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On Ethnographic Authority

Author(s): James Clifford

Source: Representations, No. 2 (Spring, 1983), pp. 118-146
Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2928386
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On EthnographicAuthority*

THE 1724 FRONTISPIECE of Father Lafitau's Moeurs des sauvages

as a youngwoman sittingat a writingtable
ameriquains portraysthe ethnographer
amidst artifactsfromthe New World and fromclassical Greece and Egypt. The
authoris accompaniedby two cherubswho assist in the task of comparisonand by
the bearded figureof Time who pointstowarda tableau representing the ultimate
source of the truthsissuing fromthe writer'spen. The image toward which the
youngwoman liftsher gaze is a bank of clouds whereAdam, Eve and the serpent
appear. Above themstandthe redeemedman and woman of the Apocalypseon ei-
therside of a radianttrianglebearingthe Hebrew scriptforYahweh.
The frontispiece forMalinowski'sArgonautsofthe WesternPacificis a photo-
graph with the caption"A CeremonialAct of the Kula." A shell necklaceis being
offeredto a Trobriandchiefwho standsat the doorofhis dwelling.Behindthe man
presentingthenecklaceis a row ofsix bowingyouths,one ofthemsoundinga conch.
All the figuresstandin profile,theirattentionapparentlyconcentrated on theriteof
exchange,a real eventof Melanesian life.But on closerinspectionone ofthebowing
Trobriandersmay be seen to be lookingat the camera.
Lafitau's allegoryis the less familiar:his authortranscribesratherthan origi-
nates. Unlike Malinowski's photo, the engravingmakes no referenceto eth-
nographicexperience-despiteLafitau'sfiveyearsofresearchamongthe Mohawks,
researchthathas earnedhima respectedplace amongthefieldworkers ofany gener-
ation. His accountis presentednot as the productof first-hand observationbut of
writing,in a crowdedworkshop.The frontispiece fromArgonauts, like all photo-
graphs,assertspresence,that of the scene beforethe lens. But it suggestsalso an-
otherpresence-the ethnographeractivelycomposingthis fragmentof Trobriand
reality.Kula exchange,the subjectof Malinowski's book,has been made perfectly
visible,centeredin the perceptualframe.And a participant'sglance redirectsour
attentionto theobservationalstandpointwe share,as readers,withtheethnographer
and his camera. The predominantmode of modernfieldworkauthorityis signaled:
"You are there,because I was there."
The presentessay tracesthe formationand breakupof this authorityin twen-
tiethcenturysocial anthropology. It is not a completeaccount,nor is it based on a
fullyrealized theoryof ethnographicinterpretation Such a theory's
and textuality.1
contoursare problematic,since the activityof cross culturalrepresentation is now
more than usually in question.The presentpredicamentis linkedto the breakup
and redistribution of colonial power in the decades after1950 and to the echoesof

thatprocessin theradical culturaltheoriesofthe 1960s and 1970s. Afterthe Negri-
tude movement'sreversalof the European gaze, afteranthropology's crisede con-
sciencewithrespectto its liberalstatuswithinthe imperialorder,and now thatthe
West can no longerpresentitselfas the unique purveyorof anthropological knowl-
edge about others,it has becomenecessaryto imaginea world of generalizedeth-
nography. With expanded communicationand interculturalinfluence,people
interpret others,and themselves, in a bewilderingdiversityofidioms-a global con-
ditionof what Bakhtincalled "heteroglossia."2This ambiguous,multi-vocalworld
makes it increasinglyhard to conceiveof human diversityas inscribedin bounded,
independentcultures.Differenceis an effectof inventivesyncretism. In recentyears
workslike Edward Said's Orientalismand Paulin Hountondji'sSur la "philosophic
africaine"have cast radical doubton the proceduresby which alien human groups
can be represented,withoutproposingsystematic,sharplynew methodsor epis-
temologies.These studiessuggestthat while ethnographicwritingcannotentirely
escape the reductionist use of dichotomiesand essences,it can at least struggleself-
consciouslyto avoid portraying abstract,a-historical"others."3It is morethan ever
crucialfordifferent peoplesto formcomplexconcreteimagesofone another,as well
as of the relationshipsof knowledgeand powerthatconnectthem.But no sovereign
scientificmethodor ethicalstancecan guaranteethe truthof such images.They are
constituted-thecritiqueof colonialmodesof representation has shownat least this
much-in specifichistoricalrelationsof dominanceand dialogue.
The experiments in ethnographic writingsurveyedbelow do notfallintoa clear
reformist directionor evolution.They are ad hoc inventionsand cannotbe seen in
termsof a systematic analysisof post-colonialrepresentation.They are perhapsbest
understoodas componentsofthat"toolkit"ofengagedtheoryrecentlyrecommended
by Deleuze and Foucault.

as a toolkit
The notionoftheory means(i) The theory
tobe constructed
is nota system
instrument, of power relationsand the strugglesaround them;(ii)
a logic of the specificity
That thisinvestigation can only be carriedout step by step on the basis of reflection
will necessarilybe historicalin someof its aspects)on givensituations.4

We may contribute to a practical reflectionon cross cultural representation by un-

dertaking an inventory of the better, though imperfect, approaches currently at
hand. Of these, ethnographic fieldworkremains an unusually sensitive method. Par-
ticipant observation obliges its practitioners to experience, at a bodily as well as
intellectual level, the vicissitudes of translation. It requires arduous language learn-
ing,somedegreeof directinvolvement and conversation, and oftena derangement of
personaland culturalexpectations.There is, of course,a mythof fieldwork,and the
actual experience,hedgedaroundwithcontingencies, rarelylivesup to theideal. But
as a means forproducingknowledgefroman intense,intersubjective engagement,
the practiceof ethnographyretainsa certainexemplarystatus.Moreover,if field-
workhas fora timebeen identifiedwitha uniquelyWesterndisciplineand a totaliz-

Authority 119
On Ethnographic
ing science of "anthropology,"these associationsare not necessarilypermanent.
Currentstylesofculturaldescriptionare historically limitedand undergoingimpor-
The developmentof ethnographicsciencecannot ultimatelybe understoodin
isolationfrommoregeneralpolitical-epistemological debatesabout writingand the
representation of otherness.However,in the presentdiscussionI have maintaineda
focuson professionalanthropology on developments
and specifically withininterpre-
tive ethnographysince 1950. The currentcrisis-or better,dispersion-of eth-
nographicauthoritymakes it possibleto markoffa roughperiod,boundedby the
years 1900 and 1960, duringwhich a new conceptionof fieldresearchestablished
itselfas the normforEuropean and Americananthropology.Intensivefieldwork,
pursuedby university trainedspecialists,emergedas a privileged,sanctionedsource
of data about exoticpeoples. It is not a question,here,ofthe dominanceof a single
researchmethod."Intensive"ethnographywas variouslydefined.6Moreover,the
hegemonyof fieldwork was establishedearlierand morethoroughly in Americaand
England than it was in France. The earlyexamplesof Boas and the TorresStraits
Expeditionwere matchedonlybelatedlybythefoundingoftheInstitutd'Ethnologie
in 1925 and the much-publicizedMission Dakar-Djibouti of 1932.7 Nevertheless,
by the mid-1930sone can fairlyspeak of a developinginternational consensus:valid
anthropologicalabstractionswere to be based, whereverpossible,on intensivecul-
tural descriptionsby qualifiedscholars.By the mid-1930sthe new stylehad been
made popular,institutionalized, and embodiedin specifictextualpractices.
It has recentlybecomepossibleto identify and take a certaindistancefromthese
conventions.8 If ethnographyproducesculturalinterpretations throughintensere-
searchexperiences,how is unrulyexperiencetransformed writ-
intoan authoritative
ten account? How, precisely, is a garrulous, overdetermined,cross cultural
encountershot throughwith power relationsand personalcross purposescircum-
scribedas an adequate versionofa more-or-less discrete"otherworld,"composedby
an individualauthor?
In analyzingthis complextransformation one mustbear in mindthe factthat
ethnographyis frombeginningto end enmeshedin writing.This writingincludes,
minimally,a translationof experienceintotextualform.The processis complicated
by the actionof multiplesubjectivities and politicalconstraintsbeyondthecontrolof
thewriter.In responseto theseforcesethnographic writingenactsa specificstrategy
of authority.This has classicallyinvolvedan unquestionedclaim to appear as the
purveyorof truthin the text.A complexculturalexperienceis enunciatedby an
individual: We the Tikopia, by Raymond Firth; Nous avons mange la foret, by
Georges Condominas; Coming of Age in Samoa, by Margaret Mead; The Nuer, by
The discussionthatfollowsfirstlocatesthisauthorityhistorically-inthedevel-
opmentofa twentieth-century scienceofparticipant-observation.It thenproceedsto
a critiqueof underlyingassumptionsand a reviewof emergingtextual practices.

Alternatestrategiesof ethnographicauthoritymaybe seen in recentexperiments by
ethnographerswho self-consciously rejectscenes of culturalrepresentation in the
styleof Malinowski's frontispiece.Differentsecular versionsof Lafitau's crowded
scriptorialworkshopare emerging.In the new paradigmsof authoritythe writeris
no longerfascinatedby transcendentfigures-by a Hebrew-Christiandeityor its
twentieth-century replacements,"Man" and "culture." Nothing remains of the
heavenlytableau exceptthe anthropologist's scumbledimage in a mirror.And the
silence of the ethnographicworkshophas been broken-by insistent,heteroglot
voices,by the scratchingof otherpens.9

At the close of the nineteenthcenturynothingguaranteed,a priori,the eth-

nographer'sstatusas the bestinterpreter of nativelife-as opposedto the traveller,
and especiallyto the missionaryand administrator, some of whomhad been in the
fieldfar longerand had betterresearchcontactsand linguisticskills.The develop-
mentofthefieldworker's imagein America,fromCushing(an oddball) to Margaret
Mead (a nationalfigure)is significant. During thisperioda particularformof au-
thority created, an authority both validatedand based on a unique
personalexperience.During the 1920s Malinowski played a centralrole in estab-
lishingcreditforthefieldworker, and we shouldrecallin thislighthis attackson the
competenceofcompetitors in thefield.For example,thecolonialmagistrateRentoul,
who had the temerity to contradictscience'sfindingsconcerningTrobriandconcep-
tionsof paternity, was excommunicated in the pages of Man forhis unprofessional
"police courtperspective."The attackon amateurismin the fieldwas pressedeven
further by Radcliffe-Brown who,as Ian Langham has shown,came to epitomizethe
scientificprofessional,discovering rigoroussocial laws, etc.10What emergedduring
thefirsthalfofthetwentieth century,withthesuccessofprofessionalfieldwork, was
a new fusionof general theoryand empiricalresearch,of culturalanalysis with
The fieldworker-theorist replacedan older partitionbetweenthe "man on the
spot" (in Frazer's words) and the sociologistor anthropologist in the metropole.
This divisionof labor variedin different nationaltraditions.In America,forexam-
ple, Morgan had personalknowledgeof at least some ofthe culturesthatwere raw
materialforhis sociologicalsyntheses; and Boas, ratherearlierthanelsewhere,made
intensivefieldworkthe sine qua non of serious anthropologicaldiscourse.But in
general,beforeMalinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, and Mead had successfullyestab-
lished the norm of the university trained scholar testingand derivingtheoryfrom
first-handresearch,a rather different economyof ethnographicknowledgepre-
vailed. For example,Codrington'sThe Melanesians (1891) is a detailedcompilation
of folkloreand custom,drawnfroma relativelylongtermofresearchas an evangel-
ist and based on intensivecollaborationwithindigenoustranslatorsand informants.
The book is notorganizedarounda fieldwork "experience,"and it does notadvance
a unifiedinterpretative hypothesis,functional,historicalor otherwise.It is content

