The Ethics of Anthropology + Doing Fieldwork

11 Sep

“Ethnography” can be understood as “doing anthropology.” Based on the ethnographic film we watched (Chagnon + the Yanomamo), please respond to the following questions: What responsibilities do anthropologists have to the people they study? What are their obligations? At what point does “helping them” (through trade/influence/etc) actually hurt them? Is it ever possible to truly observe another culture, or does the anthropologist’s presence interfere with what is “real”? Use evidence from the video and at least one of the readings below.

Resources:
The Yanomami Controversy, in brief (http://zeroanthropology.net/2007/10/12/the-yanomami-controversy/)
The Yanomami Controversy, in depth (click on the first result here)
How to watch ethnographic films (http://tvmultiversity.blogspot.com/2011/01/way-of-looking-at-ethnographic-film.html)

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27 Responses to “The Ethics of Anthropology + Doing Fieldwork”

  1. Trevor Turner September 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    anthropologists are not able to judge the people they are studying because there job is to watch them and report. They need to observe them not help them.

  2. Siara Ramirez September 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    I believe as an anthropologist, you have absolutely no responsibilities to the person/group of people you are studying, because you are in fact doing just that, studying. You are not studying the people if they interact with your own culture, but studying them just as if you were not there, how they actually live. Interfering with a culture hurts them, even if you believe you are just helping and with that said I believe helping them at all is hurting them. Providing a group of people with weapons may in fact turn them angry, something they were not before and vaccinating them with a disease never before brought to their country can hurt them or even cause death. I think that to really observe a culture, you have to be invisible as silly as that sounds, because I don’t believe that an anthropologists presence does not interfere with what is real, I believe that his/hers presence will change a group of peoples ways.

  3. sod4268 September 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    They had to trade with them for information.
    When they get the goods they have to give him information on their lives.
    Letting them do drugs and stuff like that could be harmful.
    I think you could observe another culture without interfering. I guess what the man did was alright considering he wanted to know they way they lived their lives.

  4. connor September 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    Anthropologists can’t judge the people they study. It’s their job as anthropologists to observe the people they study from an understanding perspective, and part of understanding involves taking part in that cultures activities. “Helping” the culture through trade/influence/etc can hurt them if it makes an impact on their culture. That impact can be either good or bad, and both sides well always be argued. For example if you trade machetes to a culture that lacks in steel, you can help them by giving them protection, or hurt them by creating violence. It is possible to truly observe another culture as an anthropologist, but you can’t have any influence whatsoever, and you have to document from eye sight. If you document peoples information, you may have to persuade them to speak through trade. For example Nepoleon Chagnon traded weapons and other goods for information.

  5. Trevor Turner September 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    Anthropologists are not able to judge the people they are studying because there job is to watch them and report. There job to observe them not help them. I think when Chagnon talked to his associate and he said he wanted to help them, Chagnon told him our job isnt to help them its to observe them. In my opinion when he gave them axes and machetes he was helping them but it was for his own good. When he told his associate we cant help them hes only saying that because he wasnt getting anything in return like when he gave them weapons.

  6. alexanderc6 September 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    When studying a group of people or a culture, the anthropologist has several responsibilities. The major responsibility is being able to observe them without interfering with their daily life. It is possible to change the way they may act by merely being in their presence. For example, when Napoleon was observing the natives in Venezuela, he caused a commotion by just being there. The natives had never seen a white man before, thus making a constant commotion about him being there. The anthropologists obligations are just to observe, not to help them out. Any type of interference, such as trade, can hurt a group that the anthropology is studying. As I said before, just being in their presence can cause them to act differently, ultimately hurting somebody. The introduction of new materials through trade can hurt somebody. If a native releases a piece of information that he wasn’t supposed to in return for a new piece of technology, then it would create new problems. I do not believe it is possible to observe a group of people or culture without actually interfering with them, like stated before. A new person in the presence of people who have no knowledge of the outside world can cause them all to want to meet this person, and they’re going to have many questions for them.

