Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Social Sciences and Human Decency

An interesting article on the recent dialogue about the AAA code of ethics, including a quote from our own Council for Museum Anthropology President, Alex Barker:

A researcher doing fieldwork in the southwestern U.S. happened upon something close to the anthropological Holy Grail: a small group of Native Americans who had never been exhaustively studied.

While master's-level research conducted decades ago had made some inroads with the group, this work reflected the long-held, and mistaken, view that this group was the same as another, larger one nearby. Not so. The researcher amassed a trove of ethnographic notes and could see that the group's distinctive culture was rapidly disappearing after waves of westernization. She (the gender of the researcher is not clear in the anonymous account, but Inside Higher Ed had to pick a pronoun) hoped her scholarship would preserve the record of a civilization that was about to vanish.

But, then, a hitch emerged: the group objected strongly to her publishing an account of certain beliefs and practices -- how they worshiped and related to the supernatural -- because they said such things do not rightly belong to non-natives.

[Read more here]

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