Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Since the 1980s, the critique of ethnography as subjective, perspectival, and value-laden has come to rest so centrally in the self-understanding of sociocultural anthropology as to be a truism. Some have even wondered whether we have exhausted the productivity of the critique of ethnography altogether. Insofar as these critiques have challenged ethnographic knowledge production in these ways, they have productively reworked the discipline and its commitments. But they have also generally ascribed to anthropology the same epistemological commitments assigned to the natural sciences and its empiricisms. Instead, is it possible to account for a mode of ethnographic, experience-based knowing that neither subscribes to the objectivism of natural sciences, nor surrenders the mantle of empiricism to an exclusively naturalistic mode of inquiry? I consider this possibility through an analysis of interactions between Hopi and non-native agents party to consultations over Hopi cultural resource management. These participants find success or failure in their outcomes depend not just on whether they “hear” the claims of their counterparts, but whether they can appreciate the consequentially different normative commitments that inform what they can “know” and how they value the resources about which they are meeting. Based on this insight, I will argue that ethnographic fieldwork involves a mode of humanistic empiricism open to the normative commitments invariably informing all human engagements with our worlds, but sees them as accessible to and through the field experience, thereby making fieldwork a mode of inquiry uniquely suited for producing knowledge about the worlds we live.