Re: Serious thoughts about objectivity

John McCreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 11:31:09 +0900

Mike Cahill writes, in re a query from Wade Tarzia

><< So the informant says, (if asked) "Why, no, I'm not involved in this issue
> with that group, I just went over there to talk and arrange some little
> things." Meanwhile the ethnographer says to herself, "Hmmn, he sure looked
> like a ritual go-between to me, because I've observed other actors
> fulfilling the same role in similar situations. So I'll just call him a
> ritual go-between in this very real role no matter what he calls himself or
> how he explicates his acts." >>
>Let me bring "events composed" back into this briefly.
>Suppose Wade plays down the informant's statement to the effect that he's not
>engaging in a ritual go-between and that no such event is going on here.
> Instead, our ethnographer reasons, "if it walks like a duck and it quacks
>like a duck, it's a duck," and counts it as an instance of go-betweening.
>Has Wade fictionalized a non-event?

Wouldn't it be rather risky either to take the informant at his word or to
deny what he says on the basis of one observation?

People not infrequently have occasions to deny that they are performing a
role that they are, in fact, performing. "Who, me? officer. I was just
passing by when the bank happened to be robbed."

The following list of bloopers contains several interesting examples:

>"I haven't committed a crime. What I did was fail to comply with the law."
>- David Dinkins, New York City Mayor, answering accusations that he failed
>to pay his taxes.
>"They gave me a book of checks. They didn't ask for any deposits." -
>Congressman Joe Early (D-Mass) at a press conference to answer questions
>about the House Bank scandal.
>"He didn't say that. He was reading what was given to him in a speech." -
>Richard Darman, director of OMB, explaining why President Bush wasn't
>following up on his campaign pledge that there would be no loss of
>"It depends on your definition of asleep. They were not stretched out.
>They had their eyes closed. They were seated at their desks with their
>heads in a nodding position." - John Hogan, Commonwealth Edison Supervisor
>of News Information, responding to a charge by a Nuclear Regulatory
>Commission inspector that two Dresden Nuclear Plant operators were
>sleeping on the job.
>"I didn't accept it. I received it." - Richard Allen, National Security
>Advisor to President Reagan, explaining the $1000 in cash and two watches
>he was given by two Japanese journalists after he helped arrange a private
>interview for them with First Lady Nancy Reagan.
>"I was a pilot flying an airplane and it just so happened that where I was
>flying made what I was doing spying." - Francis Gary Power, U-2
>reconnaissance pilot held by the Soviets for spying, in an interview after
>he was returned to the US.
>"The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history... this
>century's history.... We all lived in this century. I didn't live in this
>century." - Dan Quayle, then Indiana senator and Republican
>vice-presidential candidate during a news conference in which he was asked
>his opinion of the Holocaust

If Wade had seen several examples of the ritual in question and there was
always someone acting in this particular way, then perhaps he'd be
justified in assuming a surreptitious role at odds with what his informant

One observation-one inference is always a risky business.

John McCreery
3-206 Mitsusawa HT, 25-2 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
Yokohama 220, JAPAN

"And the Lord said unto Cyrus, 'Shall the clay say to him who moldest it,
what makest thou? Let the potsherd of the earth speak to the potsherd of
the earth." --An anthropologist's credo