On EthnographicAuthority 121
withlow level generalizationsand the amassingof an eclecticrangeof information.
Codringtonis acutelyaware of the incompleteness of his knowledge,believingthat
real understanding of nativelifebeginsonlyaftera decade or so of experienceand
study."IThis understanding ofthedifficulty ofgraspingtheworldofalien peoples-
the many years of learningand unlearningneeded,the problemsof acquiring a
thoroughlinguisticcompetence-tendsto dominatethe most serious ethnographic
workofCodrington'sgeneration.But suchassumptionswould soonbe challengedby
the moreconfidentculturalrelativismof the Malinowskianmodel.The new field-
workerssharplydistinguishedthemselvesfromthe earlier "men on the spot," the
missionary,the administrator, the trader,and thetraveller,whose knowledgeof in-
digenouspeoples,theyargued,was notinformedby thebestscientific hypothesesor
a sufficientneutrality.
Before the emergenceof professionalethnography,writerslike McLennan,
Lubbock, and Tylor had attemptedto controlthe quality of the reportson which
theiranthropological syntheseswere based. They did thisbymeansoftheguidelines
ofNotesand Queriesand, in Tylor'scase, bycultivating long-term workingrelations
with sophisticatedresearchersin the fieldlike the missionaryLorimerFison. After
1883, as newlyappointedReader in Anthropology at Oxford,Tylorworkedto en-
courage the systematicgatheringof ethnographicdata by qualified professionals.
The UnitedStatesBureau ofEthnology,alreadycommitted to theundertaking, pro-
vided a model. Tylor was activein foundinga Committeeon the North-Western
Tribes of Canada. The Committee'sfirstagent in the fieldwas the nineteen-year
veteranmissionaryamongthe Ojibwa, E. F. Wilson. He was replaced,beforelong,
by Franz Boas, a physicistin the processof turningto professionalethnography.
George Stockinghas persuasivelyargued that the replacementof Wilson by Boas
"marks the beginningof an importantphase in the developmentof Britisheth-
nographicmethod:the collectionof data by academicallytrainednatural scientists
definingthemselvesas anthropologists, and involvedalso in the formulationand
evaluation of anthropologicaltheory." With Boas' early survey work and the
emergencein the 1890s of othernatural-scientist fieldworkers like A. C. Haddon
and Baldwin Spencer,the move toward professionalethnographywas underway.
The TorresStraitsExpeditionof 1899 may be seen as a culminationof theworkof
this "intermediategeneration,"as Stockingcalls them.The new styleof research
was clearlydifferent fromthatof missionariesand otheramateursin the field,and
part of a generaltrend,since Tylor,"to draw more closelytogetherthe empirical
and theoreticalcomponentsof anthropological inquiry."'2
However, the establishmentof intensiveparticipant-observation as a profes-
sional normwould have to await the Malinowskiancohort.The "intermediate gen-
eration"ofethnographers did not,typically,livein a singlelocale fora yearor more,
masteringthe vernacularand undergoinga personallearningexperiencecompara-
ble to an initiation.They did notspeak as culturalinsiders,but retainedthe natural
scientist'sdocumentary, observationalstance. The principalexception,beforethe

thirddecade of the century,Frank Hamilton Cushing, remainedan isolated in-
stance. As Curtis Hinsley has suggested,Cushing's long first-handstudyof the
Zunis, his quasi-absorptioninto theirway of life, "raised awkward problemsof
verification and accountability.... A communityof scientificanthropology on the
modelof othersciencesrequireda commonlanguageof discourse,channelsof regu-
lar communication, and at least minimalconsensuson judgingmethod."''3Cushing's
intuitive,excessivelypersonalunderstanding of the Zuni could not conferscientific
Schematicallyput,beforethe late nineteenthcenturythe ethnographer and the
anthropologist, thedescriber/translator ofcustomand thebuilderofgeneraltheories
about humanity,were distinct.(A clear sense of the tensionbetweenethnography
and anthropology is importantin correctly perceivingthe recent,and perhapstem-
porary,conflationof the two projects.)Malinowski gives us the imago of the new
"anthropologist"-squattingby the campfire,looking,listeningand questioning,re-
cording,and interpreting Trobriandlife.The literarycharterof thisnew authority
is the firstchapterof Argonauts,withits prominently displayedphotographsof the
ethnographer'stent pitched among Kiriwinian dwellings. The sharpest meth-
odologicaljustification forthe new mode is to be foundin Radcliffe-Brown's Anda-
man Islanders. The two books were published within a year of each other. And
althoughtheirauthorsdevelopedquite different fieldworkstylesand visionsof cul-
tural science,bothearlytextsprovideexplicitargumentsforthe special authorityof
the ethnographer-anthropologist.
Malinowski,as his notesforthe crucial Introductionto Argonautsshow, was
greatlyconcernedwiththerhetoricalproblemofconvincing his readersthatthefacts
he was puttingbeforethem were objectivelyacquired, not subjectivecreations.14
Moreover,he was fullyaware that"In Ethnography, the distanceis oftenenormous
betweenthe brutematerialof information-asit is presentedto the studentin his
own observations,in native statement,in the kaleidoscopeof tribal life-and the
final authoritativepresentationof the results."'5Stockinghas nicelyanalyzed the
variousliteraryartificesofArgonauts(its engagingnarrativeconstructs, use ofactive
voice in the "ethnographicpresent,"illusive dramatizationsof the author's par-
ticipationin scenesof Trobriandlife)techniquesMalinowskiused so that"his own
experienceof the natives' experience(might) become the reader's experienceas
well."16 The problemsof verification and accountabilitythathad relegatedCushing
to the professionalmarginwere verymuchon Malinowski'smind.This anxietyis
reflectedin the mass of data containedin Argonauts,its sixty-sixphotographic
plates,the now rathercurious"Chronologicallistof Kula EventsWitnessedby the
Writer,"theconstantalternationbetweenimpersonaldescription oftypicalbehavior
and statementson the order of "I witnessed . . .," and "Our party, sailing fromthe
North.. . ."
Argonautsis a complexnarrative,simultaneously of Trobriandlifeand of eth-
nographicfieldwork.It is archetypicalof the generationof ethnographies

On Ethnographic
Authority 123
cessfully established participant-observation's scientificvalidity. The story of
researchbuilt into Argonauts,into Mead's popular work on Samoa, into We the
Tikopia, became an implicitnarrativeunderlyingall professionalreportson exotic
worlds. If subsequentethnographiesdid not need to include developedfieldwork
accounts,it was because suchaccountswere assumed,oncea statement was made on
the orderof,forexample,GodfreyLienhardt'ssinglesentenceat the beginningof
Divinityand Experience: "This book is based upon two years' work among the
Dinka, spread overthe period 1947-1950."17
In the 1920s, the new fieldworker-theorist broughtto completiona powerful
new scientificand literarygenre,the ethnography, a synthetic culturaldescription
based on participant-observation.'8 The new styleof representation dependedon
institutionaland methodologicalinnovationscircumventing the obstaclesto rapid
knowledge of other cultures that had preoccupied the best representativesof
Codrington'sgeneration.These may be brieflysummarized.
First,the persona of the fieldworker was validated,both publiclyand profes-
sionally.In thepopular domain,visiblefigureslike Malinowski,Mead, and Griaule
communicateda visionof ethnography as bothscientificallydemandingand heroic.
The professionalethnographerwas trainedin the latest analytictechniquesand
modes of scientificexplanation.This conferredan advantageover amateursin the
field:the professionalcould claim to get to the heart of a culturemore quickly,
graspingits essentialinstitutions and structures.A prescribedattitudeof cultural
relativismdistinguished the fieldworker frommissionaries,administrators, and oth-
ers whose view of nativeswas, presumably,less dispassionate,who were preoc-
cupied with the problemsof government, or conversion.In additionto scientific
sophistication and relativistsympathy, a varietyof normativestandardsforthe new
formof researchemerged:the fieldworker was to live in the nativevillage,use the
vernacular,staya sufficient (but seldomspecified)lengthoftime,investigate certain
classic subjects,and so on.
Second:it was tacitlyagreedthatthe new-styleethnographer, whose sojournin
the fieldseldomexceededtwo years,and morefrequently was muchless, could effi-
ciently"use" nativelanguageswithout"mastering"them.In a significant articleof
1939 Margaret Mead argued that the ethnographer following the Malinowskian
prescription to avoid interpreters and to conductresearchin the vernaculardid not,
in fact,need to attain"virtuosity" in nativetongues,but could "use" thevernacular
to ask questions,maintainrapport,and generallyget along in the culturewhile
obtaininggood researchresultsin particularareas ofconcentration.'9 This, in effect,
justifiedher own practice,whichfeaturedrelativelyshortstaysand a focuson spe-
cificdomains,like childhood,or "personality."These fociwould functionas "types"
fora culturalsynthesis.But herattitudetowardlanguage"use" was broadlycharac-
teristicofan ethnographic generationthatcould,forexample,creditan authoritative
studycalled The Nuer, thatwas based on onlyelevenmonthsof difficult research.

Mead's article provokeda sharp responsefromRobert Lowie, writingfromthe
older Boasian tradition,more philologicalin its orientation.20 But his was a rear-
guard action;the pointhad been generallyestablishedthatvalid researchcould,in
practice,be accomplishedon thebasis ofa one or two-yearfamiliarity witha foreign
vernacular(even though,as Lowie suggested,no one would credita translationof
Proustthatwas based on an equivalentknowledgeof French).
Third: the new ethnographywas marked by an increasedemphasis on the
powerofobservation.Culturewas construedas an ensembleofcharacteristic behav-
iors,ceremoniesand gestures,susceptibleto recordingand explanationby a trained
onlooker.Mead pressedthispointfurthest (indeed,her own powersofvisual analy-
sis were extraordinary). As a generaltrendthe participant-observer emergedas a
researchnorm.Of course,successfulfieldwork mobilizedthefullestpossiblerangeof
interactions,but a distinctprimacywas accordedto the visual: interpretation was
tiedto description.AfterMalinowski,a generalsuspicionof"privilegedinformants"
reflectedthis systematicpreferencefor the (methodical)observationsof the eth-
nographeroverthe (interested)interpretations of indigenousauthorities.
Fourth:certainpowerfultheoreticalabstractions promisedto help academiceth-
nographers"get to the heart" of a culturemorerapidlythan someoneundertaking,
forexample,a thoroughinventory of customsand beliefs.Withoutspendingyears
gettingto know natives,theircomplexlanguagesand habits,in intimatedetail,the
researchercould go afterselecteddata thatwould yielda centralarmatureof struc-
ture of the culturalwhole. Rivers' "genealogicalmethod,"followedby Radcliffe-
Brown's model of "social structure,"providedthis sort of shortcut.Onc could, it
seemed,elicitkin termswithouta deep understanding of local vernacular,and the
rangeof necessarycontextualknowledgewas conveniently limited.
Fifth:sinceculture,seen as a complexwhole,was always too muchto masterin
a shortresearchspan,thenew ethnographer tendedto focusthematically on particu-
The aim was notto contribute
lar institutions. to a completeinventory or description
of custom,but ratherto get at the whole throughone or moreof its parts.We have
notedthe privilegegiven,fora time,to social structure.An individuallife-cycle, a
ritualcomplexlike the Kula ringor the Naven ceremonycould also serve,as could
categoriesof behaviorlike "economics,""politics,"and the like. In the predomi-
nantlysynecdochic rhetoricalstanceofthenew ethnography, partswere assumedto
be microcosmsor analogies of wholes. This settingof institutionalforegrounds
againstculturalbackgroundsin theportrayalofa coherentworldlentitselfto realist
Sixth:the wholes thus representedtendedto be synchronic, productsof short-
termresearchactivity.The intensivefieldworker could plausiblysketchthecontours
of an "ethnographicpresent"-the cycleof a year,a ritualseries,patternsoftypical
behavior.To introducelong-termhistoricalinquirywould have impossiblycompli-
cated the task of the new-stylefieldwork.Thus, when Malinowski and Radcliffe-

On Ethnographic
Authority 125
Brown established their critique of the "conjectural history" of the diffusionistsit
was all too easy to exclude diachronic processes as objects of fieldwork,with conse-
quences that have by now been sufficientlydenounced.

