Anthropological interest in critical studies of class, system, and inequality
has recently been revitalized. Most ethnographers have done this from “below,”
while studies of financial, political, and other professional elites have tended to
avoid the language of class, capital, and inequality. This themed section draws together
ethnographies of family wealth transfers, philanthropy, and private sector
development to reflect on the place of critique in the anthropology of elites. While
disciplinary norms and ethics usually promote deferral to our research participants,
the uncritical translation of these norms “upward” to studies of elites raises
concerns. We argue for a critical approach that does not seek political purity or
attempt to “get the goods” on elites, but that makes explicit the politics involved in
doing ethnography with elites.
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