This article draws out some of the implications of the fact that what anthropologists claim to know, or want to say, is unavoidably and in complicated ways bound by the ethics of involvement, detachment, and institutional location. I will first consider the increasingly common practice of circulating the output of anthropological research within the social context of its fieldwork, among the various research participants and interlocutors. Second, I will try to account for the sometimes negative reception of ethnographic accounts, especially where the research has focused on organizations (e.g., NGOs), activists, or others professionally concerned with public representations of their work. Third, I will reconsider the notion of “speaking truth to power” by pointing to the unacknowledged power of ethnographic description. Finally, I will suggest that ethical concerns are generated as much by the theoretical framing of research as by fieldwork practice, and that these are matters of choice rather than inherent in the ethnographic method.
This forum article has two parts. In the first, I make some observations about policy knowledge in international development and the ways in which it has become the subject of anthropological study. In the second, I reflect on the relationship between anthropological knowledge and the development world that it describes, asking, “what’s the use of anthropology to inter- national development?”