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The resonance of fieldwork.

Ethnographers, informants
and the creation of
anthropological knowledge

Conventionally, anthropology has maintained a sharp distinction between subject and

object by defining the relation between the fieldworker and his/her subject as an
us/them relationship, allowing the anthropologist to retain his/her authoritative voice
in the ethnographic text. However, in recent years, a growing body of literature has
engaged in a critical revision of the implicit notion of the ethnographer as a neutral and
objective observer (Clifford and Marcus 1986), and the self/other dichotomy that his-
torically has shaped anthropologys relation to its objects of study (Abu-Lughod 1991;
Coronil 1996; Kondo 1986; Trouillot 1991) in an endeavour to humanise the other in
relation to the fieldworker.
Consider the following incident that occurred in 1986 while carrying out my
fieldwork in Tapay, an Andean village in the southern highlands of Peru. A group of
Tapeos requested me to enact the role of misti (a native term for any foreigner of
European appearance) in the annual celebration of one of the villages many saints.
They suggested that my part as misti would complement the traditional presentation
of Perus multiracial society by a team of villagers acting as clowns in the event, two
dressed as indios (native Andean Peruvians) and one as negro (African Peruvian). The
role required me to dress in a long dark gown with a round, black hat and high boots,
a blend of three classical figures in Spanish colonial history: the conquistador, the
squire and the priest. The villagers told me to treat the other clowns like indios: that
is, with severity, even whipping them, if necessary. They also warned me that since
indios are not only lazy but also capricious and unreliable, I should be wary if anyone
offered me a drink as it might be mixed with urine. Although I never complied with
the request, the image of me participating in the ritual as misti provoked much mirth
and comment among the villagers.

Humanising the other

The incident made me reflect upon the images through which Tapeos perceived me
and become aware of the cognitive map that underlay their exploration of the ethno-
graphic self. It also prompted me to explore the analytical implications which Tapeos
attempt to index and classify me have for anthropological knowledge production. An
important premise for such an exploration and for studying the native cataloguing of

Social Anthropology (2002), 10, 3, 319334. 2002 European Association of Social Anthropologists 319
DOI: 10.1017/S0964028202000216 Printed in the United Kingdom
the ethnographic self cross-culturally is that we acknowledge what Cohen denotes as
individuality (1994: 16892) and recognise the difference between selfhood (the sub-
stance of me of which I am aware) and personhood, the definition of me as a social
entity which society imposes (ibid. 567). This implies that we take the individual dis-
tinctiveness of our informants seriously and understand their behaviour and ideas as
initiated and shaped by their consciousness of themselves and their social position in
the social milieu they inhabit. It also requires that we understand the ethnographic
field as an arena for interaction between self-conscious subjects, including the ethno-
grapher and his or her informant, struggling to define each other as social persons. In
the words of Jenkins, subjectivity is the price that has to be paid to do fieldwork
(1994: 443).
Jackson contends that intersubjectivity is steeped in paradox and ambiguity . . . a
site of constructive, destructive and reconstructive interaction (1998: 8). He adds that
compassion and conflict are thus complementary poles of intersubjectivity, the first
affirming identity, the second confirming difference (ibid. 4) and concludes that each
person is at once a subject for himself or herself a who and an object for others a
what (ibid. 8). Hence, intersubjectivity should not be read as a synonym for shared
experience and emphatic understanding, nor should the humanising of the ethnogra-
pherinformant relationship be conflated with the romantic notion of going native.
On the contrary, the recognising of the subjects of our studies as self-conscious agents
requires that we acknowledge that reification and essentialisation are powerful instru-
ments used not only to identify insiders and outsiders as self-defined subjects but also
to impose on them social categories that transform them into objects for others and,
ultimately, involve the denial of their selfhood. Thus, in so far as the humanising of the
ethnographerinformant relationship implies the recognising of the latter as a fellow
human being, it obliges us to ask To what extent is it possible at all to speak of a
shared social experience as the basis for ethnographic research? and admit that the
question about who is actually sharing what remains open (Hastrup and Hervik 1993:
9). As I shall demonstrate, the images that Tapeos create of me vary extensively, and
although some informants include me in their native categories and thus acknowledge
me as a subject with whom they can share experiences, others classify me as an out-
sider or even as a potential enemy and hence catalogue me as a social person unsuit-
able for sharing experiences.
However as illustrated in the ritual described above, Tapeos create images not
only of me but also of themselves: that is, everyone participating in the ritual were
made a personification of a stereotype. Moreover, the burlesquing of ethnic identities
(mistis, indios and negros) and the irony that come to the fore in the sketch and which
the participants use to dissociate themselves from misti domination gloss over many
different forms of interaction (dialogue, performance etc.). In other words, Tapeos
labelling of me masks a considerable complexity in the communication and multi-
plicity of meanings between the ethnographer and informant in which shared experi-
ence is only one dimension.
The data that I draw on in this paper were collected during fieldwork in two vil-
lages in Perus highland. They are presented in the form of short vignettes that illus-
trate the different social roles and kinds of personhood which the people I study have
imposed on me. My point is that the vignettes can be examined as variants of a general
mode of indexing outsiders and categorising them as social persons and that such a
study makes up an important research field, not only because of ethical concerns and

