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Postmodern Ideology and the Narrative Format

One of the key ideas in postmodern anthropology is the rejection of the rhetorical strategies by past researchers to make themselves seem as though they were objective researchers. This stems from the idea that the third-person perspective doesn’t show how a researcher knows a fact that they are trying to assert. The third-person separates the researcher’s personal experience from an attempt to be objective, but this creates biases that are not always evident when reading their ethnographies. While many postmodernists have presented ideas to counter this historical way of writing, they fail to realize the full extent of possibilities available to them. Some have touched on it, but they fail to realize exactly what is necessary. In the postmodern world, it is crucial for modern anthropologists to learn the narrative format of fiction writers.

This is not to say that anthropology should evolve to strictly be more similar to journalism, this is simply a way for readers to understand where the anthropologist’s assertions are coming from and what biases are present in their research. By studying the narrative format, field anthropologists can tell their experience through their own lens. By making a book in the first-person, with the anthropologist as a sort of “main character”, we can come to an understanding of how these field researchers came to their conclusions. Think of this as creating a history of the anthropologist’s experience that can then be used as a basis to use for the rest of their research, as well as be a data set for future researchers.

While this does not present a solution to understanding the “others” voice, it will lead to a greater understanding of how the gap of cultural difference can be crossed. This can be done in a similar fashion to how the main character evolves throughout the book. It starts with a character being placed into unfamiliar surroundings, and through trials, this character can now gain a good understanding of the culture they are studying. This is a great way of showing exactly how a field researcher can claim to be an expert. It also would allow for an outsider to look in and debate if an anthropologist can truly claim to be an expert.

Just as a helpful side note, this form of writing can help counter the idea that most researchers don’t make that much money. When this style has been used in other fields of study, they have become bestsellers. So embracing a narrative format has potential in both the world of academia and in the economic world.

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3 thoughts on “Postmodern Ideology and the Narrative Format

  1. Ariana Holmes says:

    This whole “bias” thing always throws me in some personal philosophical debate. “Bias is unavoidable, and while steps should be taken to properly avoid as much of it as possible, to focus so much on it is trivial,” I’ll say one minute. “But you know bias can completely mess up how a culture is represented or reported on in the field,” will be my response the next. Then I get into this mindset of, “Wait! What if anything we think we know anthropologically even valid?” and so begin a philosophical spiral. This is why I think, at least sometimes, anthropology isn’t necessarily a science. I feel like calling it a science starts to bring in this bias versus non-bias or positivist versus realist point of view that distracts from the real point of anthropology. I’d love to see an anthropologist from every separate culture explain what makes up their culture but even then, everyone has a different perspective. Completely separating that is impossible and seems like an anthropological perfection. However, it feels like some obsession for everything to work exactly like natural sciences. Why would anthropology be less valid just because it doesn’t work like biology? We really need to stop heralding natural sciences as some perfect standard and treat each area of study according to what it accomplishes.

  2. sarahgabbey says:

    While your idea of using the first person in writing ethnographies is interesting, I don’t think it would be practical in all cases. I think it would be best suited for someone who did participant observation. When reading fiction, I prefer the third-person format. I do agree that it would make reading that type of ethnography much more interesting, though. It would be a good way to help the reader become “immersed” in the culture alongside the ethnographer.

    (I tried to post a picture. here’s the address https://www.grammarly.com/blog/first-second-and-third-person/ )

  3. I don’t know that becoming ‘journalistic’ is much of a response. I find most journalism to be highly biased, because of those unexamined assumptions.
    When faced with this constant back and forth between acknowledging biases but also not claiming that anthropology isn’t scientific enough because … single observer, bias, I turn back to the critical inquiry method. We are all biased, but a scientist recognizes the potential and constantly, aggressively, questions their conclusions. As for the “I,” I’m with you Sarah – I prefer third person narratives. But there’s good reason for using first person in ethnographic accounts since that is part of say “I was a person who saw/experienced this, and this is how it made me feel, and you, the reader, needs to know this while you evaluate my trustworthiness as a narrator.”

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