  7. coleedry74 September 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Cole Edry

    1: Anthropologists do not have many responsibilities to the people they study. They have to keep quiet, or else they would disrupt the living environment. But they have to interview people, and try not to be an outsider, or the people will see them as strange.

    2: There obligations are to cooperate with the people they are studying, and try not to be an outsider.

    3: I think that helping becomes hurting when the people start to act differently. This would happen when you give too many items that they did not have in the first place.

    4: If they blend in, and do not change the environment of the people being studied, then it would be observing and not interfering.

  8. kyrag9 September 11, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    With anthropology I think anthropologists responsibilities are that they can not harm the people by their health or opinions. I believe that your obligations can be based on your personal limits. I feel that either you can watch and do somethings, or you can just do everything based on how far you will go. I feel like you should never give or trade with the culture because then you are affecting their lives and it will most likely mess up your study. I think if you interfere with the culture you are not really going to get the results that you need. By you being their and giving them things or telling stories influences the culture, just like in the video when Napoleon gives them weapons that is going to make their actions different.

    Kyra Green

  9. siararamirez September 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    I believe as an anthropologist, you have absolutely no responsibilities to the person/group of people you are studying, because you are in fact doing just that, studying. You are not studying the people if they interact with your own culture, but studying them just as if you were not there, how they actually live. Interfering with a culture hurts them, even if you believe you are just helping and with that said I believe helping them at all is hurting them. Providing a group of people with weapons may in fact turn them angry, something they were not before and vaccinating them with a disease never before brought to their country can hurt them or even cause death. I think that to really observe a culture, you have to be invisible as silly as that sounds, because I don’t believe that an anthropologists presence does not interfere with what is real, I believe that his/hers presence will change a group of peoples ways.
    -Siara

  10. rondellw5 September 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    Rondell Williams

    The responsibilities that an anthropologist has with the people is to simply get in their heads and get their perspective about human life. The anthropologist must finish with the understanding of the people he studied. The anthropologist’s obligations are to fully understand the actions and lives of the people that are studied. He/she needs to use his abilities to further the knowledge of the people. An anthropologist has to stay within his limits of his ability. He should simply study their habits and not try to bribe them or “help them” with trade. I disagreed with what went on in the video when he basically bribed them into getting answers. It is a delicate situation for him considering that his decision to trade with them got him banned. I think only good anthropologist can differentiate between going too far to get their jobs done and giving up too early. Only good anthropologist can observe a culture successfully and get the real flow of what goes on in their daily lives.

  11. mileidar September 11, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    The responsibility anthropologists have is to try to understand the people they are studying in the best way possible by engaging in the major activities they practice. This is important because in this way the anthropologist can experience for himself and is able to better understand the reasons behind cultural practice because he has been through it. Judging should not be an option because in order to study people you need to be open minded as to why they do certain things. Helping people from other cultures can hurt them in a way by exposing parts of their lives that can be interpreted by other cultures are “weird” or “unusual”.

  12. cpjr803 September 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    When anthropologists study people they are responsibilities include interacting with the people and finding some understanding of their culture and the way they live. Anthropologist Chagnon went as far as taking drugs with the people he studied which were Yanomamo. Their obligations are to help those who need it and not to disturb the peace. I find some of Chagnon tactics are oxymoron because he brought a vaccination for the people to help them but traded weapons as well which can cause violence if put in the wrong hands. At a point helping the people you are observing can hurt them because you may be trying to change their culture and they might feel you are interfering with their beliefs. Chagnon while trying to help the Yanomamo traded them weapons but his helping hurt them by resulting in violence. I feel that it is possible to observe other cultures if you stay neutral and are an observer than judging them.

  13. Wendyn6 September 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    I believe that anthropologist have to be as non judgemental an unbiased as possible to the people they study. They also have to be as respectful to the people they study as they would to any other humans no matter how different their lifestyles are.

