Reciprocity Rules explores the rich and complicated relationships that develop between anthropologists and research participants over time. Focusing on compensation and the creation of friendship and “family” relationships, contributors discuss what, when, and how researchers and the people with whom they work give to each other in and beyond fieldwork. Through reflexivity and narrative, the contributors to this edited collection, who are in various stages in their professional careers and whose research spans three continents and eight countries, reflect on the ways in which they have compensated their research participants and given back to host communities, as well as the varied responses to their efforts. The contributors consider both material and non-material forms of reciprocity, stories of successes and failures, and the taken-for-granted notions of compensation, friendship, and “helping.” In so doing, they address the interpersonal dynamics of power and agency in the field, examine cultural misunderstandings, and highlight the challenges that anthropologists face as they strive to maintain good relations with their hosts even when separated by time and space. The contributors argue that while learning, following, openly discussing, and writing about the local rules of reciprocity are always challenging, they are essential to responsible research practice and ongoing efforts to decolonize anthropology.
Michelle C. Johnson is professor of anthropology at Bucknell University.
Edmund Searles is professor of anthropology and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bucknell University.
List of Figures
Michelle C. Johnson and Edmund (Ned) Searles
Chapter 1: Brother to a Scorpion: Making Anthropological Obligations Visible in Urban Nicaragua
Chapter 2: Predestined Help: Cosmology and Constraint in Transnational Fieldwork
Michelle C. Johnson
Chapter 3: Existential Debt: How Race and History Complicate the Legibility of the Gift
Carolyn M. Rouse
Chapter 4: Reflections on a Community of the Heart: Ethnographer and the People of Juchitán, Oaxaca
Anya Peterson Royce
Chapter 5: Cigarettes, Cash, or Spare Parts: Compensation and Reciprocity in Arctic Research
Edmund (Ned) Searles
Chapter 6: Conversations and Critiques on Creating an Anthropological “Family”
Chelsea Wentworth and Julie Kalsrap
Afterword: Concluding Thoughts and Fieldwork and Friendwork
About the Contributors
This truly exciting volume addresses an acute aspect of anthropological fieldwork: that of reciprocity. As it can be a thorny issue, a systematic inquiry into it has been neglected far too long. How can, and should, anthropologists give something back to the people who have allowed them into their lives, even into sensitive situations? And for how long should this reciprocity go on? As the editors Michelle C. Johnson and Edmund (Ned) Searles argue, this raises key ethical and methodological issues. Filling an embarrassing gap, Reciprocity Rules is bound to become influential.
A very welcome volume about that fundamental question within anthropological fieldwork: How to compensate our hosts? Based on the extensive long-term fieldwork experiences of the authors and richly illustrated with telling ethnographic details the chapters convincingly and insightfully demonstrate the importance of a nuanced understanding of reciprocal fieldwork obligations. Topics as the importance of studying local gifting practices, the pros and cons of different kinds of gifts and support, the importance of nonmaterial forms of compensation, the obligations—and joys—of fictive kinship relationships, reciprocal writing strategies, the context of decolonization, and many more, each exemplify the essential ethical and moral fieldwork lessons that can be learned from this original volume. Highly recommended for classes in ethnographic research methods.
Reciprocity Rules is a great contribution to our understanding of fieldwork. Applying “the Gift” and “reciprocity” in concrete and reflexive ways, this collection portrays the inside story of how relations between ethnographers and those they are working with actually develop over time. Like all close relationships, those in the field engage challenges and misunderstandings as well as treasures of deep connection. Based on diverse fieldwork across four continents, the book’s authors average 24 years of connection with their field communities. For those interested in the ethics, methods, and experience of fieldwork, including junior scholars, this work is a gold mine of concrete and practical insights that reach far beyond the standard generalities of research design and methods.
The problematics of reciprocity unify this stimulating collection. Its contributors illustrate, as Chapter 1 succinctly puts it, how fieldwork is ‘a fundamentally relational endeavor’ and—crucially—how anthropologists ‘owe our expertise to the bundles of relations that make, and have made, our knowledge possible.’ Recognizing the depth of those debts and the colonial histories that enabled them, the chapters converge around an understanding of anthropological knowledge as emergent from asymmetrical social exchanges among persons. The expertise anthropologists claim has never been simply our own. Our knowledge practices and products are therefore only as ethically sustainable and epistemologically valuable as our capacity to honor and renew the agreements on which they rest.
A brilliant and moving intervention into the fraught but fecund terrain of encounter between anthropologist and interlocutor, researcher and host community, and a profound set of meditations on the ethics of such engagement. Trail-blazing in its treatment of the unstated in anthropological fieldwork, this book should be required reading for fieldworkers, not only in anthropology but in all the qualitative research disciplines.
These vivid and frank stories take us to the heart of ethical challenges in long-term fieldwork and show us how we must learn—and relearn—ways to reciprocate in ongoing, caring relationships.