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Is anthropology legal?

Earthquakes, blitzkrieg, and ethical futures

Edward Simpson

This article is a contribution to the growing literature that suggests that the methodological and writing practices of anthropology are out of kilter with the times. The processual structures and regulative mechanisms that produce anthropological knowledge were formed when objection and engagement were not the almost-inevitable consequence of publication. Those who inform anthropological research now frequently object to the ways they are represented. My argument here focuses particularly on the relationship between the ethical structures of anthropology and the nature of objection. Thus far, the consistent response from anthropologists has been to explain away objections as differences in epistemology. In this light, I draw on an objection to my own research on postdisaster reconstruction in India to ask why there should not be disagreement between anthropologists and those who inform research. I also illustrate why the epistemological explanation is now insufficient and why new structures of research and writing might be required to make the leap from an age of objection.

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Ann Grodzins Gold

Ann Grodzins Gold, Bhrigupati Singh, Farhana Ibrahim, Edward Simpson and Kirin Narayan

The longer you live, the more complicated it gets to tell your story with any kind of coherent theme. Now in my seventieth year—which, as it happens, I have chosen to make my last of full-time academic employment—I reflect back cautiously. I see a career taking circuitous paths with unexpected branchings, a career responsive to all kinds of pressures—economic and familial, interpersonal and intrapersonal. The directions I first explored through ethnographic fieldwork were evidently charted by experiences of my pre-academic life. After that, my projects large and small framed themselves in response to shifting combinations of what I encountered in one Rajasthan village in North India and what I heard around me at conferences and seminars and, of course, read in books and articles. However, it is fair to say that my reading often lagged behind my research rather than motivating it. For example, I immersed myself in memory theory only after I had returned from India with 40-some-odd cassette tapes full of recorded memories.