    As an anthropologist they are obligated to go as in depth as they can and gain as much information as they can without pushing any buttons or stepping on anyone’s toes. Other than that their obligations should be whatever they, as well as the field their studying, feel comfortable doing.

    I think that depending on what they give them and how advanced that community is does the thing offered either help or hurt them.

    I think that it is possible to observe another culture. No matter what you are influenced by your surroundings whether there was an anthropologist there or not. But when you introduce things that are further advanced then the community is then it can get dangerous.

  14. gbbyb September 11, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    The only responsibility that anthropologists have to the study is to gather as much information as they can within reason. While, there may be some risky decisions they may have to make in doing so, they should still stay to true to what they feel is right. As anthropologists, they are obligated to find out as much as they can about that particular subject without having to endanger themselves in any suspicious activity. Anthropologist Chagnon was determined to gather as much information as he could about the Yamomami society. He went as far as putting his life in danger by participating in drugs, in efforts to collecting more data about their lives. When the researchers start to change their way of living, that is when it starts to hurt the people in that area. For instance, when Chagnon agreed to trade weapons such as axes, with the Yamomami people, in exchange for information. This must have impacted their civilization.

    • gbbyb September 11, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

      -GABBY NEWLAND- BABSON

  15. mherij September 11, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    I believe that the anthropologist don’t have responsibility to the people they study but they should do what is morally correct. If there ever was to come a time where someone was in dyer need of help then the right thing to do would be to help but keep yourself at a safe distance so you dont catch the sickness as well. At the same time the anthropologist is there to observe no help so its really a “what if” situation.

    Anthropologist are obligated to gain information about the project that they are researching by going to the exstent. Participating in taking drugs with the Yanomamo maybe not the smartest idea on Chagnon because he could have gotten hurt, did something reckless, or the drugs could have effected him differently but maybe if he didn’t take it, the tribe would not have trusted enough to bestow information to him. I feel like it should be in a mater of reason as well.

    When you go into a different area and people say they are violent, what right part of you mind gives the the go ahead to give them machetes and axe’s? Giving a tribe who is known to be violent weapons is like giving bullets to a suicidal person. Even though you may think they could make it easier for them to do daily things, not only is it infringing on their lifestyle and westerninzing an area but it’s making the horrible rumor almost true. The Yanomamo may not be violent people and might have something to offer this world no one will know becuase everyone is scared of them.

    The anthropologist do kinda intefere because the tribes are to busy trying to make you happy, welcome you, and help you with you every need that they never seem to do what they do regularly. It’s lik having an invader, you dont quite want them to be n you life because you don’ fully trust them,

  16. sjn7425 September 11, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    When studying a group of people or a culture, the anthropologist has several responsibilities. The major responsibility is being able to observe them without interfering with their daily life. Anthropologist job is to try to understand the people they are studying because the people that they are studying does not have the same culture. Sometimes it could be a little complicated to study other cultures eventhough there’s a lot of influence around that person.
    Joely

  17. mherij September 11, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    I believe that the anthropologist don’t have responsibility to the people they study but they should do what is morally correct. If there ever was to come a time where someone was in dyer need of help then the right thing to do would be to help but keep yourself at a safe distance so you dont catch the sickness as well. At the same time the anthropologist is there to observe no help so its really a “what if” situation.

    Anthropologist are obligated to gain information about the project that they are researching by going to the exstent. Participating in taking drugs with the Yanomamo maybe not the smartest idea on Chagnon because he could have gotten hurt, did something reckless, or the drugs could have effected him differently but maybe if he didn’t take it, the tribe would not have trusted enough to bestow information to him. I feel like it should be in a mater of reason as well.

    When you go into a different area and people say they are violent, what right part of you mind gives the the go ahead to give them machetes and axe’s? Giving a tribe who is known to be violent weapons is like giving bullets to a suicidal person. Even though you may think they could make it easier for them to do daily things, not only is it infringing on their lifestyle and westerninzing an area but it’s making the horrible rumor almost true. The Yanomamo may not be violent people and might have something to offer this world no one will know becuase everyone is scared of them.

    The anthropologist do kinda interfere because the tribes are to busy trying to make you happy, welcome you, and help you with you every need that they never seem to do what they do regularly. It’s like having an invader, you dont quite want them to be in your life because you don’t fully trust them.

  18. alenag3 September 11, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    Anthropologists do not have any type of responsibility to the people they are studying, because they are only there to observe and learn about their culture. An anthropologists obligation to me is not to judge the environment and group of people they are learning about. They are only their to learn not to like or dislike something. Anthropologists begin to hurt the group of people they are studying by trade and influence, because they are introducing something new. They will no longer do whatever they did before they where introduced to something new. This is changing the original culture anthropologists when there to study. I think it is never possible for anthropologists to observe another culture when they know he is there. For example, if your being watched by someone you don’t know your not going to do what you usually do. That is why i think anthropologists presence does not allow the culture that is being observed to act normal.For example the Yamomami people will no give anthropologists, Napolean, information unless he gave them something in return for example, axes, machetes, and etc. Also, anthropologists Chagnon went as far as taking drugs to experience how the group of people who he was studying felt like.

  19. Anson Small September 11, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    1. The anthropologist responsibility is to go into the field and study other peoples cultures and be apart of these culture to fully understand how these people think. For example, Chagnon lived the Yamomami people to understand their culture.

    2. Their obligation is to go into the field, and study different people’s cultures.

    3. Trade and influences can be harmful to the people, because if you keep on giving them stuff for information, then the people will become dependent on you for supplies. This can effect their ability to survive with out an outsiders help. For example, a tribe gets a disease and you are studying them but, you feel bad because these people are attached to you. You bring in medicine, but you don’t know how they will react to it. First, you can get the illness and die or you can give them the medicine and it might not work or make the persons sickness even worst.

    4. In my honest opinion I think that u can’t really study another persons culture, and live their with them. I think that human emotions is one boundary that is stopping us. For example, what if Chagnon didn’t take the drugs that the Yamomami people gave them. They might have found this as disrespectful. Also, there are things that people just don’t do like murder, rape people, etc. In other culture, there might be sacrificing some one or a man has to force himself on a girl to become something. This can be the rules of another culture, and if you say ” I am not doing that”, that is disrespectful to the people that you are studying.

  20. sallygibson3 September 11, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    I believe that an anthropologist responsibilities are to remain unbiased when studying other cultures. What I mean by this is detaching themselves for their worldly beliefs and having an open mind about others. Also to do their jobs by gaining information about different cultures. I think that an anthropologist obligations are to respect other cultures and not pushing for information in disrespectful manners like Chagnon did when asking for the names of the Yanomamo’s love ones. I think the point when “helping them” starts hurting them is when you drastically change another culture and their way of living. I do feel that it is possible to observe another culture without them questioning what is “real” because of the idea of ethnocentrism. Even if an anthropologist share experiences of their lives in different cultures, they may not even care because they might feel that their way is superior.

  21. farzanap September 11, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Some responsibilities anthapoligists have to take on the people they study is to understand their culture of those people. They should be respectful of the things they do because even though it may seem unusual to us, it seems completely normal to them. Also some anthapoligist like Napoleon decided to take part with the experince and open up to things that those people do which may not be healthy for him. Their bodies may be immune to the things they do. Although anthpoligists should just simply study what they do, they should also be able to take part in these rituals. i do understand why an anthropologist should not take part in these rituals because they’re not there to be with them and participate but to just study them. I believe this way they get a better understanding on the culture and see why they do what they do. i think it is possible to observe another culture. taking part in their doings does not interfere with their practices. it simply just gives you a better understanding and you are also in a way getting a better observation. Trading with these people such as giving them weapons for information can also hurt them. They can cause violence with each other because of this even though though the weapons are to protect one another.

