My Best Informant's Dress: The Erotic Equation in Fieldwork

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Essay Excerpt

In graduate school in the early 1960s, I learned - because it was never mentioned - that erotic interest between fieldworker and informant either didn't exist, would be inappropriate, or couldn't be mentioned; I had no idea which. The anthropologist was pictured as a man who would, ideally, bring his wife to the field as company and helper. That she would absorb his sexual interests was, I suppose, understood. I knew that Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict had done fieldwork, of course, but the former seemed always to be married to another anthropologist, and the latter - whose "private" life was opaque - appears to have spent little time there. If single male fieldworkers were thought by our male professors to engage in, or even refrain from engaging in, any sexual activities, these were never discussed in front of me. And this being the case, how could the sexuality of female fieldworkers ever emerge as an issue? (4)

Newton, Esther. "My Best Informant's Dress: The Erotic Equation in Fieldwork." Cultural Anthropology 8.1(1993): 3–23.

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