Geertz, C. 1974. “‘From the Native’s Point of View’: On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding.”

Geertz, Clifford. 1974. “’From the Native’s Point of View’: On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding.” Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 28(1): 26-45.

Malinowksi’s A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term created controversy in anthropology, by removing the guise of objective, functioning, empathic fieldwork, through his published reflexive journal. Brings up not a moral concern, but an epistemological one – what happens to our “native” point of view prescribed of good ethnography, when we are no longer psychologically close to the culture we study?

Engages methodological concerns: inside vs. outside, emic vs. etic, phenomenology vs. objectivity, cognition vs. behavior à experience-near vs. experience-distance

Experience-near: something an informant can describe through experience; experience-distant: something analyzed out of this, an abstract or removed concept.  EN promotes entanglement with observation; ED promotes abstraction, jargon use, concepts over empiricism.  Ethnographers must balance these demands; you CAN study without being a native or fully immersed, however:  “The trick is to not get yourself into some inner correspondence of spirit with your informants. […] The trick is to figure out what the devil they think they are up to” (online).

The spectator-ness of the ethnographer; cannot perceive what informants do. Participants recognize experience-near concepts unconsciously, unreflexively, often without noting their conceptual power.

Three case studies in naming, distinguishing practices in Java, Bali, and Morocco – Geertz examines the power in studying the familiar, but under the context of one’s own knowledge set and comparative systems.  “But whatever accurate or half-accurate sense one gets of what one’s informants are, as the phrase goes, really like does not come from the experience of that acceptance as such, which is part of one’s own biography, not of theirs.  It comes from the ability to construe their modes of expression, what I would call their symbol systems, which such an acceptance allows one to work toward developing.  Understanding the form and pressure of, to use the dangerous word one more time, natives’ inner lives is more like grasping a proverb, catching an allusion, seeing a joke – or, as I have suggested, reading a poem – than it is like achieving communion” (online)

That is, you don’t have to get along with your participants to be able to appropriately understand them and the themes they express.

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One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Conversations I Wish I Had and commented:
    “That is, you don’t have to get along with your participants to be able to appropriately understand them and the themes they express.” And God knows sometimes you don’t like the people you study very much… I don’t know whether publishing the diary of an anthropologist is necessarily problematic; uncomfortable because most of us have a romantic notion of the anthropologist who lives among the people he/she studies and is supposed to be empathetic, tolerant, yatityatiyata… But the truth is, anthropology has a colonial past. With regards to the epistemological concern pertaining to the “native” point of view, I’d have to side with post-modernists and collaborative ethnographers… It’s not so much a question of “native” vs. academic… I think there are realities (plural) and dialogues. In other words, the diary is just another layer of the puzzle.

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