    Farzana Parveen

  22. Patrice Gonzalez September 11, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    Patrice Gonzalez
    I believe that anthropologist’s are not responsible for the people or culture that they are studying, but i think that they have a responsibility to respect the culture and its people, also to not interfere with their way of life. I think that an anthropologist’s obligation is to be open and to take in the habits and traditions of ones culture that is different than theirs, without judgement. And to also lean about them. A point where i believe that helping can morph into hurting is when the people start to act differently and it causes a dramatic change to their way of life. I do think that anthropologists can study different cultures, but also some of them can change these cultures a little. For example, Napoleon Changnon tired to study a group of people, but by trading gifts to get more information about them and their culture.

  23. manene096 September 11, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    I think that anthropologist don’t have much of a responsibility because they are only studying the culture and how humans behave in a certain environment it is not their job to take care of the people they are studding, but to just be a part of their culture. At the same time I don’t think that it matters if they do help if it actually benefits the other person. I don’t think that they have any obligation your there for one think only which is to just observe but it also depends on the person everyone feels like they have different obligations. I think that it can actually hurt them at a point that their attitudes towards you, other people or themselves. It can also change how they think. I believe that it is possible to observe another culture but to be able to understand it equally I believe you need to work closely with the people to get better results like what Napoleon Chagnon did on his trips to Venezuela. I think it depends on how that specific anthropologist thinks but it usually their opinions do not matter because that is clearly a false data. Like in the video we watched in class they anthropologist realized that the people from the village gave him wrong data and he what he had before was useless.

  24. aransag September 12, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    What responsibilities do anthropologists have to the people they study? What are their obligations?
    Based on the ethnographic film we watched, I can see that Anthropologists
    seek information on specific groups and would try their best to get all the information they can. However, I think that as an anthropologist it’s their duty to distribute accurate information on the people that they are studying. Anthropologist should be responsible for the information that they share and for the actions they took in order to collect information. I think that distributing correct information and respecting the people that they are studying should be an obligation to anthropologists.

    At what point does “helping them” (through, trade, influence, etc) actually hurt them?

    After extracting information from the group of people they are studying through trade I think it comes to a point where the anthropologist is bribing them to get his/her way. This may cause harm within the group of people they are studying and arise conflict with one another. It may come to a point where one of the group members will say more than necessary and other group members would disapprove of this.

    Is it ever possible to truly observe another culture, or does the anthropologist’s presence interfere with what is “real”? Use evidence from the video and at least one of the readings below.

    I do think it’s possible observe another culture, however you can never really know if the group you are studying are truly acting themselves around you. I think that there will always be some hidden factors but, I suppose that is better than nothing.

  25. katherinehebert September 12, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    From what we had talked about in class, it feels like there are many boundaries that an anthropologist can and can’t cross. They have to observe the culture through the outside, yet should be able to join the activities to be able to experience the culture’s rituals from an inside perspective. They have to push away what morals they know and believe in and see how the culture works, which goes back to the whole issue on Chagnon taking the drugs that the Yanomamo takes. He probably would have not taken it if it wasn’t to see what their culture is like. However, I don’t think he should have interfered with things like trade like giving them axes and things they needed. He made of thought that they needed it and he was helping them, but he wasn’t actually observing the culture, it was like he was interrupting it but giving them what we think they needed. As an anthropologist, you should try to experience the different ways of culture, but don’t disrupt it in any way.

  26. sandiminn October 3, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    I don’t think an anthropologist have to do all of that like giving out medicine. An anthropologist is to just study the culture and watch. They don’t have to interact with them. You just have to observe. I feel like Chagnon is crossing the boundaries by trading with the tribe to get the information out of them. He is giving them axes. This is kinda ruining their culture because they would make it by them selves. He’s making the tribe adapt to these modern things and it is changing the tribe and the way they live and how the take care of themselves to survive daily. The whole purpose of Changnon being there is to observe how the tribe lives and what they do daily. Not to help them and introduce them to new things.

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