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Trading Up

Reflections on Power, Collaboration, and Ethnography in the Anthropology of Policy

Tara Schwegler

This article constitutes a pragmatic consideration of how to orchestrate access to 'powerful' individuals and a theoretical reflection on what efforts to negotiate access reveal about the anthropologist's subterranean assumptions about power, collaboration and ethnographic data. Too frequently, powerful actors and the contemporary settings they inhabit appear to be obstacles to ethnographic research. In contrast, I propose that we explore the ways in which working with powerful actors can enhance, rather than inhibit, the possibilities of anthropological data collection. In this article, I present several examples from my field research in the Mexican government to show how the ethnographic encounter can be constructive of the political process, not jut an appendage to it. By directing attention to the ways in which our actual research practices (and not just our findings) intervene in the political space, we can re-orient our expectations about data and the ontology of anthropological expertise.

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Unruly Experts

Methods and Forms of Collaboration in the Anthropology of Public Policy

Tara Schwegler and Michael G. Powell

We never seek out frustration, but it almost always finds us. Seasoned field researchers, anthropologists pride themselves on their ability to handle life’s curve balls, from visa problems to cultural misunderstandings to difficulties in gaining access to informants. These curve balls go hand in hand with the home runs: all are moments in fieldwork, wherever, however, and among whomever conducted, and each moment has a story.