The Natives Are Gazing and Talking Back: Reviewing the Problematics of Positionality, Voice, and Accountability among "Native" Anthropologists



In this article, a linguistic anthropologist reviews the growing literature on the possibilities and problematics of understanding "native" anthropology and its implications for the construction of ethnographic knowledge. The author examines the centrality of language for "native" scholars in negotiating their legitimacy in the field. Confessions of failure by native scholars and their dilemmas with translation illuminate the dialogic and political nature of ethnographic inquiry, particularly when research is conducted in "home" communities. Moreover, native ethnographers' critical reflexivity regarding their subject positionings and "voice" may constitute a counterhegemonic rhetorical strategy for negotiating multiple accountabilities. Self-identification as a native scholar is seldom a means through which researchers "play the native card" via a noncritical privileging of their "insider" status. Instead, claiming native status may act tactically as both a normalizing and an exclusivizing endeavor, as well as a signif ier of the decolonization of anthropological thought and practice. The author considers these and other critical implications of native anthropological research in relation to her own multisited research on African American linguistic and cultural practices focused on hair care. [Keywords: "native" anthropology, language, representation, reflexivity, translation]