Re: ethical dilemmas

Jana Fortier (fortier@STUDENTS.WISC.EDU)
Wed, 31 Jan 1996 12:36:28 -0600

Here's an interesting ethical dilemma that I experienced just last nite!

main question: How does an "insider anthropologist" conduct ethical
research when his/her "objects" of study keep forgetting they're being

I am studying the creation of a local currency system, and I'm a planning
committee member. They/we are forming a market system that's based on equal
exchange rather than exploitation in the production of goods & services (its
not capitalist but it is a market system). A local unit of currency called
the Western"HOUR" (anonymous name, actually) will be used & it equals $10
federal dollars. Importantly, I am also "part of" the group since I too am
a planning committee member. Thus I am an insider & an outsider in this
micro-cultural setting.

I wrote an article (destined for the journal Human Organization) about local
currency systems and specifically about the role of ideology in the
structural adjustments occuring w/in capitalism. I wrote about what kinds
of people go for a local money over federal money, and why.

In the ethnographic description, I wrote about the issue of "trust". The
current members are afraid that someone w/out their politicial (green,
feminist, liberal) persuasions could come into the group & destroy their
careful planning process. This really is a problem & they should discuss
it. However, to appear tactful, they don't voice their problems of trust of
outsiders / strangers so baldly as I have done just now.

One member read about her role in a discussion about trusting outsiders to
come into their group. She "had problems with it" & voiced them to me.
(She generally needs to control information about the group.) My dilemma
is: how should I accomodate this cultural member yet retain an honest
discussion of ideology within this group? She would have accepted a
propoganda-style of writing, but of course anthropologists can't do that.

I told her about dialogic editing & subjectivity in anthropology. But the
problem remains.

When we study people in other other macro-cultural settings, (like when I
did fieldwork in nepal) we feel dilemmas about reporting things like
illegal activities. But seldom did I feel wierd/unethical about dissecting
conversations w/ conversational analysis, or picking apart why political
factions have problems trusting outsiders! It angers me that this woman is
willing to let anthropologists tell her all the little secrets of cultural
practice for Others around the world, and when her cultural practices are
made manifest, she "has a problem with it". Being an object of study can be
uncomfortable, yes, but Americans need to get used to it, I think
(angrily!). But maybe I'm wrong? Anyone care to share their research
problems w/ American informants?

Now I'm studying a cultural phenomenon that makes me both a real insider
and yet an anthropological outsider. The old "participant - observation"
technique has broken down, I think. Other members only see me as a
participant, even though I have informed them clearly and once a month or
so, that I am studying the creation of a local currency system.

At 09:24 AM 1/30/96 -0600, you wrote:
> A class I am currently taking is requiring each of the students to
>collect ethical dilemma case studies from others in the profession. A
>few stipulations were placed: the example cannot have occurred in the
>area (of Northern Illinois University) and the case must be presented
>anonymously. After the case studies are collected, we are required to
>compare the resolution of the dilemma to published ethical codes, such as
>the AAA Professional Responsibility 1990 code, or even to prepare
>possible amendments to the code that would incorporate this dilemma.
> After lurking on the list for a few months, this seemed to be the
>appropriate forum for this request. If any of you have encountered
>problems from an ethical standpoint, either in fieldwork, or
>professionally, I would be much obliged for the case study. All names
>will be protected, of course. You may respond to:
>Thank you in advance for your help.
>Crorey Lawton