320 K A R S T E N PA E R R E G A A R D
political correctness but also because the categories used to index me as a social
person provide an insight into how the people I have studied understand the larger
world and the social boundaries that divide them internally. I also argue that such an
exploration sheds light on the context for the collection of ethnographic data and
therefore can be turned into a methodological advantage in the research process. It
may help us reconstructing what Sanjek calls the ethnographers path, that is, a dia-
gram of informant contacts used by the fieldworker (Sanjek 1991: 398400).1 In other
words, my performative inadequacy in the ritual described above can be used as a
method of yielding data on Andean society as well as my own research process.
Abu-Lughod (1991) uses the term halfie to define her own position among the
people she studied who saw her neither as an alien nor as part of their own culture,
that is, as an Egyptian (Abu-Lughod 1986: 1315). In effect, she found herself per-
ceived and treated as a person whose national or cultural identity is mixed by virtue
of migration, overseas education or parentage (Abu-Lughod 1991: 137). Abu-
Lughods discussion of her encounter with the people she studied offers a detailed
description of her social and cultural status in the field.2 Rather than a portrayal of the
fieldworkers personal experience in the field, it provides true ethnographic data on
local peoples explorations of the ethnographic self. She asks what happens when the
other that the anthropologist is studying is simultaneously constructed as, at least
partially, a self? (ibid. 140).
I raise the opposite question of Abu-Lughod. What happens when those being
studied stop conceiving of the anthropologist as the other and start construing this
other as just another one, either different or equal to themselves? This again implies
asking who am I, and how might I discover the question? (Cohen 1992: 229). Yet, far
from merely adding an exotic footnote to the ethnographers report, an inquiry into
the native registration, cataloguing and indexation of the ethnographic self allows us
to examine not only how the people studied by the anthropologist classify non-natives
but also how they conceptualise themselves. By studying the informant as well as the
ethnographer as social agents engaged in a mutual struggle to construct each other as
persons we can gain access to methodological questions with crucial bearings for
anthropological research. Thus, I suggest that rather than being a window on auto-
exploration, an inquiry into the ethnographic self as an agent-in-society (Harris 1989:
608) and an individual who struggles in a world of urgency and necessity (Wikan
1995) offers a useful tool to explore cultural variations in the constitution of person-
hood. Instead of narcissism I am dealing with what J.-P. Dumont describes as the
necessity of using myself as a discovery procedure (1978: 12) and what Bruner calls
the double consciousness of experience: on the one hand, our experience of ourselves
in the field, as well as our understanding of our objects; and on the other hand, our
objects experiences of themselves and their experience of us (Bruner 1986: 14). It is
the blurring of the two latter forms of experience I am concerned with here; that is,
our objects experiences of their relationship with us.

1 Tedlock (1991) offers an extensive review of different methods applied by anthropologists to

analyse what she calls participation of observation: that is, examining the ethnographers role as
subject within the field research context.
2 For similar descriptions by anthropologists of their social and cultural status in the field, see
Altorki and El-Sohl (1988), Narayan (1989) and Kondo (1986).


The other
The introduction to the people among whom the ethnographer plans to do fieldwork
is often a complex and turbulent moment in the research process.3 My introduction to
Usibamba and Tapay was no exception.4 While Usibamba lies within two hours of the
regional capital of Huancayo,5 Tapay is a remote village with no road connections to
the surrounding world.6 Common to both villages is the attention and mistrust with
which any visitor from the outside is met. Three hundred years of Spanish colonisa-
tion followed by 150 years of mestizo domination have left most of the native popu-
lation of the Andes with a very ambivalent notion of the outside world. Not
surprisingly, the Usibambinos and Tapeos initially made little effort to distinguish me
from other outsiders.
Yet this essentialisation of myself as an intruder gradually gave way to a person-
alisation through which I was identified as a fellow human being. In other words,
people began to relate to the ethnographer as both individual and cultural category,
whether or not the ethnographer acknowledges this (Okely 1992: 24) and to see
through to you and talk to you as if you were a real person (Hastrup 1987: 104).
The process involved two phases. On first arriving in Tapay in 1986 I rented a little
house and established a close relationship with my landlord. Later, when taking my
census and participating in daily life, I became familiar with a wide group of Tapeos
representing different economic, social and religious segments of the village. As I
began to interpret the images Tapeos form of each other and of the outside world, I
myself became the object of a stream of images.
It was at a village assembly in 1986 that I first experienced the implications of
becoming the object of imagination of the people I study.7 The village authorities had