These innovations served to validate an efficientethnographybased on scientific

participant-observation.Their combined effectmay be seen in what may well be the
tour de force of the new ethnography, Evans-Pritchard's The Nuer, published in
1940. Based on eleven months of research conducted-as the book's remarkable in-
troduction tells us-in almost impossible conditions, Evans-Pritchard nonetheless
was able to compose a classic. He arrived in Nuerland on the heels of a punitive
military expedition and at the urgent request of the governmentof the Anglo-Egyp-
tian Sudan. He was the object of constant and intense suspicion. Only in the final
few months could he converse at all effectivelywith informantswho, he tells us,
were skilled at evading his questions. In the circumstances his monograph is a kind
of miracle.
While advancing limited claims and making no secret of the restraints on his
research, Evans-Pritchard manages to present his study as a demonstration of the
effectivenessof theory.He focuses on Nuer political and social "structure," analyzed
as an abstract set of relations between territorial segments, lineages, age-sets, and
other more fluid groups. This analytically derived ensemble is portrayed against an
"ecological" backdrop composed of migratorypatterns,relationships with cattle, no-
tions of time and space. Evans-Pritchard sharply distinguishes his method from
what he calls "haphazard" (Malinowskian) documentation. The Nuer is not an ex-
tensive compendium of observations and vernacular texts in the style of Mal-
inowski's Argonauts and Coral Gardens. Evans-Pritchard argues rigorously that
"facts can only be selected and arranged in the light of theory." The frank abstrac-
tion of a political-social structureoffersthe necessary framework. If I am accused of
describing facts as exemplifications of my theory, he then goes on to note, I have
been understood.2'
In The Nuer, Evans-Pritchard makes strong claims for the power of scientific
abstraction to focus research and arrange complex data. The book often presents
itself as an argument, rather than a description. But not consistently:its theoretical
argument is surrounded by skillfully observed and narrated evocations and inter-
pretations of Nuer life. These passages function rhetorically as more than simple
"exemplifications," for they effectivelyimplicate readers in the complex subjectivity
of participant-observation. This may be seen in a characteristic paragraph which
progresses through a series of discontinuous discursive positions:
to findan Englishword thatadequatelydescribesthe social positionofdietin a
It is difficult
tribe.We have called themaristocrats,but do notwish to implythatNuer regardthemas of
superiorrank,for,as we have emphaticallydeclared,theidea of a man lordingit overothers
is repugnantto them.On thewhole-we will qualifythestatement later-the diethave pres-
tigeratherthan rank and influenceratherthan power.If you are a dil of the tribein which

you live you are morethana simpletribesman.You are one of the ownersof the country,its
village sites,its pastures,its fishingpools and wells. Other people live thereby virtueof
marriageinto your clan, adoptioninto your lineage, or of some othersocial tie. You are a
leader of the tribeand the spear-nameof your clan is invokedwhen the tribegoes to war.
Wheneverthereis a dil in the village,the village clustersaround him as a herd of cattle
clustersaround its bull.22

The firstthree sentences are presented as an argument about translation, but in

passing they attribute to "Nuer" a stable set of attitudes. (I will have more to say
later about this style of attribution.) Next, in the four sentences beginning "If you
are a dil . . .", the second-person constructionbrings togetherreader and native in a
textual participation. The final sentence, offeredas a direct description of a typical
event (which the reader now assimilates from the standpoint of a participant-ob-
server) evokes the scene by means of Nuer cattle metaphors. In the paragraph's eight
sentences an argument about translation passes through a fictionof participation to
a metaphorical fusion of external and indigenous cultural descriptions. The subjec-
tive joining of abstract analysis and concrete experience is accomplished.
Evans-Pritchard would later move away from the theoretical position of The
Nuer, rejecting its advocacy of "social structure" as a privileged framework. Indeed,
each of the fieldwork"shortcuts" enumerated above was, and remains, contested.Yet
by their deployment in differentcombinations, the authority of the academic field-
worker-theoristwas established in the years between 1920 and 1950. This peculiar
amalgam of intense personal experience and scientificanalysis (understood in this
period as both "rite of passage" and "laboratory") emerged as a method: partici-
pant-observation. Though variously understood, and now disputed in many quar-
ters, this method remains the chief distinguishing feature of professional
anthropology. Its complex subjectivity is routinely reproduced in the writing and
reading of ethnographies.

"Participant-observation" serves as shorthand for a continuous tacking between

the "inside" and "outside" of events: on the one hand grasping the sense of specific
occurrences and gestures empathetically, on the other stepping back to situate these
meanings in wider contexts. Particular events thus acquire deeper or more general
significance,structural rules, and so forth.Understood literally,participant-observa-
tion is a paradoxical, misleading formula. But it may be taken seriously if reformu-
lated in hermeneutic terms as a dialectic of experience and interpretation.This is
how the method's most persuasive recent defenders have restated it, in the tradition
that leads from Dilthey, via Weber, to "symbols and meanings anthropologists" like
Geertz. Experience and interpretationhave, however, been accorded differentem-
phases when presented as claims to authority. In recent years, there has been a
marked shiftof emphasis fromthe formerto the latter. This section and the one that
follows will explore the rather differentclaims of experience and interpretationas
well as their evolving interrelation.

On EthnographicAuthority 127
The growingprestigeofthefieldworker-theorist downplayed(withouteliminat-
ing) a numberof processesand mediatorsthat had figuredmore prominently in
previousmethods.We have seen how languagemasterywas definedas a levelofuse
adequate foramassinga discretebodyof data in a limitedperiodoftime.The tasks
of textualtranscription and translationalong withthe crucialdialogicalrole of in-
terpretersand "privilegedinformants"were relegatedto a secondary,sometimes
even despised,status.Fieldworkwas now centeredon the experienceofthe partici-
pant-observing scholar.A sharp image,or narrative,made its appearance-that of
an outsiderenteringa culture,undergoinga kindof initiationleadingto "rapport"
(minimally,acceptanceand empathy,but usuallyimplyingsomethingakinto friend-
ship). Out of this experienceemerged,in unspecifiedways, a representational text
authoredbytheparticipant-observer. As we shall see,thisversionoftextualproduc-
tion obscuresas much as it reveals. But it is worthtakingseriouslyits principal
assumption,thatthe experienceof the researchercan serveas a unifyingsourceof
authorityin the field.
Experientialauthorityis based on a "feel" forthe foreigncontext,a kind of
accumulatedsavvyand sense of the styleof a people or place. Such an appeal is
frequently explicitin the textsof the earlyprofessionalparticipant-observers.Mar-
garetMead's claimto grasptheunderlying principleor ethosofa culturethrougha
heightenedsensitivity to form,tone,gesture,and behavioralstyles,or Malinowski's
stresson his life in the village and the comprehensionderivedfromthe "impon-
derabilia" of daily existence,are prominentcases in point. Many ethnographies,
Colin Turnbull's The ForestPeople for example, are still cast in the experiential
mode, asserting,prior to any specificresearchhypothesisor method,the "I was
there"of the ethnographer as insiderand participant.
to say verymuchabout experience.Like "intuition"one
Of course,it is difficult
has it or not, and its invocationoftensmacks of mystification. Neverthelessone
should resistthe temptation to translate all meaningfulexperienceinto interpreta-
tion.If thetwo are reciprocally related,theyare notidentical.It makessensehereto
hold themapart, if only because appeals to experienceoftenact as validationsfor
ethnographicauthority.The mostseriousargumentforthe role of experiencein the
historicaland culturalsciencesis containedin the generalnotionof Verstehen.23 In
Dilthey'sinfluential view,understanding othersarisesinitiallyfromthesheerfactof
coexistencein a sharedworld.But thisexperientialworld,an intersubjective ground
forobjectiveformsof knowledge,is preciselywhat is missingor problematicforan
ethnographerenteringan alien culture.Thus duringthe early monthsin the field
(and indeedthroughoutthe research)what is goingon is language-learningin the
broadestsense. Dilthey's"commonsphere" mustbe establishedand re-established,
buildingup a shared experientialworld in relationto which all "facts,""texts,"
"events,"and theirinterpretations will be constructed.This processof livingone's
way intoan alien expressiveuniverseis, in his scheme,always subjectivein nature.
But it quicklybecomesdependenton what he calls "permanently fixedexpressions,"

stable forms to which understanding can return. The exegesis of these fixed forms
provides the content of all systematic historical-cultural knowledge. Thus experi-
ence, for Dilthey, is closely linked to interpretation(and he is among the firstmod-
ern theorists to compare the understanding of cultural forms to the reading of
"texts"). But this sort of reading or exegesis cannot occur without an intense, per-
sonal participation, an active at-homeness in a common universe.24
Following Dilthey, ethnographic "experience" can be seen as the building-up of
a common, meaningful world, drawing on intuitivestyles of feeling,perception, and
guesswork. This activity makes use of clues, traces, gestures, and scraps of sense
prior to the development of developed, stable interpretations.Such piecemeal forms
of experience may be classified as estheticand/or divinatory.There is space here for
otly a few words about such styles of comprehension as they relate to ethnography.
An evocation of an esthetic mode is convenientlyprovided by A. L. Kroeber's 1931
review of Mead's Growing up in New Guinea.
First of all, it is clear that she possessesto an outstandingdegree the facultiesof swiftly
apperceivingthe principalcurrentsof a cultureas theyimpingeon individuals,and of delin-
eatingthesewithcompactpen-picturesof astonishingsharpness.The resultis a representa-
tionofquite extraordinary vividnessand semblanceto life.Obviously,a giftofintellectualized
but strongsensationalismunderliesthiscapacity;also, obviously,a highorderof intuitiveness,
in thesenseoftheabilityto completea convincingpicturefromclues,forclues is all thatsome
of herdata can be, withonlysix monthsto learna languageand entertheinwardsofa whole
culture,besides specializingon child behavior.At any rate,the picture,so far as it goes, is
whollyconvincingto thereviewer,who unreservedly admiresthe surenessof insightand effi-
ciencyof strokeof the depiction.25

