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The anthropologist's assistant (or the assistant's anthropologist?): The story of a disturbing episode

Jonathan Parry

Keywords: PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION; THE ETHICS OF ANTHROPOLOGY; THE INDIAN STATE; THE RESEARCH ASSISTANT

Abstract

This piece tells the story of a disturbing episode in the author's relationship with the field. Though the details are unique, the kind of ethical dilemmas it documents must be in some form or other part of the experience of a great many anthropologists – though such stories are seldom set down in print. These dilemmas include the balance we strike between participation and observation, and between the moral commitments we have as private individuals and our (no less moral) commitment as anthropologists to report on our ethnography in as impartial and objective a way as is possible. Central to this particular story is the anthropologist's relationship with his research assistant over more than two decades, and it tells of the latter's involvement in various human rights campaigns, his arrest, imprisonment and on-going trial on vaguely specified charges. I reflect on the way in which these events have affected my subsequent fieldwork and on the way I have written up. It is the story of a friendship and of a genuine intellectual collaboration between the anthropologist and anthropologist's research assistant that is probably not so uncommon but is seldom fully reflected in the ethnographies we read.

Affiliations

Parry, Jonathan - London School of Economics and Political Science