Dialogue And Shared Authority: Informants As Critics



Contemporary dialogic theory in anthropology offers a substantial critique of ethnographic method. The notions of “co-authorship” and of “ethnographic authority” are central to this critique. While contributive, however, these notions also polarize debate, obscuring variations in the history of anthropology and reducing the complexity of the ethnographic situation. When faced, such complexity constitutes an impasse to dialogue. The paper suggests that the route out of this impasse lies in recognizing the limits of the co-authorial stance and the inevitability of a degree of “ethnographic authority. ” Doing so, it is argued, opens the possibility of sharing theoretical and methodological authority with (particularly literate) informants, rather than fruitlessly trying to abdicate it. The approach is illustrated through incidents that occurred during the author's fieldwork among the Yurok Indians in northwestern California.