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Confessions of an Anthropologist

Villa Karo’s intern in duty, Emmi, who is also an anthropologist, is reflecting ethics, understanding and responsibility in a foreign culture.

”No one will ever read it anyways. Those were the words that I kept repeating to myself every time I started to doubt my ethnographic skills during my fieldwork in Lagos, Nigeria. I wondered if I had understood my informants clearly enough. To make my life easier I lulled myself into believing that my informants in Nigeria will never read my master’s thesis. A funny thought, as I wrote the thesis in English in order to make it more available to everyone.

Finally I got myself to send my thesis about Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, to the Lagosian university that helped me in my research. I was waiting for somebody to make remarks on the factual errors I had made in my deductions about the Nigerian society. However, nobody said anything. Maybe I had understood the culture ”correctly” or maybe I had emphasized strongly enough on the subjective quality of anthropological knowledge.

The actual traveling part aside, I dare to say that anthropologists in the early 20th century had it easier. Depending on the morale of the anthropologist, he or she could decide quite freely what to say about their research subjects. In most cases, describing the cultural differences was more important than to actually understand the cultural phenomena. The anthropologist was liable for the accuracy of his research to the Western audience, not to his research subjects – the ”natives” more than likely would not have been able to get a hold of the published research, let alone understand it.

I started to think about my experiences in the field while following the heated debate on the portrayal of West African vodun religion in Finland (and in the Western world in general). How does one portray one’s own experiences in an unfamiliar culture? I too signed the ”anthropologist’s ethical guidelines” on how to do ethnographic research while respecting one’s privacy and culture. Truthfully speaking I did not think too much about these guidelines – my informants were after all relatively accustomed to being in the spotlight! But the idea of ”no one will ever read it anyways” (my security blanket so to say) simply will not hold in the modern world.

Today everybody has, theoretically at least, access to published material on the internet. Even the research subjects, ”the natives”, can comment on the possible errors through social media. Researchers, artists, and other explorers need to think more carefully what and more importantly, how they portray their findings. The relationship between the researcher and the researched has become more equal. And rightly so!

After all this pondering, I decided to do something wild: you can download my thesis from the link below. Read it and feel free to comment! After all, that’s what anthropology is all about: cultural debate.

https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/135400

Memory

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