3 Fieldwork in Usibamba and Tapay was financed by grants from Danida (the Danish International
Development Agency), the Danish Research Council for the Humanities and the Social Sciences,
and the University of Copenhagen. During fieldwork in 1986, I was affiliated with the Catholic
University of Peru in Lima as a guest researcher. I am particularly grateful to Michael Whyte,
Michael Jackson, David Guillet and the three external reviewers of this article for their comments.
4 My discussion of the ethnographic self draws on material collected during fifteen years of field
research in Peru. Initially, from 19835, I carried out a study of land reforms and the establishment
of peasant cooperatives in Usibamba, a village located in the central highlands. Later, in 1986, I
came to Tapay in the southern part of the Peruvian Andes where I conducted one year of field-
work. I have revisited Tapay at frequent intervals since 1987. To complement my community study
of this remote rural village, I conducted yet more fieldwork over 19 months from 1989 to 1991
among migrants from Tapay living in Lima and Arequipa, Perus two largest cities. Since 1991 I
have maintained contact with the migrant population in Lima and Arequipa and spent another two
months in Tapay studying return migration.
5 Usibamba lies in the department of Junn in an area known as Alto Cunas while Tapay is located
in the Colca valley in the department of Arequipa.
6 Until recently, official census takers, Catholic priests and regional traders were the only visitors in
Tapay. However, in recent years the village and the rest of the Colca valley have become the centre
of attraction for Perus growing tourist industry. Out-migration from Tapay, on the other hand, has
been extensive for several decades. Currently more than fifty per cent of the population live in
Lima, Arequipa and other cities in Peru (see Paerregaard 1997).
7 The task of gathering information on images others hold of me was not an easy one. Only rarely
when a true friendship was fostered would people let me know what they truly thought of me. Yet
there are other ways of gaining access to such information. One is through indirect conversations,
that is, by overhearing what others say. Another is by letting people pass on to you what others

322 K A R S T E N PA E R R E G A A R D
invited me to present the objectives of my research. Before the assembly was over,
however, one villager requested permission to speak. He asked whether I was a terruco
or terrorist. During the eighties and early nineties Peru was in a state of civil war with
government troops and various rebel groups such as Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path)
fighting each other.8 Members of these groups are called terrucos. Although the region
to which Tapay belongs was little affected by the countrys bloody conflict, people
were very much aware of the possible results of getting involved: merciless acts of
revenge from both sides against peasants who refused to collaborate. As an unknown
outsider who could very well be a terrorist, not only was I a potential threat to the
population, but I could also cause an invasion by military forces. In the eyes of the
Tapeo who put the question, I was potentially a dangerous, cruel and merciless
person provoking insecurity, fear and anxiety among him and his fellow villagers.
Eventually, the assembly gave me permission to stay in the village for one year on the
condition that I submit a copy of my research report to the local authorities on com-
pletion; I regarded this as a sign of acceptance and trust.
While doing field research in the village of Usibamba, I was trapped in an image
similar to that of the terruco described above. In 1983, the Sendero uprising was in its
early stages and military intervention had not begun. People still lived without fear of
terrucos. What they did fear, however, were pistaqos, that is, strangers who kill indios
for their body grease, which is used in industrial production or as aeroplane fuel.9
Pistaqo myths are usually related to the ethnic opposition between indios on the one
hand and mestizos and people of European origin on the other, and as the pistaqo is a
symbolic representation of white exploitation of indios, I often found myself the
object of considerable apprehension. Indeed, some Usibambinos were so afraid of me
that they avoided any form of contact. To them I was a wicked and insane person
whom they tried to elude or hid from.
Whereas Tapeos have little familiarity with the development world, Usibamba
has had first-hand experience with modernisation, economic change and NGOs (non-
governmental organisations, usually involved in development). In the seventies a West
German development agency assisted Usibamba in organising the construction of an
irrigation system and financing technological innovations in the villages agricultural
production. Not surprisingly, all foreigners are titled ingenieros (engineers), a term
loaded with both positive and negative values. As ingenieros bring financial support
and technological innovation to the village, they are welcomed. Yet, they also leave the

have told them. Alternatively, one may make use of what Rabinow (1977: 12930) and Kondo
(1986: 80) call symbolic violence, that is, abusing the integrity of your informants by obtaining
information from others and using this information to dominate the interview. Hastrup (1992:
1224) suggests that symbolic violence is an essential condition for the ethnographers data collec-
tion and thus an implicit relation in the text he or she writes.
8 The situation deteriorated considerably after I left Usibamba in January 1985. Sendero Luminoso
entered the area, which for several years became the arena of bloody combats between the army
and the rebels. Among Sendero Luminosos targets were the rural cooperatives established by the
reform government of Velasco in the early seventies. For information on Sendero Luminoso, see
Degregori 1991 and Mayer 1991.
9 For further information about pistaqo, see Ansin (1987: 17380; 1989) and Isbell (1985: 141, 164).
In Tapay the pistaqo is called akaq. Although associated with the same characteristics as the pis-
taqo in Usibamba (somebody killing indios to obtain their grease), the akaqs in Tapay are imag-
ined to be peasants from neighbouring villages. Naturally, that cleared me from suspicion.


