12 Pages

PROLOGUE An Arrival Story

Because of its focal position in the discipline, ‘fieldwork’ has been the subject of particular scrutiny. We have started to ask epistemological, political and ethical questions which have been long suppressed. No longer is it possible to presume that we are collecting the facts of a cool, objective science. The problematic nature of our observations, interpretations and writings about other peoples is at last being confronted (Marcus and Fischer, 1986; Clifford and Marcus, 1986). W hat we observe in the field is both theory and value laden, since who we are, the questions we ask, and the problems we pose influence what we see, hear and say. Moreover, how we eventually interpret and make meaningful our interpretations through the persuasive fictions of our writing is equally problematic (Strathern, 1987). Gone are the days when anthropologists could cling to a naive empiricism about the creation of knowledge, and to ‘ethnographic realism’1 as the unanalysed genre for our writing. The personal and intellectual history of the ethnographer deserves consideration, not just as an exercise in narcissistic reflection, but because the knowledge produced depends on the particular historical relation s/he constructs with those people s/he strives to understand and write about.