A differentformulationis provided by Maurice Leenhardt in Do Kamo: Person and

Myth in the Melanesian World, a book which, in its sometimes cryptic mode of
exposition, requires of its readers just the sort of esthetic, gestaltist perception at
which both Mead and Leenhardt excelled. Leenhardt's endorsement of this ap-
proach is significantsince, given his extremely long field experience and profound
cultivation of a Melanesian language, his "method" cannot be seen as a rationaliza-
tion for short-termethnography.
In reality,our contactwith anotheris not accomplishedthroughanalysis. Rather,we ap-
prehendhim in his entirety. Fromtheoutset,we can sketchour view of him usingan outline
or symbolicdetailwhichcontainsa whole in itselfand evokesthetrueformof his being.This
latteris what escapes us if we approachour fellowcreatureusingonlythe categoriesof our

Another way of taking experience seriously as a source of ethnographic know-

ledge is provided by Carlo Ginzburg's recent investigationsinto the complex tradi-
tion of divination.27 His research ranges from early hunters' interpretations of
animal tracks, to Mesopotamian formsof prediction,the deciphering of symptomsin
Hippocratic medicine, to the focus on details in detecting art forgeries,to Freud,
Sherlock Holmes, and Proust. These styles of nonecstatic divination apprehend spe-

On EthnographicAuthority 129
cific,circumstantialrelationsofmeaning,and are based on guesses,on thereadingof
apparentlydisparateclues and "chance" occurrences.Ginzburgproposeshis model
of "conjecturalknowledge"as a disciplined,nongeneralizing modeofcomprehension
thatis of central,thoughunrecognized, importance forthe culturalsciences.It may
be added to a rathermeagerstockofresourcesforunderstanding rigorouslyhow one
feelsone's way intoan unfamiliarethnographic situation.
Preciselybecause it is hard to pin down,"experience"has servedas an effective
guaranteeof ethnographicauthority.There is, of course,a tellingambiguityin the
term.Experienceevokesa participatory presence,a sensitivecontactwiththeworld
to be understood,a rapportwithits people,a concreteness of perception.And expe-
riencesuggestsalso a cumulative,deepeningknowledge(" . . . her tenyears'experi-
ence of New Guinea"). The senses work togetherto authorizean ethnographer's
feelor flairforhis or herpeople. But it is worthnoticingthatthis
real, but ineffable,
"world," when conceivedas an experientialcreation,is subjective,not dialogicalor
The ethnographer
intersubjective. accumulates personalknowledgeofthefield.(The
possessive form,"my people," has until recentlybeen familiarlyused in an-
thropologicalcircles;but the phrasein effectsignifies"my experience.")

It is understandable,giventheirvagueness,thatexperientialcriteriaof author-
ity-unexaminedbeliefsin the "method"ofparticipant-observation, in thepowerof
rapport,empathy,and so on-have comeundercriticismby hermeneutically sophis-
ticatedanthropologists. In recentyearsthesecondmomentin thedialecticofexperi-
ence and interpretationhas received increasing attention and elaboration.28
Interpretation, based on a philologicalmodeloftextual"reading,"has emergedas a
sophisticatedalternativeto thenow apparentlynaive claimsforexperientialauthor-
ity.Interpretive anthropology demystifiesmuchofwhat had previouslypassed unex-
amined in the constructionof ethnographicnarratives,types,observations,and
descriptions.It contributes to an increasingvisibilityof the creative(and in a broad
sense, poetic) processesby which "cultural" objects are inventedand treatedas
What is involvedin lookingat cultureas an assemblageof textsto be inter-
preted?A classic accounthas been providedby Paul Ricoeur,notablyin his 1971
essay, "The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text."29
CliffordGeertz, in a numberof stimulatingand subtle discussionshas adapted
Ricoeur'stheoryto anthropological fieldwork.30"Textualization"is understoodas a
prerequisiteto interpretation, of Dilthey's"fixedexpressions."It is
the constitution
the processthroughwhichunwrittenbehavior,speech,beliefs,oral traditionor rit-
ual, cometo be markedas a corpus,a potentially meaningfulensembleseparatedout
froman immediatediscursiveor performative situation.In the momentof textual-
ization this meaningfulcorpusassumes a moreor less stable relationto a context,
and we are familiarwiththe end resultof this processin muchof what countsas

ethnographicthickdescription.For example, we say that a certaininstitutionor
segmentofbehavioris typicalof,or a communicative elementwithin,a surrounding
culture.(Geertz'sfamouscockfight becomesan intenselysignificant locusof Balinese
culture.)Fields ofsynecdoches are createdin whichpartsare relatedto wholes-and
by whichthe whole,what we oftencall culture,is constituted.
Ricoeurdoes notactuallyprivilegepart-wholerelationsand thespecificsortsof
analogies thatconstitutefunctionalist or realistrepresentations.He merelypositsa
necessaryrelationbetweentextand "world." A world cannotbe apprehendeddi-
rectly;it is always inferredon the basis of its parts,and the partsmustbe concep-
tually and perceptuallycut out of the flux of experience.Thus, textualization
generatessensethrougha circularmovementwhichisolatesand thencontextualizes
a factor eventin its englobingreality.A familiarmode of authorityis generated
which claims to representdiscrete,meaningfulworlds. Ethnographyis the inter-
pretationof cultures.
A secondkey step in Ricoeur's analysisis his accountof the processby which
"discourse"becomestext.Discourse,in Benveniste'sclassicdiscussion,is a mode of
communicationwhere the presenceof the speakingsubjectand of the immediate
situationof communication Discourse is markedby pronouns(pro-
are intrinsic.31
nouncedor implied)"I" and "You," and by deicticindicators,"this,""that,""now,"
and so on, which signal the presentinstanceof discourseratherthan something
beyondit. Discourse does not transcendthe specificoccasionin whicha subjectap-
propriatesthe resourcesof language in orderto communicatedialogically.Ricoeur
argues that discoursecannot be interpretedin the open-ended,potentiallypublic
way thata textis "read." To understanddiscourseyou "had to have been there,"in
the presenceof the discoursingsubject.For discourseto becometextit mustbecome
"autonomous,"in Ricoeur'sterms,separatedfroma specificutteranceand authorial
intention.Interpretation is not interlocution. It does not depend on being in the
presenceof a speaker.
The relevanceof this distinctionforethnographyis perhaps too obvious.The
ethnographeralways ultimatelydeparts,takingaway textsforlaterinterpretation.
(And amongthose"texts"takenaway we can includememories-eventspatterned,
simplified,strippedof immediatecontextin orderto be interpreted in later recon-
structionand portrayal.) The text, unlike discourse,can travel. If much eth-
nographicwritingis producedin the field,actual compositionof an ethnography is
done elsewhere.Data constituted in discursive,dialogical conditionsare appropri-
ated only in textualizedform.Researcheventsand encountersbecomefieldnotes.
Experiencesbecomenarratives,meaningfuloccurrences, or examples.
This translationof the researchexperienceintoa textualcorpusseparatefrom
its discursiveoccasionsof productionhas importantconsequencesforethnographic
authority.The data thusreformulated need no longerbe understoodas the commu-
nicationof specificpersons.An informant'sexplanationor descriptionof custom

On EthnographicAuthority 131
need not be cast in a formthat includesthe message"so and so said this." A tex-
tualizedritualor eventis no longercloselylinkedto the productionofthateventby
specificactors.Instead,thesetextsbecomeevidencesofan englobingcontext,a "cul-
tural" reality.Moreover,as specificauthorsand actorsare severedfromtheirpro-
ductions,a generalized "author" must be inventedto account for the world or
contextwithinwhichthetextsare fictionally relocated.This generalizedauthorgoes
undera varietyof names:thenativepointofview,"the Trobrianders,""the Nuer,"
"the Dogon," as theseand similarphrasesappear in ethnographies. "The Balinese"
functionas authorof Geertz'stextualizedcockfight.
The ethnographerthus enjoysa special relationshipwith a culturalorigin,or
"absolute subject."32It is temptingto comparethe ethnographer with the literary
interpreter (and this comparisonis increasinglycommonplace)-but more specifi-
cally with the traditionalcritic,who sees the task at hand as locatingthe unruly
meaningsof a text in a single,coherentintention.By representing the Nuer, the
Trobrianders,or the Balinese as whole subjects,sourcesof a meaningfulintention,
the ethnographertransforms the researchsituation'sambiguitiesand diversitiesof
meaningintoan integratedportrait.But it is importantto noticewhat has dropped
out of sight.The researchprocessis separatedfromthe textsit generatesand from
the fictiveworldtheyare made to call up. The actualityof discursivesituationsand
individualinterlocutors is filteredout. But informants-alongwithfieldnotes-are
crucialintermediaries, typicallyexcludedfromauthoritative ethnographies. The di-
alogical,situationalaspectsof ethnographic interpretationtendto be banishedfrom
the finalrepresentative text.Not entirelybanished,of course;thereexistapproved
topoi forthe portrayalof the researchprocess.
We are increasinglyfamiliarwith the separatefieldworkaccount(a sub-genre
which still tends to be classifiedas subjective,"soft,"or unscientific).But even
withinclassicethnographies, moreor less stereotypic "fablesofrapport"narratethe
attainmentof fullparticipant-observer status.These fablesmay be told elaborately
or in passing,naivelyor ironically.They normallyportraytheethnographer's early
ignorance,misunderstandings, lack of contact,frequentlya sortof childlikestatus
withinthe culture.In the Bildungsgeschichte of the ethnography thesestatesof in-
nocenceor confusionare replacedby adult,confident, disabusedknowledge.We may
cite again Geertz's cockfight, where an early alienationfromthe Balinese, a con-
fused,"non-person"status,is transformed by the appealing fableof the police raid
withits show of complicity.33 The anecdoteestablishesa presumptionof connected-
ness whichpermitsthewriterto functionin his subsequentanalysesas an omnipres-
ent,knowledgeableexegeteand spokesman.This interpreter situatestheritualsport
as a text in a contextualworld and brilliantly"reads" its cultural meanings.
Geertz's abrupt disappearance into his rapport-the quasi-invisibility of partici-
pant-observation-isparadigmatic.Here he makesuse of an establishedconvention
for stagingthe attainmentof ethnographicauthority.As a result,we are seldom
made aware ofthe factthatan essentialpartofthecockfight's constructionas a text

with particularBalinese ratherthan readingcul-
is dialogical,talkingface-to-face
ture "over the[ir]shoulders."34

