Narayan, Kirin. 1993. “How Native is the ‘Native’ Anthropologist?”

Narayan, Kirin. 1993. “How Native is a ‘Native’ Anthropologist?” American Anthropologist 95 (3): 671-686.

How native is a native anthropologist? How foreign is an anthropologist from abroad? Dichotomizing these two is often a point of disciplinary learning, where indigenous/insider anthropologists write about cultures from a certain positioning. Many authors have criticized this, noting that culture is not homogenous, professionalized identity creates distance between researcher and participants – Aguilar (1981) and Messerschmidt (1981a) note that any claim to authenticity as a “native” researcher as something to be questioned. Narayan remarks on the false construction/lack of fix that dichotomizes native and non-native researchers, but supports the prominence of recognizing the multiple and situational identities that researchers have that move through overlapping communities and power relations. Other socio-categorial factors and experiences (education, gender, sexual orientation, class, race, duration of contact) may interfere or outweigh understanding and memberships within a “native” belonging and interpretation. Focus should be on what relationships we hold with participants, and what our intents are in representation and analysis.

Native anthropologist can incorporate personal narrative into anthropological scholarship – but, argues for an enactment of hybridity in texts – “writing that depicts authors as minimally bicultural in terms of belonging simultaneously to the world of engaged scholarship and the world of everyday life” (672).
Native/non-native divide stems from colonialist anthropological era. In this, the use of a “chief informant” worked to access a native perspective (just one, though), OR the native obtains a westernized anthropological education to write on society from a native perspective from that culture – distinction between informant and native anthropologist – methodological training, education, theoretical orientation, AND origins… however, this oftentimes created a marker for the native anthropologist –where all work would be done from “native’s eye” – and had difficulty merging into other fields. Postcolonial times bring “third world” anthropologists into key debates, themselves doing research; feminist scholarship casts women (and other social categories) as other; results in destabilization of Self and Other. Increasing acceptability to turn anthropological gaze inward toward Western communities and nations (Ginsburg 1989; Ginsburg and Tsing 1990; Martin 1987; Messerschmidt 1981b; Ortner 1991). Flexibility of field – how does this new age of international and globalized interaction construct insider/outsider categories?

How does our own ancestry and family life (often times convoluted and transnational, contradictory) impact how we interpret our status of belonging? The multiplicity of self and identity aids us in accessing/prevents us from accessing certain knowledges, based on certain fields and expectations. Casting as an Other, casting as a member (with prestige de/attached), particularly based on multiple racial or cultural groups (Abu-Lughod 1988, 1991; Kondo 1986, 1990; Lavie 1990). Utilizing subjectivity to determine identity shifts.

The gendered nature of casting the native in classical anthropology (a la Malinowski) – assumption of native viewpoints as unified, male, as informants are easily interchanged for others. When we speak of natives’ worlds, we do not speak of a world othered, but a part of their own. Connotation of native with authenticity – representing history and culture without distortion, without change (Appadurai 1988), linked highly to place, bounded geographies, ideas, hierarchies.
How do we construct this perception of hierarchy and power within transnational frames? How does location play a privilege or disprivilege in loaning authenticity to ideas? Can extended durations of fieldwork and interactions create “new natives” of “outsiders,” or will they forever be inauthentic? We are ALL natives or indigenous to some place or another, even if it does not appear within a context of fieldwork.
Knowledges become contextualized, situated; concepts are cast and re-framed through cultural lenses, historical shifts, social relations, across fields. “…Even the most experienced of ‘native’ anthropologists cannot know everything about his or her own society” (678, see also Aguilar 1981). Acknowledging personal and particular locations is noting limits of one’s ability to examine these areas, in this, objectivity. Knowledge is subjective, interactional, based on power relations. How does constructing ourselves as educated, as researchers of the same sociohistorical experiences as others, create power, create dis/belonging, and the fragmented interpretation of the same things, based upon different awarenesses/perceptions?

“The specificity of experience… is not opposed to theory; it enacts and embodies theory” (Kondo 1990)
Every anthropologist has a personal and ethnographic self- bringing worlds both personal and professional together (Bruner 1993). Narrative writing works to dismantle power relations, structure, and incorporate reflexivity, specificity, and agency into our texts.

“’Objectivity’ must be replaced by an involvement that is unabashedly subjective as it interacts with and invites other subjectivities to take a place in anthropological productions. Knowledge, in this scheme, is not transcendental, but situated, negotiated, and a part of an ongoing process. This process spans personal, professional, and cultural domains” (682)

Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1988. “Fieldwork of a Dutiful Daughter.” In Arab Women in the Field, Eds. S. Altorki and C. Fawzi El-Solh. Pp. 139-161. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1991. “Writing Against Culture.” In Recapturing Anthropology. Ed. Richard Fox. Pp. 137-162. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.
Aguilar, John. 1981. “Insider Research: An Ethnography of a Debate.” In Anthropologists at Home in North America. Ed. Donald Messerschmidt. Pp. 15-26. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Appadurai, Arjun. 1988. “Putting Hierarchy in Its Place.” Cultural Anthropology 3: 36-49.
Bruner, Edward M. 1993. “Introduction: The Ethnographic Self and the Personal Self.” In Anthropolgoy and Literature. Ed. Paul Benson. Pp. 1-26. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Ginsburg, Faye. 1989. Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in the American Community. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ginsburg, Faye and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. 1990. Uncertain Terms: Negotiating Gender in American Culture. Boston: Beacon Press.
Kondo, Dorinne. 1986. “Dissolution and Reconstitution of Self: Implications for Anthropological Epistemology”. Cultural Anthropology 1:74-96.
Kondo, Dorinne. 1990. Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lavie, Smadar. 1990. The Poetics of Military Occupation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Martin, Emily. 1987. The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. Boston: Beacon Press.
Messerschmidt, Donald. 1981a. “On Anthropology ‘at Home’.” In Anthropologists at Home in North America: Methods and Issues in the Study of One’s Own Society. Ed. D. Messerschmidt. Pp. 1-14. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Messerschmidt, Donald. 1981b. Anthropologists at Home in North America: Methods and Issues in the Study of One’s Own Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ortner, Sherry. 1991. “Reading America: Preliminary Notes on Class and Culture.” In Recapturing Anthropology. Ed. Richard Fox. Pp. 163-189. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: