Association of Black Anthropologists
Oral Presentation Session
The scholarship of feminist and “native” anthropologists of the 1990s foregrounded the importance of positionality and reflexivity in ethnographic writing. While anthropological theory has moved on, the influence of this historically moment in anthropology remains visible, implicitly or not, in contemporary ethnographic practice. My research on Japanese American transnationalism and racialization is also built on this foundation, particularly given my own complicated and layered commitments to my research and the people who participated in this research. It was not my fieldwork experiences or writing practice, however, that has reshaped my perspective on ethnographic representation. I revisit questions of reflexivity and the politics of representation through my experiences teaching ethnographic methods. Being an Asian American woman who has occupied an array of contingent positions within academia provided me with perspectives I may not have gained otherwise. In this paper, I will discuss how I confronted unexpected, though not entirely unsurprising, consequences of teaching ethnographic methods within an ethnic studies course and to a majority-minority student body, most of whom had no prior background or knowledge of anthropology. The way students responded to ethnographic writing revealed a vastly different set of stakes than for students in predominantly white liberal arts institutions. These responses to ethnographic practice and representation lead me to question some of the very premises and conventions of contemporary ethnographic writing, suggesting a persistent ethnocentrism and centering of whiteness in anthropology.