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Keywords:

  • [empiricism;
  • anthropology;
  • methods;
  • ethics;
  • Dutch New Guinea United States]

ABSTRACT

In this article, which takes James Clifford and George Marcus'sWriting Cultureas its starting point, I make the case for a kinky kind of empiricism that builds on the singular power of anthropological ways of knowing the world. Kinky empiricism takes established forms to an extreme and turns back to reflect on its own conditions of possibility. At the same time, it deploys methods that create obligations, obligations that compel those who seek knowledge to put themselves on the line by making truth claims that they know will intervene within the settings and among the people they describe. I begin to make this argument by way of a close rereading of moments inWriting Culture. I then turn to David Hume's writings on empiricism, which, I suggest, offer the ingredients for an empiricism that is both skeptical and ethical because it includes among its objects of inquiry the apparatuses through which reality is known. I end by exploring dangers and possibilities associated with kinky empiricism by juxtaposing a moment from my research on state building in Dutch New Guinea with the approach taken in Philippe Bourgois and Jeffrey Schonberg's groundbreaking study, Righteous Dopefiend. In rereading Writing Culture, I find the ingredients of a more affirmative stance toward anthropology than is usually associated with Writing Culture—one premised on the need for what Michel-Rolph Trouillot once called “an epistemology and semiology of all anthropologists have done and can do.”