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In this article, the author explores how both normative and oppositional stances contribute to a silencing praxis in anthropology. She suggests that anthropology as a discipline and as an institution works hard to silence due to its history, its theoretical nature, and its methods that require static and uncomplicated single identities of its subjects and theoreticians. The practice and theory of anthropology contradict each other. Its practice demands an ethnographer-Native informer dyad, placing the ethnographer as the knower while only valuing the knowledge of the Native. Its theory values native knowledge and exalts diversity vis-a-vis cultural relativism. Opposing either theory or practice underscores the paradox. As a Chicana anthropologist, the author experiences a tricky conflation of these competing agendas. She recommends exposing these limitations and actively reclaiming the very voice and epistemology that has been denounced to persist in the method and efficacy of anthropology.
The Chicana among feminists, the feminist among Chicanos. The Chicano nationalist among Euro-Americans, the bridge builder among Chicano nationalists. Half Anglo, half Chicana. The newcomer in academe, the overeducated at home. The minority among the majority, the mainstream among raza. The binaries of my many identities are not so much a feeling of displacement for me, rather they bring a sense that I have many homes. These oppositional identities are not contradictions: They shape and are shapes by their analogue. They are powerful. Yet, I cannot always readily find those spaces. Oppositional strategies give way when they cannot afford me complexity, when those very spaces silence my voice.
As a theoretician, I often feel that I am the anthropologist among literary critics or cultural studies types: I provide the touchstone data to the occasional far-flung theory. The thing that confounds me in writing this article is that although I can see the utility of anthropology and I willingly occupy that position, I cannot find my place among anthropologists. For I have experienced myself among anthropologists not with a position but as absent, voiceless, nearly invisible. I see oppositional spaces in which power is generated from and in reaction to the norm. Yet, this oppositional stance only places me in other silencing locations.
In this article, I explore how both normative and oppositional stances contribute to a silencing praxis in anthropology. It seems to me that anthropology as a discipline and as an institution works hard to silence many of us, and I have difficulty transcending the demand to find a single identity--party line or oppositional--because anthropology, by its history, its theoretical nature, and its methods, requires static and uncomplicated single identities of its subjects and theoreticians. The normative practice and the theory of anthropology contradict each other. Its practice demands an ethnographer-Native informer dyed, placing the ethnographer as the knower while only valuing the knowledge of the Native.(1) Its theory values Native knowledge and exalts diversity vis-a-vis cultural relativism. Opposing either theory or practice underscores the paradox. As a Chicana anthropologist, I experience a tricky conflation of these competing agendas, agendas that leave me little space to stand.
Opposition is equally restricting and silencing, providing no refuge. Each stance that is oppositional to the conventional practice seems to be equally silencing, however, for different reasons. Opposition signals the role of the "authentic" Native, simultaneously appropriated and rejected from conventional anthropological paradigms. In rejecting the silencing norm, I seek out another space. Yet, these loci sustain the very idea of binary and static roles. I do not merely experience being ignored but being actively reshaped to fit into a mold and cannon that is so troubling.(2) Because the contemporary experience of ethnocentrism is based in a history of colonization, only as a strategy might I be wiring to masochistically explore my inability to find a voice not to expose anthropology's neglect of feminists of color and other disenfranchised scholars but to interrogate anthropology, its practice and theory, showing how it actively silences.(3)
NORMATIVE ANTHROPOLOGY: A QUESTION OF THE KNOWER
The relationship between social scientist and object of study is one of unequal power. The underlying epistemology marks the anthropologist as knower and the Native as knowable, simple, able to be fully comprehended. The all too familiar binaries--ethnographer-informant, object-subject, Self-Other, Western-Native--persist despite anthropology's discussion of these demons of its colonial past. We have thoroughly criticized objectifying practices and theories in anthropology, a criticism meant to exorcise those demons. Indeed, this new stance is now so well documented as to appear to be a moot point, yet, it is not. In practice, the Native informer does not become subject. The Native informer is not acknowledged as knower or producer of theory. Henrietta Moore (1994, 1996) cogently reveals how the status of the knower is limited and determined within both empiricist and interpretivist paradigms--the two major schools of anthropological thought. Empiricist paradigms rest on objectivity, asserting that the world is knowable in a concrete way, thus configuring the Native as knowable and the objective observer as knower. Interpretivist paradigms see the production of ethnographic knowledge as mediated through the perspective of the person writing the ethnography. Hence, the interpretive lens and the authority that rests in authorship again sustains the anthropologist as active theorist, often replacing the Native as the central figure altogether (Moore, 1996).
