Choice or Change of Topic
Funding bodies and research committees in the United Kingdom and beyond have been under pressures from an audit culture and archaic methods with less trust in individual judgement. Social anthropology masters students, embarking on fieldwork, were even asked if they were going to ‘take tissue’ from their informants. Anthropologists have confronted ethics with greater subtlety but increasingly have had to defer to such inappropriate review boards entirely ignorant of anthropological practice. Questions of ethics have indeed become disengaged from politics and the wider context of choice of topic and the anthropologist’s role. An audit culture, claiming political neutrality, compromises anthropological practice and scientific enquiry. When authors proposed the 1989 Association of Social Anthropologists conference topic, critics in the open debate argued that auto-ethnography was ‘navel gazing’, ‘narcissism’, ‘California speak’ and a ‘feminist plot’. It seemed threatening to confront social science with experiential narrative and revelations of loss of control.