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Reflexivity in Anthropology

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    What Is reflexivity, and why is It Important In the doing of anthropology? Anthropologists research, observe and write in order to produce ethnographers. Though many travel to foreign locations to examine natives and exotic ethnic groups, others conduct ethnographic research within their own culture. However, is the process of ethnography essentially the same regardless of the diverse cultures anthropologists examine, and the use of a recording device rather than a notebook?

    Though there are similarities between the processes, ethnographers differ depending on the anthropologist and the culture based on the writing techniques the ethnographer applies, the anthropologist’s life experiences and their self-position (I. E. Gender, class, culture). Some anthropologists use reflexivity, a writing tool that personalizes ethnography as the anthropologist takes notes about themselves in the field.

    In reflexive ethnographers, the anthropologist positions themselves in relation to the studied culture and writes about their ethnographic experience In an attempt to fill any gaps between the culture being examined and the anthropologist’s culture. As a result, the outsider status of the anthropologist converts to an insider position. Reflexivity enables the anthropologist to demonstrate how and why it is that they emphasis with a culture, providing the audience with an opportunity to identify a culture unlike their own.

    In his academic article, Goodlier (2011 : 5) declares ‘anthropology has done nothing but produce ethnographic accounts that are no more than the projections of the Ideologies of Western observers onto the societies they study. The use of reflexivity thus assists the anthropologist to not produce ethnographic accounts that are considered narrow-minded and biased. In reflexive ethnographers, anthropologists identify their position in another culture and outline their experiences both within the examined culture and outside It.

    Marcus (1998) depicts reflexivity as the practice of positioning, stating that it ‘locates the ethnographer his or her literal position In relation to subjects’. Essentially, reflexivity conveys to the audience that the ethnographer was “there” within the field. The ethnographer often applies such phrases as “I examined” or “l realized” and simply the use of the personal pronoun The declaration of first-hand cultural knowledge grants the anthropologist authority to comprehend and write about a particular culture as they participated and observed the culture in action.

    In addition to the authority the anthropologist maintains in order to comment on a culture they have participated and observed, and being trained In the discipline of anthropology, Rosalie (1993) writes about positioning and the authority it provides him to produce work about the tribe in his ‘Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage’. He writes The ethnographer, as a positioned subject, grasps certain human phenomena better than others The notion of position also offers to how life experiences both enable and Inhibit particular kinds of Insight’ (Rosalie, 1993: 19).

    He proceeds to emphasis how Important experience Is as he declares nothing in his own experience permitted him to imagine the anger 1 OFF for the headhunt, and identify with the grief and rage he mutually felt with the tribe. The personal experiences of an ethnographer shape what the ethnographer understands, identifies with and how they depict the culture. Therefore, the anthropologist’s position in a culture and their own experiences influence the level of cultural understanding and the ethnography outcome.

    In addition to the anthropologist’s written account of various experiences and their position within a culture, which shape the amount of cultural knowledge and empathy an anthropologist acquires and the ethnography itself, reflexivity allows an anthropologist to express the significance of identifying with other cultures. This in no way implies that the ethnographer or the audience have complete authority to speak of a culture that is not their own solely based on what has been read in an ethnography or have experienced for a short period of time.

    Identifying with a culture means understanding a culture and being aware that there are both preferences and similarities between cultures. Bear (1996) writes about a shift that occurred in anthropology where viewing identification rather than difference is the ‘key defining image’ of anthropology theory and practice. Bear continues to state how society’s consistent distinctions of ‘Self and Other’ have become inadequate, resulting in a change toward an ‘introspective Self-Self relation’ that contends the boundaries of anthropological discourse (1996: 165).

    While the ethnographer writes about their experiences and identification with ‘other’ cultures, the audience will also once with and understand the culture whilst comparing and contrasting differences and similarities between their own culture’s tradition and the ‘other’s’ cultural tradition. Furthermore, anthropologists who use reflexivity participate in an articulate dialogue with the ‘other’ which achieves a fusion of horizons’ (Condo, 1986: 75).

    Condo’s reference to the fusion of horizons’ can be associated with Bear’s (1996) ‘identification rather than difference’. Through reflexive writing and ethnographers, anthropologists express the ideas that while cultures differ, similarities are still resent and the opportunity to bond with a diverse culture exists. On the other hand, there are negative perceptions associated with reflexivity as some critics proclaim reflexivity, incorporating the self, shifts the focus of ethnography from the ‘other’ to the ‘self and can resemble an autobiographical account.

    Marcus (1998) states: it is this sort of reflexivity that most often evokes nervous responses or dismissals of reflexivity as self-indulgence narcissism’ (Marcus, 1998). Given anthropologists incorporate themselves, their position and their experiences in reflexive ethnographers, the academic credibility lessens. An audience is less likely to trust an anthropologist’s ethnographic account that resembles an autobiography as self-focus and experiences serve quantity as opposed to analyses and credible theories achieve both quantity and quality.

    Due to focusing on the anthropologist’s personal interests and cultures and reducing emphasis on other cultures, reflexivity may appear as an ethnographic failure posing the question What is anthropology? As a result. The culture being examined and show the anthropologist’s experiences within and outside the culture. In writing about the self, the ethnographer proves that they owned in and observed the culture in order to further convey how they expanded their understanding and knowledge of it.

    Additionally, reflexivity has a role in relaying the idea that though cultural differences are present, similarities can also be noted and thus people should pay attention to the sameness of cultures rather than focus on dissimilarities. Ultimately, reflexivity is important in anthropology as it conveys the importance of recognizing both the similarities and differences that exist between cultures. References Bear, R. (1996). The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology that Breaks Your Heart. Boston: Beacon Press. Goodlier, M. (2011).

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    Reflexivity in Anthropology. (2018, Feb 09). Retrieved from

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What is cultural reflexivity?
    Cultural reflexivity is defined as an open-ended form of using cultural objects to mediate the self, and then compared to other types of practice – traditional and rationalised.
    What is reflexivity in simple terms?
    Reflexivity generally refers to the examination of one's own beliefs, judgments and practices during the research process and how these may have influenced the research. If positionality refers to what we know and believe then reflexivity is about what we do with this knowledge.
    What is the reflexivity According to Bourdieu?
    As we have seen, Bourdieu defines reflexivity as an interrogation of the three types of limitations—of social position, of field, and of the scholastic point of view—that are constitutive of knowledge itself.
    Why is reflexivity important in anthropology?
    Being reflexive is one way that anthropologists can try to better understand and respect the participants they are doing research with. Reflexivity is also an important part of knowing one's biases.

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