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Resolving Feminist Dilemmas within Ethnography: A Case for Photoethnography
Unformatted Document Text:  Self Versus Other: Role Conflict Challenging the Old Guard Over the last several decades, important critiques have been launched against the ‘old guard’ of ethnographic research. While in the past, classic ethnographies had a clear distinction for the role of the researcher to act as a detached observer of ‘other’ cultures; this relationship has been challenged by postmodernists, postcolonialists, and feminists. A deep analysis of the first two critiques is outside of the purview of this paper. However, it is important to note that many scholars working in these paradigms are involved in this dialogue and that much feminist theorizing is in direct relation to the issues that postmodernists have raised. What I refer to as classic ethnographies, have been described by Van Maanen and others as the ‘realist’ approach to ethnography. This type of ethnography was first prominent during the era of anthropological giant Franz Boas and is arguably the most widely read. As Van Maanen (1988) describes, this style of ethnographic writing is, “By far the most prominent, familiar, prevalent, popular, recognized form…a single author typically narrates the realist tale in a dispassionate third-person voice.” Questioning the authenticity of the detached observer approach, postmodernists critiqued early ethnographers for taking the “I” out of the account and using a god-like voice. By using this voice, the researcher was invisible within the text and thus unaccountable to both the cultures under examination and the audience. This style of writing is problematic because it allows the researcher to remain unproblematized. The power structures that are built into this style of writing are quite transparent when stripped of their ambiguity – the researcher’s burden of proof rests on the notion of ‘being there’ without being seen. 2

Authors: Shuster, Stef.
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Self Versus Other: Role Conflict
Challenging the Old Guard
Over the last several decades, important critiques have been launched against the ‘old 
guard’ of ethnographic research. While in the past, classic ethnographies had a clear distinction 
for the role of the researcher to act as a detached observer of ‘other’ cultures; this relationship 
has been challenged by postmodernists, postcolonialists, and feminists. A deep analysis of the 
first two critiques is outside of the purview of this paper. However, it is important to note that 
many scholars working in these paradigms are involved in this dialogue and that much feminist 
theorizing is in direct relation to the issues that postmodernists have raised. 
What I refer to as classic ethnographies, have been described by Van Maanen and others 
as the ‘realist’ approach to ethnography. This type of ethnography was first prominent during the 
era of anthropological giant Franz Boas and is arguably the most widely read. As Van Maanen 
(1988) describes, this style of ethnographic writing is, “By far the most prominent, familiar, 
prevalent, popular, recognized form…a single author typically narrates the realist tale in a 
dispassionate third-person voice.” Questioning the authenticity of the detached observer 
approach, postmodernists critiqued early ethnographers for taking the “I” out of the account and 
using a god-like voice. By using this voice, the researcher was invisible within the text and thus 
unaccountable to both the cultures under examination and the audience. This style of writing is 
problematic because it allows the researcher to remain unproblematized. The power structures 
that are built into this style of writing are quite transparent when stripped of their ambiguity – the 
researcher’s burden of proof rests on the notion of ‘being there’ without being seen. 
2


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