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Anti-social anthropology? Objectivity, objection, and the ethnography of public policy and professional communities

Authors

  • David Mosse

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
      Department of Anthropology and Sociology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, UK. dm21@soas.ac.uk
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  • Malinowski Memorial Lecture, 2005.

Department of Anthropology and Sociology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, UK. dm21@soas.ac.uk

Abstract

One legacy of Malinowski's ethnographic method is the separation of ‘field’ and ‘desk’. What anthropologists know is inseparable from their relationship with those they study – the epistemology is relational – but ethnographic writing breaks fieldwork relations, cuts the network, and erects boundaries: it is necessarily anti-social. As anthropologists turn their interest in what people believe, say, and do (and the inconsistencies between these) to the inter-connected institutions that comprise the modern world, to policy and professional communities of which they may also be members, their method of entering and exiting social worlds becomes more difficult. Arguing for the particular importance of an ethnographic perspective on the practices of powerful institutions, this article uses recent research on international aid and development to show how influential informants object to ethnographic accounts, resist anthropological boundary-making, and attempt to unpack academic knowledge back into relationships.

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