Interpretive anthropology, by viewingculturesas assemblagesof texts,loosely

and sometimescontradictorally united,and by highlighting the inventivepoesis at
work in all collective
representations, has contributed to thedefamiliar-
ization of ethnographicauthority.But in its mainstreamrealiststrandsit does not
escape the generalstricturesof thosecriticsof "colonial" representation who, since
1950, have rejecteddiscoursesthat portraythe culturalrealitiesof otherpeoples
withoutplacingtheirown realityin jeopardy.In Leiris's earlycritiques,by way of
Maquet, Asad and manyothers,theunreciprocalqualityofethnographic interpreta-
tion has been called to account.35Henceforth,neitherthe experiencenor the inter-
pretiveactivityof the scientificresearchercan be consideredinnocent.It becomes
necessaryto conceiveethnography, not as the experienceand interpretation of a
circumscribed "other" reality,but rather as a constructivenegotiation involvingat
least two, and usually more,conscious,politicallysignificant subjects.Paradigmsof
experienceand interpretation are yieldingto paradigmsofdiscourse,ofdialogueand
polyphony.The remainingsectionsof myessaywill surveytheseemergentmodesof
A discursivemodel of ethnographicpracticebringsinto prominencethe inter-
subjectivityof all speech, along with its immediateperformative context.Ben-
veniste'swork on the constitutive role of personal pronounsand deixis highlights
just thesedimensions.Everyuse of "I" presupposesa "you," and everyinstanceof
discourseis immediatelylinkedto a specific,shared situation.No discursivemean-
ing,then,withoutinterlocution and context.The relevanceofthisemphasisforeth-
nographyis evident.Fieldworkis significantly composedof language events;but
language,in Bakhtin'swords,"lies on theborderlinebetweenoneselfand theother.
The wordin languageis halfsomeoneelse's." The Russian criticurgesa rethinking
of language in termsof specificdiscursivesituations:"There are," he writes,"no
'neutral'wordsand forms-wordsand formsthatcan belongto 'no one'; language
has been completelytaken over, shot throughwith intentionsand accents." The
words of ethnographicwriting,then,cannot be construedas monological,as the
authoritative statementabout,or interpretation of,an abstracted,textualizedreality.
The language of ethnography is shot through with othersubjectivitiesand specific
contextualovertones;forall language,in Bakhtin'sview, is "a concreteheteroglot
conceptionof the world."36
Formsofethnographic writingwhichpresentthemselvesin a "discursive"mode
tendto be concernedwith the representation of researchcontextsand situationsof
interlocution. Thus a book like Paul Rabinow's Reflectionson Fieldworkin Mo-
roccois concernedwiththerepresentation of a specificresearchsituation(a seriesof
constrainingtimesand places) and (in somewhatfictionalizedform)a sequence of
individualinterlocutors.37 Indeed,an entirenew sub-genreof "fieldworkaccounts"

On EthnographicAuthority 133
(ofwhichRabinow's is one ofthemosttrenchant)maybe situatedwithinthediscur-
sive paradigmofethnographic writing.JeanneFavret-Saada'sLes mots,la mort,les
sorts is an insistent,self-consciousexperimentwith ethnographyin a discursive
mode.38She argues that the eventof interlocutionalways assignsto the ethnogra-
relations.There is no neutral
pher a specificpositionin a web of intersubjective
standpointin thepower-ladenfieldof discursivepositionings, matrixof
in a shifting
relationships,of "I's" and "you's."
A numberof recentworks have chosento presentthe discursiveprocessesof
ethnography in the formof a dialoguebetweentwo individuals.Lacoste-Dujardin's
Dialogue des femmes en ethnologie and Shostak's Nisa: The Life and Words of a
IKung Womanare noteworthy examples.39The dialogicalmode is advocatedwith
considerablesophisticationin two othertexts.The first,Kevin Dwyer's theoretical
on "The Dialogic of Ethnology"springsfroma seriesof interviewswith
a key informantand justifiesDwyer's decisionto structurehis ethnography in the
formof a ratherliteralrecordof these exchanges.40The second work is Vincent
Crapanzano's more complex Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan, another account of a
seriesof interviewswhichrejectsany sharp separationof an interpreting selffroma
textualizedother.41Both Dwyer and Crapanzano locateethnography in a processof
dialogue where interlocutorsactivelynegotiatea shared vision of reality.Cra-
panzano argues thatthismutualconstruction mustbe at workin any ethnographic
encounter,but thatparticipantstendto assume theyhave simplyacquiescedto the
realityof theircounterpart.Thus, forexample,the ethnographer of the Trobriand
Islandersdoes notopenlyconcocta versionof realityin collaborationwithhis infor-
mantsbut ratherinterprets the "Trobriandpointofview." Crapanzano and Dwyer
offersophisticatedattemptsto breakwiththisliterary/hermeneutical convention.In
the process,the ethnographer'sauthorityas narratorand interpreteris altered.
Dwyer proposesa hermeneutics of "vulnerability,"stressingthe rupturesof field-
work,the dividedpositionand imperfectcontrolof the ethnographer.Both Cra-
panzano and Dwyer seekto representtheresearchexperiencein ways thattearopen
the textualizedfabricof the otherand thus,also, of the interpreting self.42(Here
etymologiesare evocative:the word text is related,as is well known,to weaving,
vulnerabilityto rendingor wounding,in this instancethe openingup of a closed
The modelofdialoguebringsto prominencepreciselythosediscursive-circum-
stantialand intersubjective-elements thatRicoeurhad to excludefromhis modelof
the text.But if interpretiveauthorityis based on the exclusionof dialogue,the re-
verseis also true:a purelydialogicalauthoritywould repressthe inescapablefactof
textualization.While ethnographies cast as encountersbetweentwo individualsmay
successfully dramatize the intersubjective,give-and-takeof fieldworkand introduce
a counterpoint of authoritativevoices,theyremainrepresentations of dialogue. As
textstheymaynotbe dialogicalin structure.(AlthoughSocratesappears as a decen-
teredparticipantin his encounters, Plato retainsfullcontrolofthedialogue.43)This

displacement,but not eliminationof monologicalauthorityis characteristic of any
approach that portraysthe ethnographeras a discretecharacterin the fieldwork
narrative.Moreover,thereis a frequenttendencyin fictionsof dialoguefortheeth-
nographer'scounterpart of his or her culture-a type,
to appear as a representative
in the language of traditionalrealism-throughwhichgeneralsocial processesare
revealed.44Such a portrayalreinstatesthe synecdochicinterpretive authorityby
which the ethnographerreads text in relation to context,therebyconsitutinga
meaningful"other" world. But if it is difficultfordialogical portrayalsto escape
typifying procedures,theycan, to a significantdegree,resistthe pull toward au-
thoritativerepresentationof the other.This dependson theirabilityfictionally to
maintainthe strangenessof the othervoice and to hold in view the specific con-
tingenciesof the exchange.

To say thatan ethnography is composedofdiscoursesand thatits differentcom-

ponentsare dialogicallyrelated,is notto say thatitstextualformshouldbe thatofa
literaldialogue. Indeed, as Crapanzano recognizesin Tuhami,a thirdparticipant,
real or imagined,must functionas mediatorin any encounterbetweentwo indi-
a simplifiedrepresenta-
viduals.45The fictionaldialogue is, in fact,a condensation,
tion of complex, multi-vocalprocesses.An alternativeway of representingthis
discursivecomplexityis to understandthe overallcourseof the researchas an on-
goingnegotiation.The case of Marcel Griaule and the Dogon is well knownand
particularlyclear-cut.Griaule's accountof his instructionin Dogon cosmological
wisdom, Dieu d'Eau (Conversations with Ogotemme1i),was an early exercise in di-
alogical ethnographicnarration.But beyondthis specificinterlocutory occasion,a
morecomplexprocesswas at work.For it is apparentthatthecontentand timingof
the Griaule team'slong-term research,spanningdecades,was closelymonitoredand
significantlyshaped by Dogon tribal authorities.46 This is no longernews. Many
ethnographers have commented on the ways, bothsubtleand blatant,in whichtheir
researchwas directedor circumscribed by theirinformants. In his provocativedis-
cussionof this issue, loan Lewis even calls anthropology a formof "plagiarism."47
The give and take of ethnography is clearlyportrayedin a recentlypublished
study,noteworthy forits presentationwithina singlework of both an interpreted
otherrealityand the researchprocessitself:Renato Rosaldo's IlongotHeadhunt-
ing.48 Rosaldo arrivesin the Phillipine highlandsintenton writinga synchronic
studyof social structure.But again and again, over his objections,he is forcedto
listento endlessIlongotnarrativesoftheirlocal history.Dutifully,dumbly,in a kind
of bored trance,he transcribesthese stories,fillingnotebookafternotebookwith
what he considersdisposable texts.Only afterleaving the field,and aftera long
process of reinterpretation (a process made manifestin the ethnography)does it
become clear that these obscuretales have in factprovidedRosaldo with his final
topic,the culturallydistinctiveIlongotsense of narrativeand history.Rosaldo's ex-

On EthnographicAuthority 135
perienceof what mightbe called "directedwriting"sharplyposes a fundamental
question.Who is actuallythe authorof fieldnotes?
The issue is a subtleone, and deservessystematicstudy.But enoughhas been
said to makethegeneralpoint,thatindigenouscontroloverknowledgegainedin the
fieldcan be considerable,and even determining. Currentethnographicwritingis
seekingnew ways to adequatelyrepresenttheauthorityofinformants, and thereare
fewmodelsto look to. But it is worthreconsidering theoldertextualcompilationsof
Boas, Malinowski, Leenhardt,and others.In theseworks,the ethnographicgenre
has not coalescedaround the moderninterpretational monographcloselyidentified
with a personal fieldworkexperience.We can contemplatean ethnographicmode
thatis notyetauthoritative in thosespecificways thatare now politicallyand epis-
temologicallyin question.These olderassemblagesincludemuchthatis actuallyor
all but writtenby informants. One thinksof the role of George Hunt in Boas's
ethnography, or ofthefifteen listedin Leenhardt'sDocumentsne'o-
Malinowski is a complex transitionalcase. His ethnographiesreflectthe in-
completecoalescenceof the modernmonograph.If he was centrallyresponsiblefor
the weldingof theoryand descriptioninto the authorityof the professionalfield-
worker,Malinowski nonethelessincludedmaterialthatdid not directlysupporthis
own all-too-clearinterpretive
slant.In the manydictatedmythsand spellswhichfill
his books he publishedmuch data that he franklydid not understand.The result
was an open textsubjectto multiplereinterpretations. It is worthcomparingsuch
oldercompendiawiththerecentmodelethnography, whichcitesevidenceto support
a focusedinterpretation, and littleelse. In the modern,authoritativemonograph
thereare, in effect,no strongvoices presentexceptthat of the writer.But, in Ar-
gonautsand Coral Gardenswe read page afterpage of magical spells,none in any
essentialsensetheethnographer's words.These dictatedtexts,in all but theirphysi-
are writtenby specific,unnamedTrobrianders.Indeed,any continu-
cal inscription,
ous ethnographicexpositionroutinelyfoldsinto itselfa diversityof descriptions,
and interpretations
transcriptions, by a varietyofindigenous"authors."How should
theseauthorialpresencesbe made manifest?