population with strong feelings of dependence and unfulfilled expectations which add
mistrust to this image. Thus there are many who recall their presence with ambiguous
feelings as the project was followed by a land reform that generated much tension
within the population. When the ingenieros pulled out the villagers were left to solve
these conflicts on their own.
During my stay in Usibamba people would often address me as ingeniero. On one
occasion when I tried to make my true professional status clear to a villager he replied:
S, s ingeniero antroplogo (Oh yes, engineer anthropologist). Apparently, the vil-
lager conceived the term ingeniero as the proper title to address all foreigners whatever
their origin or professional status. Rather than correcting his notion of me, I had con-
firmed it. To this villager, I was somebody que traye alguito (who brings something
whatever that be), and could be useful. I was in other words caught in an image that
produced feelings of inferiority and opportunism and associated me with big money,
development and progress.
Occasionally, Tapeos saw me as a government agent. On trying to interview a
Tapeo migrant in Lima I ran into trouble as the man kept avoiding me; on my insist-
ing that he speak to me, his wife (a non-Tapeo) intervened. She accused me of being
a tax collector sent to collect from her husbands business and asked me to leave
immediately. Another incident occurred on my return to Tapay in August 1990 a few
days after the installation of the government of President Fujimori. Rumour had it that
the newly elected president had sent me to report on the activities of former members
of the Apra party that had formed the government of Peru from 198590. Being
unsure about the political intentions of the Fujimori administration, the villagers
feared reprisals from the new government, especially as Tapay was the only village in
the region that had not supported Fujimori, having voted for the left (and thus being
politically close to the Apra party). As I happened to reappear right after the change
of government and was known to be in close contact with the villagers and possess
information about the village, it was natural to suspect me of being an official agent,
from whom people should keep their distance in other words, a spy, dishonest and
Others saw me as a huaquero, or grave robber, who robs from a huaqo (Quechua
word for the pre-Hispanic graves found in the Andes). As many people identify the
huaqos with gentiles (a form of living ancestors), robbing from the graves is considered
a very serious act. They think that the skulls and bones found in the huaqos are ani-
mate and fear that huaqueando (grave robbing) provokes the anger of gentiles who can
cause great damage through diseases, drought and accidents. Unfortunately, my
interest in mapping the numerous huaqos on the steep slopes of the village made me
look like a huaquero, one who is untrustworthy and cheats and lies. This image natu-
rally caused anger and bitterness towards me.
Within the last eight years tourism in the Colca valley has gained momentum.
Because the region contains one of the deepest canyons in the world and the local
people continue to dress in traditional peasant garb, it fits perfectly the western image
of a picturesque and exotic Peru. Located in the lower end of the valley with no road
connections to the outside world, Tapay attracts particular attention. Here the term
turista (tourist) has recently been introduced to denote young backpackers, who are
seen as people who speak very little Spanish and no Quechua, do not know how to
behave and constantly run into problems. Though most Tapeos see tourists as harm-
less, their growing numbers and inexplicable behaviour cause perplexity: why do they

324 K A R S T E N PA E R R E G A A R D
walk through their fields, sleep on holy sites and climb sacred mountains? One Tapeo
woman asked me whether it is true that tourists bring Aids to Peru. She explained that
her neighbour once found some used cloth left by a tourist with a note saying that
anyone who touched it would die. Had it been infected by Aids? Was that what
tourism is really about? Whether the story was true or not it reflects the fear of what
tourism may bring and the incomprehensibility of tourist motives in travelling
halfway across the world to Tapay.
Whenever tourists appeared in the village, the Tapeos expected me to know their
identity and motives. Some even assumed that we were kin.10 Thus when a group of
15 British pupils accompanied by two teachers appeared in Tapay people wondered if
they were my relatives or were perhaps invited there by me, or whether I was just an
ordinary tourist sent ahead to prepare for the arrival of the rest of the group. This
image equated me with the stereotype of a turista, an odd, ridiculous, imprudent and
unintelligible person, irritating in many ways but also a key to the surrounding, out-
side world.
The tourist image was anticipated by another image: that of the gringo and the
white man. In Peru any one of European appearance, whether of western or Peruvian
origin, can be a gringo; even a slightly red-haired Tapeo is called gringo. However,
when used to denote an alien like the anthropologist the term is associated with all the
wealth and power the western world represents. Not only in Tapay, but in all of Peru,
people insisted on calling me a gringo. Thus during a migrant fiesta in Lima a man mar-
ried to a woman from Tapay but not a native Tapeo himself asked while carefully
observing me, Gringo, porqu eres tan gringo (Gringo, why are you so gringo?).
Even after they had known me for years the Tapeos persisted in addressing me as
gringo. Obviously, they did not mean to offend me in any way, but simply referred to
my biological identity (the white race).
While the gringo image evoked strong racial associations, these were often
expressed through relations of gender. During a local fiesta in Tapay a woman from a
neighbouring village openly asked me to spend the night with her; in return she prom-
ised to teach me Quechua. Though she was in her forties and married, her approaches
did not provoke condemnation from the rest of the participants. On the contrary,
people seemed quite amused.11 On another occasion a Tapeo offered me money to
help get his wife pregnant. He explained that he himself lacked the capacity to do so
but considered me to be the right person for the job. Although the wife and the neigh-
bours overheard the conversation, no one objected.12 This desire to identify me with
the gringo image reflected an expectation among many villagers that I should mejorar
la raza, that is, improve the race by having children. To them I represented a biologi-
cally authentic gringo and as such I was highly useful, possessing opportunities not

