"Then What Have I to Do with Thee?": On Identity, Fieldwork, and Ethnographic Knowledge

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Essay Excerpt

In this article, I shall offer a possible explanation for the existence of these divergent perspectives on how the ethnographer constructs knowledge of the other culture. I shall call these two orientations the "interpretive" and the "subjectivist." Following a very brief consideration of the intellectual context in which the two approaches emerged, I shall consider how the interpretive emphasis on the primacy of language and the social construction of meaning is accompanied by a repudiation of empathy as a valid mode of understanding the Other. This will be followed by a discussion of an alternative view of the nature and importance of empathy, and a consideration of some mechanisms by which it may be promoted in the field, particularly in females. Finally, I shall draw inspiration from several diversesources (William Blake, a few theorists who have explored the psychological and social origins of the development of gender identity, and Gregory Bateson) to explore some connections between one's construction of identity and relationships, and one's self-reflection with regard to the process by which ethnographic knowledge is generated. (Kirschner, 213)

About the Author

Suzanne R. Kirschner is Associate Professor of Psychology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.  She has been a Visiting Scholar in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard and in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts, and a Research Fellow in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She holds a bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College and received her doctorate from Harvard University, where she also taught. She is the author of The religious and romantic origins of psychoanalysis: Individuation and integration in post-Freudian theory  (Cambridge University Press), as well as numerous articles on the interconnections between psychological theories/practices and sociocultural forces. Kirschner is co-editor (with Jack Martin) of The sociocultural turn in psychology The contextual emergence of mind and self (Columbia University Press, 2010). Currently she is studying how the neurobehavioral turn in psychology and psychiatry is affecting how people experience and relate to themselves and others. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and a recipient of the American Anthropological Association's L. Bryce Boyer Award in Psychoanalytic Anthropology and the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology's 2012 Distinguished Service Award.  Kirschner is also a past president of APA's Division 24 (Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology).

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