Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
How can we produce knowledge about what that which we are not-to-know? Historically, anthropologists whose scholarship has treaded on matters of esoteric knowledge have often run afoul of the ethics and politics that shape certain epistemological commitments with which they are engaged, either of the discipline, or of the communities with which they have worked, or both. More recently, as the tides of disciplinary ethics have shifted, an increasing number of anthropologists have found novel ways to accommodate community concerns about the dissemination of their esoteric knowledge not as antithetical to their scholarly commitments, but rather as their focus. But what does this mean for the empirics of anthropological inquiry into such matters? Is there a way to account for the normative commitments to “not-knowing” that ethnographic investigation and representation accommodates in such situations, while nonetheless still making affirmative contributions to anthropological knowledge production more generally? In this paper I offer some preliminary considerations of these questions drawing on my own anthropological research and scholarship on language documentation and secrecy in Puebloan communities in New Mexico and Texas. I argue that “not-knowing” is an empirical phenomenon as much as “knowing” is, and describing its accomplishment in the particular contexts of our field research offers contributions to our discipline in ways that might also align with the ethics and politics of the communities with whom we work.