10 Crick discusses the problems of distinguishing anthropologists from tourists and concludes that
both are contemporary strangers in another culture and their reasons for being there are very
much more to do with our culture rather than the interests of the other (1992: 188).
11 I succeeded in avoiding her attention for a while by pointing out the futility of her teaching me
Quechua when her husband was likely to cut out my tongue out of jealousy. However, the woman
approached me once again later. This time she cried loudly to me on the square, Take me along the
way you want. As your wife, mistress or maid (Llvame como sea. Como tu esposa, amante o
12 Knowing that the man already has several illegitimate children while his wife is childless, I
explained to this Tapeo that his suggestion made little sense.


accessible to the native population of the Andes: being, supposedly, rich, and useful,
which stimulated contradictory feelings of desire/envy and aggression/admiration.
The final image of me as an other was that of the Other: that is an alien in the
form of a mirror image of the self. I was not just different (and on a different level)
from the Usibambinos and Tapeos, as in the cases discussed above, but the extreme
opposite. Whenever participating in work teams or in ritual events, this image gave me
the illusion of actually sharing personal experiences with the people I studied, thus
evoking an image of me as the Other. People would forget all about categories like
gringo, huaquero, pistaqo and government agent and regard me as an object of reflec-
tion and fascination, expressed in questions such as: Where is Denmark? Do you really
use indoor heating in the cowshed up there? Is it true that you eat horse meat? And
even: What size boots do you wear? With no preordained criteria, this image allowed
the imagination of the Usibambinos and Tapeos free rein. In the image as the Other
I was different and exotic, awaking curiosity, fascination and amusement, as well as
astonishment and indignation, or rejection.

Another one of us
Yet I was more than just the other to Usibambinos and Tapeos. As time passed I
became another one of some of them, that is, equal to one group of Usibambinos or
Tapeos while different from the rest. In Usibamba people got to know me as an estu-
diante (student) preparing his thesis. It is quite common for Usibambinos to pass part
of their youth studying and although this is normally limited to pre-university studies,
the term student is not at all foreign. To the Usibambinos, an estudiante is a bachelor
investigating specific aspects of life for a short period. He/she usually lacks the experi-
ence of an adult but possesses knowledge of a more abstract nature. In this image I was
often a nuisance but did not represent any danger, and my appeals for help were
usually met with sympathy. After all, I could have been one of their own sons lost out
there in the big world. As a student, then, my curiosity was regarded as harmless
though often indiscreet, even intimidating. The reactions caused by this image ranged
from embarrassment and inconvenience to collaboration and acceptance.
Another version of another one of us is the image of misti, a native conceptuali-
sation of the Spanish term mestizo. While gringo is a Spanish word referring to racial
and social status, misti is a Quechua term for someone culturally different from the
native population of the Andes. Curiously, a small group of Tapeos, descended from
a Peruvian priest and his brother of mestizo origin who settled in Tapay a century and
a half ago, are considered mistis by the rest of the population. Within a short time they
became the most powerful family in the village, using their ethnic status to control the
rest of the inhabitants economically and politically. Although the present-day descen-
dants are no longer as powerful, some of them are still considered as mistis, and,
thereby, respected as well as feared and hated.
The landlord of the house I rented in Tapay is regarded as the most powerful of
the existing mistis. As my friendship with this man and his family has become very
close over the years, many older villagers today believe that we are, in fact, related.
Children born out of wedlock are quite common in Tapay and many villagers suspect
that the priest had offspring despite his cloth. To them I could as well have been a
great-grandson of the priest, which would explain why the misti and his family offered
me shelter and treated me as one of their own. As demonstrated in the opening sce-

326 K A R S T E N PA E R R E G A A R D
nario, this image contributed to their acceptance of my participation in Tapays ritual
events in the misti role. Although I never complied with the request to act as misti, the
incident illustrates the importance Tapeos attribute to the image and the centrality of
irony in their construction of images of not only me, but also their own position in
Perus ethnic hierarchy.
While carrying out field research in Lima I spent much time with members of the
same misti family who have migrated, and rumours started to circulate among Tapeo
migrants that I was the brother of one of my landlords nephews. This man was less
dark than other Tapeos and slightly bald, a feature considered typically European.
Because of this we were known as the two mistis from Tapay, that is Tapeos, but of a
different category from the rest. In this image I was seen as an unapproachable and
powerful man to be treated with respect and obedience, but also someone who
inspired feelings of revenge and frustration.
Because of my Protestant background I had trouble distinguishing my religious
identity from those of the Lutheran denominations in Tapay. In addition, being from
northern Europe my roots were mistakenly traced to the land of Luther himself by
many evangelistas (people belonging to one of the many Protestant denominations in
Peru). To them, we were all hermanos (brothers in the religious sense of the word)
who should unite to convert the rest of the Tapeos (and the world) to Protestantism.
Although the evangelistas constitute only five per cent of the total population, several
of the village leaders, including the mayor, are evangelistas. Because of their dominant
position in the village the Catholic majority tend to view Protestants as hostile and
intolerant. Conversely, many evangelistas despise Catholics, whom they regard
doomed to poverty because of their religious traditions and customs. As tensions
often occur between the two groups, it was extremely difficult for me to stay on good
terms with both groups.13 I therefore found myself caught between two opposite
images. For the Catholics I was an intolerant, unsociable and unreasonable individual
provoking rejection, incomprehension and irritation, while the Protestants construed
me as a reasonable and rational brother, eliciting solidarity, identification and

