Critical Anthropology?

Chapman and Berggren call for a more critical lens to anthropology, “it is time for anthropologists to open our disciplinary toolboxes, sharpen our tools and share whatever we have to contribute to racial/ethnic health disparity research” (Chapman & Berggren, 2005, pg. 148). This is important in a field which has been bereft of serious commitments to equity in research practice. The readings for this week have a focus upon equitable practices in multiple methodologies, focusing most upon ethnographic methodology. This switch to a more equitable practice Simpson argues that within the field of anthropology due “to political currents, critiques and philosophical trends outside of within anthropology that have embedded the discipline within the history of colonialism, have highlighted ethics and form, and pluralised the places and peoples that are now considered viable for ethnographic analysis” (Simpson, 2007, pg. 68).

This change in regulatory discourse is important for all researchers, but more importantly this change to reflect better the needs of the subaltern is perhaps of a more pressing concern. Pollack points out that perhaps focus groups are a more equitable methodology “for research with oppressed and marginalized groups because they have the potential to shift power from the researcher to the participants” (Pollack, 2003, pg. 461). Most tellingly in support of focus groups as a methodology is in the findings that focus groups allow for “more scope for the participants to center their concerns” (pg. 470). This is in great alignment with Chapman & Berggren’s assessment in that it ought to be the commitment of all researchers to best listen to the stories of the other. Chapman & Berggren also argue that we must also listen to and tell the stories of the powerful and privileged in order to shed light upon “the denial of humanity, and the common humanity of each one are made visible, forming a bridge to change” (2005, pg. 162).

This is interesting, as I think that often the stories of the privileged are front and center within our culture. I think while this can “form a bridge to change” I think we need to be careful to walk a respectful line and not continue to center the narratives of the privileged (pg. 162). I tend to agree with Sheftel & Zembrzycki who argue that reflecting on struggles is part of our story, our way through to learning, and that it “teaches us about both form and content” (2010, pg. 208). While Sheftel & Zembrzycki meant specifically learning through their struggles as a researcher, but as a former outdoor educator, I think experience via struggles is always the best teacher.

Pollack points out that in their focus groups, the black women were able to speak candidly about their experiences with racism and oppression. Pollack points out that this is different than the life-history interviews she had also conducted wherein the women tended to blame themselves for “not achieving anything” (pg. 468). I think this is an important consideration regarding positionality. As a white person doing research, individuals in a focus group might be more inclined to share things that they might perceive I would disagree with due to my identity. I think this is an important consideration regarding research with individuals where I embody their oppression.

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