Society for the Anthropology of North America
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores the challenges that emerge when anthropologists examine colonial processes through ethnographic research with dominant actors, a form of “studying up” (Nader 1972). Scholars of settler colonialism conducting ethnographic fieldwork with settlers have fruitfully exposed settler ideologies, and zones of amnesia and silencing (Crapanzano 1985; Dominy 2001). This research tack carries special difficulties, however. In this paper, I outline obstacles I faced when conducting fieldwork among former French settlers of French Algeria (pieds-noirs), and the new difficulties posed by my current research on white Euro-American settlers of Pennsylvania and New York. Understanding dominance from within can reveal the otherwise hidden distinctions within seemingly monolithic blocs like the pieds-noirs (Smith 2006). This type of research poses special representational challenges for the ethnographer, however, who can feel trapped between “speaking for” and “speaking against” her research subjects’ views. Presenting unsavory political or ideological positions with empathy can call into question the ethnographer’s objectivity. It can be tempting to take the opposite tack and construct an alien right-wing or dominant Other, a strategy that strains research ethics and can lead to a premature end of the fieldwork experience.