One of us
Despite these hurdles there were moments when I became part of the Tapeo and
Usibambino community; that is, not just like some of them as in the case of the mistis
and the evangelistas, but like all of them. The first time I experienced this was during
a velorio (wake) in Tapay, an event that takes place the night before a burial. According
to local custom, no one is permitted to sleep and everybody (including outsiders) is
under heavy pressure to drink. As a result, I got dead drunk. Yet, however unpleasant
this experience was for me (I felt terribly sick for days afterwards), I soon discovered
that my participation in the wake and willingness to drink with the mourners turned
out to be crucial to my future work in Tapay. Months after the event people continued
to recall how drunk I got that night depicting me as de correa ancha, literally a person
with a wide waist-belt, but generally used as a popular term for a person ready to par-
take in the life of others without reservation.14 Paradoxically, the first time that a group

13 For further information, see Paerregaard 1994.

14 A similar experience is described by Isbell (1985: 6).


of Tapeos shared their experiences with me and allowed me to become one of them
was through total inebriation.15
In Usibamba I spent much time with an old man who showed me the borders of
the village and told me the history of Usibambas countless land disputes with neigh-
bouring haciendas and communities.16 The knowledge acquired through this friend-
ship gave me the reputation of someone who knew more about Usibamba than the
Usibambinos themselves, which in the words of my friend, made me more
Usibambino than a real Usibambino. Interestingly, I had a similar experience among
Tapeos in Lima. As many of these migrants leave Tapay as children and therefore
know little about its demographic, political and geographical history, they found
much fun in examining my local knowledge about the village. Indeed, I often heard
people declaring that I was ms tapeo que nosotros (more Tapeo than us). Here the
image of the other was that of a susceptible, trustworthy and sociable person evok-
ing confidence, frankness and reciprocity.
Lastly, as an individual with no one to take care of me when sick or in need, I was
considered a waqchawawa by many Tapeos. This is a term that habitually crops up
in Quechua kinship terminology and denotes an orphan, who symbolises all the suf-
ferings an indio goes through in life. It is a fate that can overtake anyone. Yet to be
waqchawawa is to be poor in economic terms as well, since in the Andes both con-
ditions are often coincidental. To have family is to be well off and to be alone is to be
poor. In particular, elderly women with grown-up children would give me food and
drink. Thus, as a waqchawawa I was a defenceless and unprotected person to be
treated with compassion, care and understanding.

Shar ed and contested experiences

The material discussed in this article indicates that the natives indexation and cate-
gorisation of the fieldworker contains important information about Andean society. It
suggests that Usibambinos and Tapeos do not consider themselves homogeneous
populations and that social, ethnic and religious divisions split them into different and
sometimes opposing groups. This heterogeneity was revealed through Usibambinos
and Tapeos search for images of me. Thus, it was as a European that I discovered the
misti category, as a Protestant that I identified the evangelistas and as a bachelor that I
ran into the notion of waqchawawa. Moreover, it was through their classification of
me that I received information on how they classify outsiders. Rather than pigeon-

15 The image of me as one of us reached its climax in 1995 when rumours in Tapay indicated that I
had been killed in a traffic accident in Lima. A short ceremony was arranged on the village square
in memory of the dead while the church bells tolled for me. The next day, the village teacher made
the children pray for the late anthropologist. My visit to the village in 1996 therefore caused much
surprise, particularly as I arrived on 1 November, All Saints Day, a Catholic event of great import-
ance to Andean people. In Tapay most villagers gather at the cemetery on that day to celebrate the
dead while consuming large quantities of alcohol. In effect, I was met by a crowd of drunken vil-
lagers some of whom angrily insisted that I was fake while others grabbed my arms to make sure
that I was human and not a ghost. I eventually succeeded in convincing the villagers that the
rumours they had heard about me were wrong.
16 Andean peasant communities have a long history of struggle against neighbouring haciendas trying
to encroach their land. As a result, the marking of the borders delimiting the territory of the com-
munities is accorded great importance, politically as well as symbolically (Radcliffe 1990).