An explosion of articles by scholars of color writing about their own communities, potential Native knowers that might be incorporated into anthropology, have been virtually ignored.(4) Dismissed and shunted off to what is supposed to be a lesser discipline--ethnic studies--anthropology ironically rejects the challenge that it is presumably well situated to take up: understanding representation, race, identity, and power in this postmodern world.(5) I suggest that being a Chicana anthropologist focusing on Chicana/ Chicano communities disrupts this division of the knower and the Native. Visweswaran (1994) comments on this peculiar exclusion of the theoretical contributions made by many scholars of color:
I am not surprised that no inclusion of work done in ethnic studies or so
called indigenous anthropology is made in experimental ethnography, but I am
dismayed. This, despite the fact these writings explicitly challenge the
authority of representation . . . of themselves. Self writing about like
selves has thus far not been on the agenda of experimental ethnography. To
accept "native" authority is to give up the game. (p. 32)
The single status of ethnographer as objective knower not only corners the Native as the knowable, static, simple object but upholds the researcher as superior, civilized, and complex. Conversely, the criterion for being the objective knower is to be not-Native. The Native knower, or Visweswaran's "`native' authority," reveals this naked contradiction.(6) Although anthropologists of color are equally capable of writing good and bad ethnographies they/we are also well positioned to expose this division.(7)
Ana Castillo (1994), a Chicana writing about Chicanas, recognized the futility of working within existing anthropological paradigms in Massacre of the Dreamers. She identified a common, yet ironic, reality that the discipline of understanding culture does not provide insight for the Native knower. "At best I found ethnographic data that ultimately did not bring me closer to understanding how the Mexic Amerindian(8) woman truly perceives herself since anthropology is traditionally based on the objectification of its subjects" (p. 7). Castillo abandons anthropology and its tenets to position herself as a Chicana and theoretician and other Chicanas as knowers not as merely knowable. The question of how we see our multiple selves, in all our complexity, is sacrificed in the name of who can be the authentic or legitimate knower.
Many anthropologists have similarly questioned these complexities and challenges that are obscured or evaded by writing exclusively to or heeding critiques only from an academic community. This is usually couched as a dilemma facing only Native scholars as they identify the multiple audiences that might read their/our work.(9) I insist that this accountability should not be limited to the Native anthropologist but that Native anthropologists are well positioned to highlight this complexity of multiple audiences who are poised to disavow the knower-Native dyad. With notable exceptions, the intended reading audience for an ethnography about Mexican Americans rarely includes Mexican Americans. It is for this reason that Castillo (1994) asserted that anthropology does not provide insight for her, that it does not recognize Chicanas as knowers or theorists (see also Paredes, 1978).
The secondary feature that emanates from a normative paradigm of the knower anthropologist demands that the researcher also has one identity, a single subjectivity, and that is as the social scientist. Acknowledging the multiple subjectivities of the anthropologist and of the subjects and communities interrupts the knower-Native binary. To uphold the myth, the researcher must elide the power relationship with the communities in question (Zavella, 1993), which is especially noticeable if there are conflicting loyalties (see Visweswaran, 1994).(10) Abu-Lughod (1991) suggests that the epistemological structure of anthropology discourages us from directing our comments to more than one sense of who us/we might be. She is speaking of anthropologists who are "halfies" (people who are biracial, multiracial, or ethnic) and the dilemma they/we have in trying to figure out to which half of our apparent split subjectivities to write. However, I think her observations reflect the larger tensions felt by any anthropologist who identifies personally and politically with a community that is not exclusively academic, especially if class and access to economic power distinguish the two audiences. She describes the dilemma of being from two distinct communities.
Halfies' dilemmas are even more extreme. As anthropologists, they write for
other anthropologists, mostly Western. Identified also with communities
outside the East, or subcultures within it, they are called to account by
educated members of those communities. More importantly, not just because
when they present the Other they are presenting themselves, they speak with
a complex awareness of and investment in reception. (Abu-Lughod, 1991, p.
I would further suggest that such dilemmas are good, that I/we should be aware of how our work will be perceived by various communities. Critical is that positioning and revealing of ourselves and our investments in the production of knowledge. Visweswaran (1994) names this "identifying ethnography," defining it as a practice "that asks that we exhibit and examine our alliances in the same moment" (p. 132).
Still, the production of knowable and definable contributions to the science of anthropology is valued over the theoretical and, paradoxically, highly espoused deconstruction of the object-subject relationship. Although anthropology as a discipline continues to fret over the power relationship inherent in its objectifying practices, actively dismantling that power is not rewarded. Displaying one's self as being politically or personally invested, as abdicating the presumption to define, and/or as being invested in the study of one's own community signals being not legitimate (Abu-Lughod, 1991; Lassalle & Perez, 1997; Narayan, 1993; …