Ethnography, Ethics, and Advanced Colonialism

  • J. Marshall Beier


The prejudices and pretensions of disciplinarity and, no less, their colonial complicities, are as discernible in ethnographic representation as in the disciplinary division of knowledge. Ethnographers are often given to referring to those they study as their “subjects.” The unreflexive pretension to represent, however, confirms that they are nothing of the sort. The ethnographic voice of the participant-observer is an unsolicited surrogate voice by the knowing (Western/scholarly) subject on behalf of unspeaking objects. The very rationale for participant-observation—as opposed to philology, for instance—presumes the voicelessness of those under study. And this puts the lie to their identification as subjects of the ethnographies so produced—stripped of their subjectivity in deference to that of the ethnographer, they are thoroughly objectified from the outset. The possibility of a truly counter-hegemonic project is thus obviated by the inclination to represent the Other rather than to work toward the audibility of the Other’s voice(s). The hege-monologue here frustrates the empathetic ideal, collapsing the multiple subjectivities of those being represented into the monolithic category of the Other, an objectified unsubjectivity that, following Spivak, cannot speak (Spivak 1988a).


Indigenous People International Relation Indigenous Community Indigenous Knowledge Personal Narrative 
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© J. Marshall Beier 2005

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  • J. Marshall Beier

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