cliff and mike on ethics

Mike Lieber (U28550@UICVM.BITNET)
Tue, 7 Feb 1995 22:19:12 CST

Cliff and I had the following exchange off-line. We both agreed that perhaps
it is worth putting on line. This follows ealier on-line posts from each of us
on this thread.

Date: Tue, 7 Feb 1995 13:00:49 CST
From: "Mike Lieber " <U28550@UICVM>
To: Cliff Sloane <>
In-Reply-To: Tue, 7 Feb 1995 11:49:49 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Re: Re: ethics?

> On Mon, 6 Feb 1995, Mike Lieber wrote:
>> Cliff and Alex, if the practice of anthropology is inherently unethical, the
>> why are you doing it?
>> Mike Lieber
> It's not that it is inherently unethical. It's that anthropology often
> provokes ethical dilemmas, most dramatically when the anthropologist and
> the community studied are at opposite ends of political power. I look at
> medicine as a model. Every action by a doctor is laden with potential
> ethical dilemmas, yet nobody says that medicine is inherently unethical.
> Methinks we are responding to tone, meta-frames and the like, and that we
> really don't disagree much at all.
> And your reply to Alx was fabulous.
> Cliff

This position is not well thought out. Any sort of asymmtrical relation is
unequal for no other reason that A acts in a different way to B than B does to
A. Any relation of complementarity is, by definition, asymmetrical. The
only other alternative is symmetry A acts to B in the same way as B does to A.
If you've been in the field for long enough, you quickly discover that power
is complementary but of different sorts. The people we work with can refuse
to let us in--e.g., Puluwat. They can demand recompense at any level they
choose. They can answer our questions or not as they choose. They can
sabotage our work and make us jump through whatever hoops they choose. D'Arcy
Ryan can attest to that. We don't work with stupid people. They quickly learn
what we're after and pick their spots to tell us things, parts of things, or
outright lies, always depending on what they see as advantageous to their own
interests. I find the image of the poor, innocent, naive native victimized by
greedy, powerful anthropologists a most conceited, condescending image.
Consider the implication of Johnson's specifications of what American indigenes
ought to be "given." Given? By whom?

Where I work, knowledge is considered to be (a) power and (b) a commodity.
People calculate what they are willing to parcel out, always with a reciprocal
demand. They're the ones with the power once we're on their turf, and we know
it and they know it. That's real. Like I said before: cut the crap.