A useful-if extreme-standpointis providedby Bakhtin's analysis of the

"polyphonic"novel.A fundamentalconditionof the genre,he argues,is thatit rep-
resentsspeakingsubjectsin a fieldof multiplediscourses.The novelgrappleswith,
and enacts,heteroglossia.For Bakhtin,preoccupiedwiththe representation of non-
homogeneouswholes,thereare no integratedculturalworldsor languages.All at-
tempts to posit such abstract unities are constructsof monologicalpower. A
an open-ended,creativedialogueof subcultures,of insiders
"culture"is, concretely,
and outsiders,of diversefactions;a "language" is the interplayand struggleof re-
gional dialects,professionaljargons,genericcommonplaces,the speech of different

age groups,individuals,and so forth.For Bakhtin,thepolyphonicnovelis nota tour
de forceof culturalor historicaltotalization(as realistcriticslike Lukacs and Auer-
bach have argued),but rathera carnivalesquearena ofdiversity. Bakhtindiscoversa
utopiantextualspace wherediscursivecomplexity, thedialogicalinterplayofvoices,
can be accommodated.In the novelsof Dostoyevskior Dickens,he values precisely
theirresistanceto totality,and his ideal novelistis a ventriloquist-innineteenth-
centuryparlance,a "polyphonist.""He do the police in different voices,"a listener
exclaimsadmiringlyof the boy,Sloppy,who reads publiclyfromthe newspaperin
Our Mutual Friend.But Dickens,the actor,oral performer, and polyphonist, must
be set against Flaubert,the masterof authorialcontrolmovinggodlikeamongthe
thoughtsand feelingsof his characters.Ethnography,like the novel,wrestleswith
these alternatives.Does the ethnographicwriterportraywhat natives think by
meansof Flaubertian"freeindirectstyle,"a stylethatsuppressesdirectquotationin
favorof a controlling discoursealways more-or-less thatof the author?(In a recent
essay Dan Sperber,takingEvans-Pritchardas his example,has convincingly shown
thatstyleindirectis indeedthepreferred modeofethnographic Or,
does the portrayalof othersubjectivities require a versionthat is stylisticallyless
homogeneous,filledwithDickens' "different voices?"
Some use of indirectstyleis inevitable,unlessthenovelor ethnography be com-
posed entirelyof quotations,whichis theoretically possiblebut seldomattempted.51
In practice,however,theethnography and thenovelhave recourseto indirectstyleat
different levels of abstraction.We need not ask how Flaubert knowswhat Emma
Bovaryis thinking,but the abilityof the fieldworker to inhabitindigenousmindsis
always in doubt: indeed this is a permanent,unresolvedproblemof ethnographic
method.Ethnographers have generallyrefrainedfromascribingbeliefs,feelings,and
thoughtsto individuals.They have not, however,hesitatedto ascribe subjective
statesto a culture.Sperber'sanalysisrevealshow phrasessuch as "The Nuer think
... ." or "The Nuer sense of time. . ." are fundamentally fromquotations
or translationsof indigenousdiscourse.Such statementsare "withoutany specified
speaker,"and are literallyequivocal,combiningin an unspecified way theethnogra-
pher's affirmations with that of an informantor informants.52 Ethnographies
abound in unattributedsentenceslike "The spiritsreturnto the village at night,"
descriptionsof beliefsin which the writerassumes,in effect,the voice of culture.
At this"cultural"level,ethnographers aspire to a Flaubertianomnisciencethat
moves freelythroughouta world of indigenoussubjects.But beneaththe surface
theirtextsare moreunrulyand discordant.VictorTurner'sworkprovidesa telling
case in point,worthinvestigating more closelyas an example of the interplayof
monophonicand polyphonicexposition.Turner'sethnographies offersuperblycom-
plex portrayalsof Ndembu ritualsymbolsand beliefs;and he has provided,too,an
unusuallyexplicitglimpsebehindthe scenes.In the midstof the essayscollectedin
The ForestofSymbols,his thirdbookon theNdembu,Turneroffersa portraitofhis

On Ethnographic
Authority 137
best informant, "Muchona the Hornet,Interpreter of Religion."53Muchona, a rit-
ual healer, and Turner are drawn togetherby theirshared interestin traditional
symbols,etymologies, and esotericmeanings.They are both"intellectuals,"passion-
ate interpreters of the nuances and depthsof custom;both are uprootedscholars
sharing"the quenchlessthirstforobjectiveknowledge."TurnercomparesMuchona
to a universitydon; his accountof theircollaborationincludesmore than passing
hintsof a strongpsychologicaldoubling,linkingethnographer and informant.
But thereis a thirdpresentin theirdialogue,WindsonKashinakaji,a Ndembu
senior teacherat the local missionschool. He broughtMuchona and Turner to-
gether,and shares their passion for the interpretationof customaryreligion.
Through his Biblical educationhe "acquired a flairfor elucidatingknottyques-
tions." Newly skepticalof Christiandogma and missionaryprivileges,he is looking
sympathetically at pagan religion.Kashinakaji,Turnertells us, "spanned the cul-
turaldistancebetweenMuchona and myself,transforming the littledoctor'stechni-
cal jargon and salty village argot into a prose I could bettergrasp." The three
intellectualssoon "settleddown into a sortof daily seminaron religion."Turner's
accountsof this seminarare stylized:"eightmonthsof exhilaratingquickfiretalk
amongthethreeof us, mainlyabout Ndemburitual."They revealan extraordinary
ethonographic"colloquy." But significantly, Turnerdoes not make this three-way
collaborationthecruxofhis essay. Ratherhe focusseson Muchona, thustransform-
ing trialogueinto dialogue and flatteninga complexproductiverelationinto the
"portrait"of an "informant."(This reductionwas in some degreerequiredby the
formatofthebookin whichtheessayfirstappeared,JosephCasagrande'simportant
collectionof "TwentyPortraitsof Anthropological Informants," In the Company of
Turner'spublishedworksvaryconsiderablyin theirdiscursivestructure.Some
are largelycomposedofdirectquotations;in at leastone essayMuchona is identified
as the principalsourceof the overallinterpretation; elsewherehe is invokedanony-
mously,forexampleas "a male ritualspecialist."55WindsonKashinakajiis usually
identifiedas an assistantand translatorratherthan as a sourceof interpretations.
Overall, Turner's ethnographiesare unusually polyphonic,openly built up from
quotations.( "Accordingto an adept . . .", or, "One informantguesses .. .") He does
not, however,do the Ndembu in different voices,and we hear little"salty village
argot." All the voices of the fieldhave been smoothedinto the expositoryprose of
more-or-less interchangeable "informants." The stagingof indigenousspeechin an
ethnography, the degree of translationand familiarizationnecessary,are compli-
cated practical and rhetoricalproblems.56But Turner's works,by givingvisible
place to indigenousinterpretations of custom,expose concretelytheseissues of tex-
tual dialogismand polyphony.
The inclusionof Turner'sportraitof Muchona in The Forest of Symbols (1967)
may be seen as a sign of the times.The Casagrande collection(1961) in which it
originallyappeared had the effectof segregatingthe crucial issue of relationsbe-

tween ethnographers and their indigenous collaborators. Discussion of these issues
still had no place within scientificethnographies. But Casagrande's collection shook
the post-Malinowski professional taboo on "privileged informants." Raymond Firth
on Pa Fenuatara, Robert Lowie on Jim Carpenter-a long list of distinguished an-
thropologists described the indigenous "ethnographers" with whom they shared, to
some degree, a distanced, analytic, even ironic view of custom. These individuals
became valued informantsbecause they understood, often with real subtlety,what
an ethnographic attitude toward culture entailed. In Lowie's quotation of his Crow
interpreter(and fellow "philologist") Jim Carpenter, one senses a shared outlook:
"When you listen to the old men telling about their visions, you've just got to believe
them."57 And there is considerably more than a wink and a nod in a storyrecounted
by Firth about his best Tikopian friendand informant.58
On anotheroccasion talk turnedto the nets set forsalmon troutin the lake. The netswere
becomingblack, possiblywith some organicgrowth,and tendedto roteasily. Pa Fenuatara
thentolda storyto thecrowdassembledin thehouse about how,out on thelake withhis nets
one time,he felta spiritgoingamongthenetand makingit soft.When he held thenetup he
foundit slimy.The spirithad been at work.I asked himthenifthiswas a traditionalpiece of
knowledgethatspiritswere responsibleforthe deterioration of the nets.He answered,"No,
myown thought."Then he added witha laugh, "My own piece of traditionalknowledge."55

The full methodological impact of Casagrande's collection remains latent, es-

pecially the significanceof its accounts for the dialogical production of ethnographic
texts and interpretations.This significance is obscured by a tendency to cast it as a
universalizing, humanist document revealing "a hall of mirrors ... in full variety
the endless reflectedimage of man."59 However, in the light of the present crisis in
ethnographic authority,these revealing portraits spill into the oeuvres of their au-
thors, altering the way they can be read. If ethnographyis part of what Roy Wagner
calls "the invention of culture," its activityis plural and beyond the control of any

One increasingly common way to manifest the collaborative production of eth-

nographic knowledge is to quote regularly and at length from informants.(A strik-
ing recent example is June Nash, We Eat the Mines, the Mines Eat US.61) But such
a tactic only begins to break up monophonic authority.Quotations are always staged
by the quoter, and tend to serve merely as examples, or confirmingtestimonies.
Looking beyond quotation, one might imagine a more radical polyphony that would
"do the natives and the ethnographer in differentvoices." But this, too, would only
displace ethnographic authority,still confirmingthe final, virtuoso orchestrationby
a single author of all the discourses in his or her text. And in this sense Bakhtin's
polyphony, too narrowly identifiedwith the novel, is a domesticated heteroglossia.
Ethnographic discourses are not, in any event, the speeches of invented characters.
Informants are specific individuals with real proper names-names to be cited, in
altered form when tact requires. Informants' intentions are overdetermined,their

On EthnographicAuthority 139
words politicallyand metaphoricallycomplex.Ethnographyis invaded by hetero-
glossia. If accordedan autonomoustextualspace, transcribedat sufficient length,
indigenousstatementsmake sense on termsdifferent fromthose of the arranging
This suggestsan alternatetextualstrategy,a utopia of plural authorshipthat
accordsto collaborators,not merelythe statusof independentenunciators,but that
ofwriters.As a formofauthorityit muststillbe consideredutopianfortworeasons.
First,the fewrecentexperimentswithmultiply-authored worksappear to require,
as an instigatingforce,the researchinterestof an ethnographer, who in the end
assumesan executive,editorialposition.The authoritative stanceof"givingvoice"to
the otheris not fullytranscended.Second,the veryidea of plural authorshipchal-
lengesa deep Westernidentification ofany text'sorderwiththeintentionofa single
author. If this identification was less strongwhen Lafitau wrote his Moeurs des
sauvagesameriquains,and ifrecentcriticismhas thrownit intoquestion,it is stilla
potentconstraint on ethnographic writing.Nonetheless,thereare signsofmovement
in thisdomain,and we mayanticipatea gradualincreasein experiments withmulti-
ple authorship.Anthropologists will increasinglyhave to share their texts,and
sometimestheirtitlepages, withthoseindigenouscollaboratorsforwhomthe term
"informants"is no longeradequate, if it everwas.
Ralph Bulmerand Ian Majnep's Birds ofMy Kalam Countryis an important
prototype.62 (Separate typefacesdistinguishthe juxtaposed contributions of eth-
nographerand New Guinean, collaboratorsfor more than a decade.) Even more
significant producedstudy,Piman Shamanismand StayingSick-
is the collectively
ness (Ka:cim Mumkidag) which listson its titlepage, withoutdistinction(though
not,it may be noted,in alphabeticalorder):Donald M. Bahr, anthropologist; Juan
Gregorio,shaman; David I. Lopez, interpreter; AlbertAlvarez,editor.Three of the
fourare Papago Indians,and thebook is consciouslydesigned"to transferto a sha-
man as many as possible of the functionsnormallyassociated with authorship.
These includethe selectionof an expositorystyle,the dutyto make interpretations
and explanations,and the righttojudge whichthingsare importantand whichare
not."63Bahr,theinitiatorand organizeroftheproject,optsto shareout authorityas
muchas possible.Gregorio,theshaman,appears as theprincipalsourceofthe "the-
oryof disease" whichis transcribedand translated,at two separatelevels,by Lopez
and Alvarez.Gregorio'svernaculartextsincludecompressed, oftengnomic,explana-
tions,whichare themselvesinterpreted and contextualizedby Bahr's separatecom-
mentary.The book is unusual in its textual enactmentof the interpretation of
In Piman Shamanismthe transitionfromindividualenunciationsto cultural
generalizationsis always visiblein the separationof Gregorio'sand Bahr's voices.
The authorityof Lopez, less visible,is akin to that of Windson Kashinakaji in
Turner's work. His bilingual fluencyguides Bahr throughthe subtletiesof Gre-
gorio'slanguage,thuspermitting the shaman"to speak at lengthon theoreticaltop-

