They Lie, We Lie: Getting on with Anthropology

They Lie, We Lie: Getting on with Anthropology

Peter Metcalf

Language: English

Pages: 168

ISBN: 0415262607

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


They Lie, We Lie is an attempt by an experienced fieldworker to engage recent critiques in ethnography, that is the writing of culture, made both from within anthropology and from such disciplines as cultural studies and post-colonial theory. This is necessary because there has been a polarization within anthropology between those who react dismissively to what Marshall Sahlins calls 'afterology' and those who find the critiques so crippling as to make it hard to get on with anthropology at all. Metcalf bridges this divide by analyzing the contradictions of fieldwork in connection with a particular 'informant', a formidable old lady who tried for twenty years to control what he would and would not learn. At each stage, the author draws out the general implications of his predicament by making comparisions to the most famous of all fieldwork relationships, that between Victor Turner and Muchona.
The result is an account that is accessible to those unfamiliar with the current critiques of ethnography, and helpful to those who are only too familiar to them. His discussion shows, not how to evade the critiques, but how in fact anthropologists have coped with the existential dilemmas of fieldwork.

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she was at its very center. Far from being bullied, she was, from my point of view, likely to do the bullying. I did, on occasion, give Kasi clothing, but they were not Western clothes. They were the sort of gifts that change hands at elite rituals: sarongs woven with a gold thread. What, then, was the source of Kasi's authority at Long Teru? The question has several answers, but the ®rst relates to a period in the 1940s when she had not been at all invisible outside Long Teru because she was

most were informal and subject to constant interruptions by anyone who came by to hear what was going on. But sometimes I was met with the insistence that I consult a particular expert, and arrange a full and proper telling. My contribution to these gatherings was usually a bottle or two of arak, a potent distilled liquor sometimes made in the longhouse, but nowadays often bought in a trade store. The prestation of arak indicated simultaneously the formality of these occasions and their essential

was I to this that I cannot imagine ®eldwork in a place where people act with reserve towards the ethnographer. 3 This is not to suggest that there is no didactic function in fairy stories as we know them in the West. Even the most admonitory, however, such as Pinocchio and his lengthening nose, have a very different tone to Kasi's narrating. 4 The item nicely demonstrates the modus operandi of the tabloid press. To make one headline story involves mixing a cocktail of sensational features:

Treatment of the Dead in Central Northern Borneo,'' Oceania XLVII: 85±105. ÐÐ (1982) A Borneo Journey into Death: Berawan Eschatology from Its Rituals. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ÐÐ (1989) Where are YOU/SPIRITS: Style and Theme in Berawan Prayer. Washington, DC: Smithsonian. ÐÐ (1992) ``Aban Jau's Boast,'' Representations 37: 136±50. ÐÐ (1996) ``Images of Headhunting,'' in Janet Hoskins (ed.) Headhunting and the Social Imagination in Southeast Asia (pp. 249± 90). Stanford,

well that it was perverse in me to resent such a wealth of sociability. Ethnographers elsewhere found themselves among people who lived in isolated households, or else kept outsiders rigorously at arm's length, and they were surely worse off. Even so, I doubt that anyone raised with Western middle-class attitudes to personal space can live in a longhouse without psychic discomfort. During that time, I was gradually feeling my way around, trying to work out who was who. This was impeded by a

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