Informal Session: ‘The Apotheosis Of Anthropologists’: Ontological, Ethical, Moral, and Methodological Dilemmas in Pacific Ethnography
Saturday, February 3. 9:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m., Bienville
Since early European incursions into the Pacific, it has repeatedly been reported how locals interpreted white people as being returning spirits of the dead, ancestral beings, or deities. The literature on cargo cults in Melanesia perhaps most vividly expressed those interpretations, but was criticized as exoticizing the ‘other’ and their lifeworlds. The prominent Sahlins-Obeysekere debate begged the question as to whether ‘the apotheosis of Captain Cook’ described by Sahlins was a genuine local perception or was more the result of European aggrandizement and myth making. More broadly, it questioned Westerners’ ability to comprehend and represent non-Western lifeworlds. However, anthropologists, too, have experienced fieldwork situations in which they have come to be interpreted as being dead relatives returning in white bodies or in which they were suspected of being able to communicate with the dead. Yet, only a few anthropologists have addressed being interpreted in this way within their writings. Less have written about what this incorporation into local cosmologies has meant for their fieldwork situation and for their data collection. However awkward, perplexing, or uncomfortable ‘the apotheosis of anthropologists’ might leave ‘us’, it is a vital part of the process through which the people we work with handle our appearance in their lives; just as we interpret their lives in terms of our interpretive schemes, so too do they evaluate us in terms of theirs.
In this informal session, we would like to address a topic that anthropologists have yet to fully explore and, furthermore, think about what analytical value it might bear. We call for abstracts that address the consequences that this kind of ‘othering’ might have on anthropological fieldwork. What ontological, ethical, moral, psychological, or methodological problems arise when the anthropologist is understood as a being with ‘spiritual’ agency and knowledge? What chances or problems arise from a dissolving boundary between ‘self’ and ‘other’ when the anthropologist is appropriated as being ‘one of them’?
Interested participants are asked to send the organizers an abstract of 250 words.
Fraser Macdonald (University of Waikato, New Zealand) <firstname.lastname@example.org>;
Christiane Falck (University of Goettingen, Germany) <email@example.com>