ics." Neither Lopez nor Alvarez appear as specificvoices in the text,and their
contributionto the ethnographyremainslargelyinvisibleto all but qualified Pa-
pagos, able to gauge the accuracyof the translatedtextsand the vernacularnuance
of Bahr's interpretations.Alvarez's authorityinheresin the factthat Piman Sha-
manism is a book directed at separateaudiences.For mostreadersfocussingon the
translationsand explanationsthetextsprintedin Piman will be of littleor no inter-
est. However,the linguistAlvarezcorrectedthetranscriptions and translationswith
an eye to theiruse in languageteaching,usingan orthography he had developedfor
thatpurpose.Thus the book contributes to Papagos' literaryinventionof theircul-
ture. This different reading,built into Piman Shamanism,is of more than local
It is intrinsicto the breakup of monologicalauthoritythat ethnographiesno
longeraddressa singlegeneraltypeof reader.The multiplication of possibleread-
ings reflects the factthat "ethnographic"
self-conscious consciousness can no longer
be seen as the monopolyof certainWesternculturesand social classes. Even in
ethnographieslackingvernaculartexts,indigenousreaderswill decode differently
the textualizedinterpretations and lore. Polyphonicworksare particularlyopen to
readings not intended.
specifically Trobriandreadersmay findMalinowski's inter-
pretationstiresomebut his examplesand extensivetranscriptions stillevocative.And
Ndembu will notglossas quicklyas European readersoverthedifferent voicesem-
beddedin Turner'sworks.
Recentliterarytheorysuggeststhatthe abilityof a textto make sense in a co-
herentway dependsless on thewilledintentions ofan originatingauthorthanon the
creativeactivityof a reader. In Barthes'words,if a textis "a tissueof quotations
drawn frominnumerablecentersof culture,"then"a text'sunitylies notin its ori-
gin but in its destination."64The writingofethnography, an unruly,multisubjective
activity,is givencoherencein particularactsofreading.But thereis always a variety
of possiblereadings(beyondmerelyindividualappropriations),readingsbeyondthe
controlof any single authority.One may approach a classic ethnographyseeking
simplyto grasp the meaningsthatthe researcherderivesfromrepresentedcultural
facts.But, as we have suggested,one may also read againstthe grain of the text's
dominantvoice, seekingout other,half-hiddenauthorities,reinterpreting the de-
scriptions,textsand quotationsgathered together by the writer.With the recent
questioningof colonial stylesof representation, with the expansionof literacyand
ethnographic consciousness, new possibilitiesforreading(and thusforwriting)cul-
tural descriptionsare emerging.65
The textualembodimentof authorityis a recurringproblemforrecentexperi-
mentsin ethnography.66 An older,realistmode-figuredin the frontispiece to Ar-
gonauts of the Western Pacific and based on the constructionof a cultural tableau
vivant designedto be seen froma single vantage point, that of the writerand
reader-can now be identifiedas onlyone possibleparadigmforauthority.Political
and epistemologicalassumptionsare builtintothisand otherstyles,assumptionsthe

On EthnographicAuthority 141
ethnographic writercan no longeraffordto ignore.The modesofauthority reviewed
in thisessay-experiential,interpretive, dialogical,polyphonic-are available to all
writersof ethnographictexts,Westernand non-Western.None is obsolete,none
pure: thereis room forinventionwithineach paradigm.For example,interpreta-
tion-as conceivedby Gadamer-can aspire to a radical dialogism.We have seen,
too,how new approachestendto rediscoverdiscardedpractices.Polyphonicauthor-
ity looks with renewed sympathyto compendia of vernaculartexts-expository
formsdistinctfromthe focusedmonographtiedto participant-observation. And now
thatnaive claimsto the authorityof experiencehave been subjectedto hermeneutic
suspicion,we may anticipatea renewedattentionto the subtleinterplayof personal
and disciplinarycomponentsin ethnographic research.
dialogical,and polyphonicprocessesare at work,dis-
cordantly,in any ethnography. But coherentpresentation presupposesa controlling
mode of authority.I have argued that this impositionof coherenceon an unruly
textualprocessis now, inescapably,a matterof strategicchoice.I have triedto dis-
tinguishimportantstylesof authorityas theyhave becomevisiblein recentdecades.
If ethnographicwritingis alive, as I believeit is, it is struggling
withinand against

N o te s

*An earlyversionof thisessay was presentedat theAmericanAnthropological Associationin

December of 1980. For helpfulcriticismsI would like to thankTalal Asad, VincentCra-
panzano, Joel Fineman, Thomas Laqueur, Joan Larcom, George Marcus, T. N. Pandey,
Mary Pratt,Richard Randolph,Renato Rosaldo, George Stocking,Sharon Traweek,Steven
1. Only English,American,and Frenchexamplesare discussed.If it is likelythatthemodes
ofauthorityanalyzedhereare able widelyto be generalized,no attempthas beenmade to
extendthemto othernationaltraditions.It is assumed,also, in theantipositivist tradition
of Dilthey,thatethnography notof explanation.Modes of
is a processof interpretation,
authoritybased on natural-scientificepistemologies are notdiscussed.In itsfocuson par-
ticipant-observation processat the heartof twentieth-century
as an intersubjective eth-
nography,the essay scantsa numberof contributing sourcesof authority:forexample,
the weightof accumulated"archival" knowledgeabout particulargroups,of a crosscul-
turalcomparativeperspective, and of statisticalsurveywork.
2. See M. Bakhtin,"Discourse in the Novel" (1935), in Michael Holquist, ed., The Di-
alogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin (Austinand London,1981), pp. 259-
442. "Heteroglossia"assumesthat"languages do not excludeeach other,but ratherin-
tersectwitheach otherin manydifferent ways (the Ukranian language,the languageof
the epic poem,of earlySymbolism,of the student,of a particulargenerationof children,
ofthe run-of-the-mill oftheNietzscheanand so on). It mightevenseemthat
the veryword 'language' loses all meaningin this process-for apparentlythereis no
singleplane on whichall these'languages'mightbe juxtaposedto one another."What is

said of languages applies equally to "cultures"and "subcultures."See also V. N. Vol-
osinov (Bakhtin?),Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (New York and London,
1973), esp. Chaps. 1-3; and Tzvetan Todorov,Mikhail Bakhtine: le principe dialogique
(Paris, 1981), pp. 88-93.
3. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York, 1978); Paulin Hountondji,Sur la "philosophie
africaine" (Yaounde Cameroon, 1980); for more on this ambiguous predicament,J.
Clifford,reviewof Said, History and Theory, 19:2 (1980), 204-23.
4. Michel Foucault,Power/Knowledge (New York, 1980), p. 145; see also "Intellectuals
and Power: A ConversationbetweenMichel Foucaultand Gilles Deleuze," in Foucault,
Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (Ithaca, N.Y., 1977), pp. 208-209. A recentun-
publishedessay by Edward Said, "The Text's Slow Politicsand the PromptLanguage of
Criticism,"has sharpenedmy conceptionof a historicallycontingent, engaged theory.
5. I have notattemptedto surveynew stylesofethnographic writingthatmaybe originating
fromoutsidetheWest.As Said, Hountondji,and othershave shown,a considerablework
of ideological"clearing,"an oppositional,criticalworkremains,and it is to thisthatnon-
Westernintellectualshave been devotinga greatpartoftheirenergies.My essayremains
inside,but at the experimentalboundariesof,a realistculturalscienceelaboratedin the
Occident.It does notconsider,as areas of innovation,the "para-ethnographic" genresof
oral history,the non-fiction novel,the "new journalism,"travelliterature,and thedocu-
6. Compare, forexample,Marcel Griaule's idea of team research(with repeatedvisitsto
the field)and Malinowski's extendedsolo sojourn:Griaule, Methode de l'ethnographie
(Paris, 1957); Malinowski,Argonauts of the Western Pacific (London, 1922), Chapter 1.
7. Victor Karady, "Le problkmede la 1egitimite dans l'organisationhistoriquede l'eth-
nologie fran~aise,"Revue franaaise de sociologie, 23:1 (1982), 17-36; George Stocking,
"The Ethnographer'sMagic: the Developmentof Fieldworkin BritishAnthropology
fromTylorto Malinowski,"History of Anthropology 1 (1983), forthcoming.
8. In the presentcrisis of authority,ethnographyhas emergedas a subjectof historical
scrutiny.For new criticalapproachessee: Fran~ois Hartog,Le miroir d'Herodote: essai
sur la representation de l'autre (Paris, 1980); K.O.L. Burridge,Encountering Aborigines
(New York, 1973), Chapter 1; Michdle Duchet, Anthropologie et Histoire au sizcle des
lumieres (Paris, 1971); James Boon, "Comparative De-enlightenment: Paradox and
Limitsin the Historyof Ethnology,"Daedalus, Spring1980, 73-90; Michel de Certeau,
"Writingvs. Time: Historyand Anthropology in the Worksof Lafitau," Yale French
Studies, 59 (1980), 37-64; Edward Said, Orientalism; George Stocking,ed., "Observers
Observed:Essays on EthnographicFieldwork,"History ofAnthropology 1 (1983), Madi-
son, Wisconsin;forthcoming.
9. On the suppressionof dialogue in Lafitau's frontispiece, and the constitution
of a tex-
tualized,ahistorical,and visuallyoriented"anthropology,"see Michel de Certeau's de-
tailedanalysisin "Writingvs. Time."
10. B. Malinowski,"Pigs, Papuans and Police Court Perspective,"Man, 32 (1932), 33-38;
Alex Rentoul,"Physiologicalpaternity and theTrobrianders,"and "Papuans, Professors
and Platitudes,"Man 31 (1931), 153-154, and 32 (1932), 274-276. Ian Langham, The
Building of British Social Anthropology (Dordrecht,London, 1981), ChapterVII.
11. R. H. Codrington,The Melanesians (1891), Dover reprint(New York,1972), pp. vi-vii.
12. George Stocking,"The Ethnographer'sMagic."
13. CurtisHinsley,"EthnographicCharismaand ScientificRoutine:Cushingand Fewkesin
theAmericanSouthwest,"History of Anthropology, 1 (1983), forthcoming.
14. Stocking,"The Ethnographer'sMagic."

