldworker and the
inquisitor a extractors of
confessions...This discomfort was
highlighted for me in Mexico by the
intense awareness of race and class
differences in the countryside and by
the way people tended to position mw
in the role of a rich gringa from the
United states (3)
What are the stories told in the
ethnography about?
How is the form of the
ethnography shaped by such
Discussion Questions
• Why does Behar think Esperanza needs the
anthropologist to mediate her story?
• Whose stories are they?
• Can testimonial an ethnic autobiographies
refashion our practice of ethnography as a
mode of cultural critique?