328 K A R S T E N PA E R R E G A A R D
holing these all in a single they category, Tapeos and Usibambinos applied a range
of categories (ingeniero, terruco, huaquero etc.) when trying to make a human out of
the outsider. Further, when asking me to act as misti in the clown ritual, Tapeos made
explicit their own feelings about Perus ethnic hierarchy. Of particular interest was the
irony that came into play when Tapeos identified themselves and me in ethnic terms.
While encouraging me to treat them as indios, they showed strong feelings of resent-
ment about my possible role as misti. Similar sentiments of animosity were implied in
the propositions made by the woman to me on the square during the fiesta in Tapay.
Thus, irony served to dissociate from misti and gringo domination and express disap-
proval of social injustice.
My study also yields important data about the research process and the produc-
tion of anthropological knowledge. In particular, it suggests that the possibilities of
sharing experiences with our informants are contingent on the cultural categories they
impose on us. In her study of shared field experiences and the production of anthro-
pological knowledge, Rudie (1994: 32) asks can experience be shared?. My answer is
yes, but far from always. Initially, Tapeos and Usibambinos invalidated my chances
of sharing personal experiences with anyone in the field by addressing me as an inge-
niero, terruco, gringo, turista, huequero, pistaqo or government agent; in fact, I often
felt that by classifying me as an intruder Tapeos and Usibambinos deliberately
excluded me from sharing any form of experience with them and, more importantly,
from knowing whether any of my informants recognised our experiences as being
shared. Considering their past experience with outsiders, particularly gringos such as
me, my failure to evoke understanding and sympathy can hardly surprise.
Yet, their image of me changed and I gradually became another one us. Although
the variety of categories that the Tapeos and Usibambinos now used to place me was
limited, it did allow me to slip into their world, at least partly. Once classified as misti,
hermano or student, I was indexed as a potential Tapeo or Usibambino, though of a
very special kind. Nevertheless, however pleased I felt by finally becoming if not one
of them then another one of them, my experience as hermano or misti was highly
dubious. While these categories launched a wave of resonance (cf. Wikan 1992) and
redundance (cf. Bateson 1972: 40610) between me and other hermanos and mistis,
they also distanced me from the Catholic population and exposed me to the subtle ani-
mosity of the Indian majority as demonstrated above in the description of my partici-
pation in Tapays clown ritual. In effect, I found myself in the rather awkward
situation in which I contested an experience (that of belonging to one of Tapays and
Usibambas religious or ethnic minorities) which one group of villagers insisted on
sharing with me.
It was only through the image of one of us that I managed to share personal
experiences with my informants in the true sense of the word. Thus, it was as a
waqchawawa or as an outsider who took an interest in local issues, kinship relations
and Tapeos and Usibambinos personal lives or simply as a miserable drunkard who
exposed himself to Tapeos and Usibambinos in a very human manner that I slipped
through the native gaze, eluded the personhood imposed on me and was recognised as
a self-defined subject. The number of people with whom I managed to establish such
a face-to-face relation and engage in true shared experiences was confined to an exclu-
sive group of villagers, and therefore limited, and although I continuously attempted
to expand this network of local friendships, it remained small. Yet, over the years my
engagement with these people has been essential to my work in the two villages and it


remains beyond dispute that much of my ethnographic data production grows out of
our shared experiences.

Fr om experience to knowledge
In recent years a growing number of anthropologists have rejected traditional notions
of ethnographic data as objective social facts that only need to be observed or picked
up by the fieldworker (Rosaldo 1989; Roscoe 1995). Rather, cultural knowledge is
regarded as consisting of constructions produced and reproduced by social agents who
constantly negotiate and contest existing forms of wisdom (Barth 1995). Similarly, it is
argued that a dialogue (as suggested by Clifford and Marcus 1986) or an experience (as
proposed by Hastrup and Hervik 1994) can build a bridge over anthropologys savage
slot (Trouillot 1991) and thus dissolve the observer/observed dichotomy. From this
point of view much of what conventionally have been regarded as ethnographic data
are, in fact, knowledge extracted from the experience ethnographers share with their
informants in the field (Hastrup 1995: 4560).
The idea that anthropological knowledge emerges from an insight acquired by the
fieldworker through his or her personal interaction with the people under study rests
on the assumption that the ethnographer and his or her informants recognise each
other as self-conscious social agents, and their relationship thus is humanised.
However, as pointed out by several authors, the recognising of our informants as sub-
jects and co-producers of ethnographic data leaves unquestioned the historical, insti-
tutional and political context within which ethnographic production takes place and
ignores the subtle power structures embedded in the ethnographerinformant
relationship.17 Thus Jackson states that fieldwork experience has taught me that
notions of shared humanity, human equality and human rights always come up against
the micropolitical exigencies of ethnic, familiar and personal identity, and the dialectic
between particular and universal frames of reference often dissolves into a troubled
dialogue between the privileged microcosm of anthropologists and the peoples of the
Third World whose voices, struggles and claims define with far more urgency the con-
ditions that define our global future (Jackson 1998: 5).
Anthropologists attempt to humanise the other also evades problems concern-
ing the validity of ethnography and the question of how to distinguish good from bad
ethnographies (Sanjek 1990; 1991; Spencer 1989: 159). Similarly, it neglects the gender
relations inherent in the ethnographic field experience and the construction of the
anthropological object and ignores the fact that anthropologists constitute a highly
differentiated community (Strathern 1987; Caplan 1988a; 1988b; Abu-Lughod 1991:
152; Mascia-Lees, Sharpe and Cohen 1989). In the words of Gupta and Ferguson, the
whole discussion proceeds as if all anthropologists occupy the same social location
implicitly that of a white, middle-class, western (often North American) academic
and as if all are equally preoccupied with the liberal political project of sympathetically
presenting otherness to our own western society. What this ignores are the signifi-
cant internal differences that fracture such a complacent anthropological we (Gupta
and Ferguson 1997: 24). Sanjek similarly points out that this we has already been
questioned by our subjects themselves and suggests that Clifford is correct in calling

17 See Fardon (1990); Scholte (1987: 38); Trouillot (1991); Kapferer (1988: 103); Rabinow (1986) and
(1991) and Sangren (1988).