On EthnographicAuthority 143
15. Malinowski,Argonauts of the WesternPacific (1922), pp. 3-4.
16. Stocking,"The Ethnographer'sMagic." See also Harry Payne, "Malinowski's Style,"
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, forthcoming.
17. G. Lienhardt,Divinity and Experience: the Religion of the Dinka (Oxford,1961), p. vii.
18. I am indebtedto two importantunpublishedpapers by RobertThorntonof the Univer-
sityof Capetown: "The Rise of Ethnographyin South Africa:1860-1920," and "The
Rise of the EthnographicMonographin Easternand SouthernAfrica."
19. Margaret Mead, "Native languages as Field-WorkTools," American Anthropologist,
41:2 (1939), 189-205.
20. Robert Lowie, "Native Languages as EthnographicTools," American Anthropologist,
42: 1 (1940), 81-89.
21. E. Evans-Pritchard,The Nuer (New York,Oxford,1969), p. 261.
22. Ibid., p. 215.
23. The conceptis sometimestoo readilyassociatedwithintuitionor empathy,but as a de-
scriptionofethnographic knowledge,Verstehenproperlyinvolvesa critiqueofempathetic
experience.The exact meaningof thetermis a matterof debateamongDiltheyscholars.
See RudolfMakkreel,Dilthey: Philosopher of the Human Sciences (Princeton,1975), pp.
6-7, and passim.
24. This bare summaryis drawn fromH. P. Rickman,ed., W Dilthey: Selected Writings
(Cambridge, 1976), pp. 168-245. "The Constructionof the Historical World in the
Human Studies,"Vol. VII of the Gesammelte Schriften(Leipzig, 1914).
25. American Anthropologist,33 (1931), p. 248.
26. Maurice Leenhardt,Do Kamo (Chicago, 1979), p. 2; see J. Clifford,Person and Myth:
Maurice Leenhardt in the Melanesian World (Berkeley,1982).
27. Carlo Ginzburg,"Morelli, Freud and SherlockHolmes: Clues and ScientificMethod,"
History Workshop, 9 (Spring 1980), 5, 36.
28. For example: CliffordGeertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York,1973); "From
the Native's Point of View: on the Nature of AnthropologicalUnderstanding,"in K.
Basso and H. Selby,eds., Meaning in Anthropology (Albuquerque, 1976), pp. 221-38;
Paul Rabinow and William Sullivan,eds., Interpretive Social Science (Berkeley,1979);
Irene and Thomas Winner,"The Semioticsof Cultural Texts," Semiotica, 18:2 (1976),
101-56; Dan Sperber,"L'Interpretationen Anthropologie,"L'Homme, XXI:I (1981),
29. Social Research, 38 (1971), 529-562.
30. See especially,"Thick Description:Toward an Interpretive TheoryofCulture,"Chapter
1 of The Interpretation of Cultures.
31. Emile Benveniste,"The NatureofPronouns,"and "Subjectivity in Language," Problems
in General Linguistics (Coral Gables, Fla., 1971), pp. 217-30.
32. Fran~oise Michel-Jones,Retour au Dogon: Figure du double et ambivalence (Paris,
1978), p. 14.
33. CliffordGeertz,"Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight," Daedalus, 101:1 (1972),
reprintedin The Interpretation of Cultures, pp. 412-53.
34. Ibid., p. 452.
35. Michel Leiris,"L'ethnographedevantle colonialisme,"Les Temps Modernes, 58 (1950);
reprintedin Leiris,Brisees (Paris, Mercurede France,1966), pp. 125-45; Jacques Ma-
quet, "Objectivityin Anthropology," Current Anthropology5 (1964), 47-55; Talal Asad,
ed., Anthropologyand the Colonial Encounter (London, 1973).
36. M. Bakhtin,"Discourse in the Novel," p. 293.

37. P. Rabinow, Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco (Berkeley,1977).
38. Paris, 1977; translatedas Deadly Words (Cambridge, England, 1980). See especially
Chapter 2. Her experiencehas been rewrittenat anotherfictionallevel in J. Favret-
Saada and Jos&eContreras,Corps pour corps: Enque~te sur la sorcellerie dans le Bocage
(Paris, 1981).
39. Camille Lacoste-Dujardin,Dialogue des femmes en ethnologie (Paris, 1977); Marjorie
Shostak,Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman (Cambridge,Mass., 1981).
40. Kevin Dwyer, "On the Dialogic of Field Work,"and "The Dialogic of Ethnology,"Di-
alectical Anthropology,2:2 (1977), 143-151, and 4:3 (1979), 205-24.
41. VincentCrapanzano, Tuhami: Potrait ofa Moroccan (Chicago, 1980); and "On theWrit-
ing of Ethnography,"Dialectical Anthropology,2:1 (1977), 69-73.
42. It would be wrongto gloss overthe differences betweenDwyer's and Crapanzano's the-
oreticalpositions.Dwyer, followingLukAcs,translatesdialogic into Marxian/Hegelian
dialectic,thusholdingout the possibilityof a restorationof the humansubject,a kindof
completionin and throughthe other.Crapanzano refusesany anchor in an englobing
theory,his onlyauthoritybeingthatofthedialogue'swriter,an authority underminedby
an inconclusivenarrativeof encounter,rupture,and confusion.(It is worthnotingthat
dialogic,as used by Bakhtin,is not reducibleto dialectic.)
43. On this see StephenTylor's "Words forDeeds and the Doctrine of the SecretWorld:
Testimonyto a Chance EncounterSomewherein the Indian Jungle," forthcoming in
Proceedings of the Chicago Linguistic Society.
44. On realist"types,"see G. LukAcs,Studies in European Realism, passim. The tendencyto
transform an individualintoa culturalenunciatormay be observedin M. Griaule's Dieu
d'Eau (Paris, 1948). It occursambivalentlyin Shostak'sNisa. (For a discussionof this
ambivalenceand of the book's resultingdiscursivecomplexitysee my review,London
Times Literary Supplement, Sept. 17, 1982, 994-95.)
45. Crapanzano, Thhami, pp. 147-151.
46. James Clifford,"Power and Dialogue in Ethnography:Marcel Griaule's Initiation,"
History of Anthropology 1, forthcoming.
47. I. Lewis, The Anthropologist's Muse (London, 1973).
48. R. Rosaldo,Ilongot Ileadhunting 1883-1974: A Study in Society and History (Stanford,
49. Paris, 1932; fora studyof thismode of textualproductionsee J. Clifford,"Fieldwork,
Reciprocity, and the Making of EthnographicTexts,"Man 15 (1980), 518-32. See also,
in this context,B. Fontana,Introductionto Frank Russell, The Pima Indians (Tucson,
1975), on thebook'shiddenco-author,thePapago Indian Jose Lewis; M. Leiris,"Avant-
propos,"La langue secrete des Dogons de Sanga (Paris, 1948), pp. ix-xxv,discussescol-
laborationas co-authorship,as does I. M. Lewis, in The Anthropologist's Muse. For a
forward-looking defenseof Boas' emphasison vernaculartextsand his collaborationwith
Hunt, see IrvingGoldman,"Boas on the Kwakiutl:the EthnographicTradition,"in S.
Diamond, ed., Theory and Practice: Essays presented to Gene Weltfish (The Hague,
1980), pp. 334-36.
50. D. Sperber,"L'Interprktation en Anthropologie,"L'Homme, XXI:I (1981), esp. pp. 76-
51. Such a projectis announcedby Evans-Pritchardin his introduction to Man and Woman
among the Azande (London, 1974), a late workwhichmay be seen as a reactionagainst
the closed,analyticnatureof his own earlierethnographies. His acknowledgedinspira-
tionis Malinowski.

On EthnographicAuthority 145
52. Sperber,"L'Interprkationen Anthropologie," p. 78.
53. V. Turner,The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual (Ithaca, N.Y., and London,
1967), pp. 131-50.
54. New York,1960, pp. 333-356. For a "groupdynamics"approachto ethnography, see T.
Yannopoulosand Denis Martin,"De la questionau dialogue: A proposdes enquetesen
Afriquenoire,"Cahiers d'&tudesafricaines,71 (1978), 421-42. For an ethnography ex-
plicitlybased on native "seminars" see N. Blurton Jones and M. Konner, "!Kung
Knowledge of Animal Behavior," in R. Lee and I. De Vore, eds., Kalahari Hunter-
Gatherers(Cambridge,1976), pp. 325-48.
55. V. Turner, Revelation and Divination in Ndembu Ritual (Ithaca, 1975), pp. 40-42, 87,
154-56, 244; Forest of Symbols, p. 21.
56. Favret-Saada'suse of dialectand italictypein Les Mots, la mort,les sortsis one solution
amongmanyto a problemthathas long preoccupiedrealistnovelists.
57. J. Casagrande,ed., In the CompanyofMan, p. 428.
58. Ibid., pp. 17-18. 59. Ibid., p. xiii.
60. Roy Wagner, The Invention of Culture (Chicago, 1980).
61. New York,1980. 62. Auckland,London, 1977.
63. Bahr et al., Piman Shamanism(Tucson, 1974), p. 7.
64. R. Barthes,Image, Music, Text(New York,1977), pp. 146, 148.
65. An extremelysuggestivemodelof polyphonicexpositionis offeredby the projectedfour-
volumeeditionoftheethnographic textswritten,provoked,and transcribedbetween1896
and 1914 by James Walker,on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation.Two titleshave ap-
peared so far:James Walker,Lakota Beliefand Ritual, RaymondDeNlallie and Elaine
Jahner,eds., and Lakota Society,RaymondDeMallie, ed. (Lincoln,Nebraska,and Lon-
don, 1980, 1982). These engrossingvolumesin effectre-openthetextualhomogeneity of
Walker'sclassicmonographof 1917, The Sun Dance, a summaryof theindividualstate-
mentshere publishedin translation.These statements, by morethan thirtynamed "au-
thorities,"complementand transcendWalker'ssynthesis.A long sectionof Lakota Belief
and Ritual was writtenby Thomas Tyon, Walker's interpreter. And the collection's
fourthvolumewill be a translationof the writingsof George Sword,an Oglala warrior
and judge encouragedby Walkerto recordand interpret the traditionalway of life.The
firsttwo volumespresentthe unpublishedtextsof knowledgeableLakota and Walker's
own descriptionsin identicalformats.Ethnographyappears as a processof collective
production.It is essentialto notethatthe Colorado HistoricalSociety'sdecisionto pub-
lish thesetextswas provokedby increasingrequestsfromtheOglala Communityat Pine
Ridge forcopies of Walker'smaterialsto use in Oglala historyclasses.
66. For a veryusefuland completesurveyof recentexperimentalethnographies see George
Marcus and Dick Cushman,"Ethnographiesas Texts,"Annual ReviewofAnthropology,
11 (1982), pp. 25-69; StevenWebster,"Dialogue and Fictionin Ethnography," Dialecti-
cal Anthropology 7:2 (1982); and Hussein Fahim, ed., Indigenous Anthropology in Non-
WesternCountries(Durham, NorthCarolina, 1982).