330 K A R S T E N PA E R R E G A A R D
for an new polyphonic ethnography, but the polyphony must be not only in texts but
in a rainbow company of ethnographers themselves (1990: 409). He adds that if we
change anthropologists to ethnographers, they already have a long record of
writing field notes and ethnographic texts and concludes that they are we already, if
we are not yet fully them (ibid. 408).
My examination of Tapeos and Usibambinos images of me confirms this cri-
tique and raises questions concerning the assumption that our subjects conceive the
experiences we engage in with them as shared. By evoking a notion of the encounter
between fieldworker and informant as consensual and harmonic, shared experience
implies that the experiences they engage in are equally apprehended by the two. Not
only is the degree of sharedness difficult to measure (for instance, it implies that there
is also something unshared or divided) but the very notion of sharing implies a reso-
nance of understanding and redundance of meaning between the ethnographer and the
people under study, which may perhaps be deeply felt by the former, but not necess-
arily by the latter. Erroneously, such an understanding of sharedness seems to repre-
sent the ethnographic data produced from our field experiences as a uniform body of
information authenticated and validated by both the researcher and the informant.
Rather than transforming anthropologys us/them dichotomy into a harmonic
and consensual relationship, I argue that the humanising of the other discloses a
highly dubious relationship and calls for caution when using shared experiences in the
field to create anthropological knowledge. Although most ethnographers over time
establish enduring ties based on personal trust and friendship with their informants,
such bonds are also shaped by many other forms of experiences embedded in the gen-
eralisation and categorisations that our informants impose on us in the field. Despite
years of friendship many Tapeos continue to entitle me as gringo and many
Usibambinos keep on addressing me ingeniero.

The most authentic practice therefore is not only to dissolve the us/them dichotomy
but also to place the historical and political conditions on which it rests under obser-
vation and deconstruct the ethnographerinformant relationship for its inherent social
relations of power before the analysis can move beyond the ethnographer. While I
regard this as a general condition that all ethnographers must abide by and overcome
so that they can properly move past themselves and reach the agency and strategies of
native informants, I also claim that anthropologists need to examine the methodologi-
cal and analytical implications which these power relations and the social imaginaries
they entail have for anthropological knowledge production.
My suggestion is that in order to study these implications we must explore the
ethnographic field as an arena for intersubjective interaction in which the ethnogra-
pher and his or her informants struggle to impose social roles and cultural categories
on the other, and ultimately deny his or her self-identity. As demonstrated, I first
experienced such a denial in the category of an outsider (as in the image of me as the
other) and later in that of someone who is included in the social world of one group
but is simultaneously excluded from participating in activities organised by the
majority of the population (as in the image of me as another one of us). Not only did
these attempts to essentialise and ostracise me invalidate my possibilities of sharing
experiences with the people I wished to study, but in as much as I tried to negotiate


and contest the social roles and cultural categories that were imposed on me I became
a significant author of events, practices and cultural configurations, thereby influenc-
ing the process through which my ethnographic data are produced. The data I
extracted from my field experiences, then, were shaped by processes of exclusion as
well as contestation.
However, shared (or denied) experience is only one dimension of the multiplicity
of meanings that come to the fore in the material I have discussed in this paper. In fact,
several of the vignettes indicate that my interaction with Tapeos and Usibambinos
goes far beyond labelling and classification. For instance, the irony and burlesque that
came into play in the clown ritual and that Tapeos used to express their disapproval
of social injustice disclose a complex of interaction that covers discursive as well as
performative practices. In this exchange the participants (including myself) are alter-
nately excluded and included. Similarly, the estudiante, hermano and misti categories
symbolise identities that are expressed in multiple ways and that simultaneously
encourage and discourage people from participating in social life. Even in the image of
the other my identity was made the object of interpretation and negotiation, allow-
ing me to act as insider as well as outsider. The ambiguity and tension underlying these
categories were particularly evident in the gringo identity which Tapeos and
Usibambinos impose on foreigners, not merely to ostracise them but also to establish
relations of exchange. In my communication with Tapeos and Usibambinos, then,
nearness and distancing, whether by labels or other means, were continually unfold-
ing and entwined, suggesting that fieldwork embraces dimensions of both inclusive-
ness and marginality. It is in these shifting positions as insider/outsider and the blurred
boundaries between what is defined as included/excluded rather than through the
experiences that they share with their informants that the fieldworkers gain ethno-
graphic insight and produce anthropological knowledge.

Karsten Paerregaard
Institute of Anthropology
University of Copenhagen
1220 Copenhagen

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