Sample Research Paper on Confronting Anthropological Ethics by Philippe Bourgois

Philippe explores the ethics of Anthropology in dangerous spaces such as social justice,
human rights, democracy and conflict. In (Philippe 44) He notes that there are those
ethnographies of inner city street life that often succumb to ethnic and class apartheid as well as
institute ignorance towards the politics of social despair on U.S. city streets. The central theme of
the author is to critic the ethics of whether it could be termed imperative for researchers to do
field work in areas experiencing social realities such as despair, suffering and oppression.
(Scheper-Hughes 409) marshals some of the most salient ethical arguments that tries to
champion for a preferential treatment of the discipline among those considered “powerless”. In
Philippe’s confrontation of ethnographic fieldwork in Central America, problems such as those
of inadequacy and internal flaws of present anthropological meanings of ethics in research are
brought into attention. (Scheper-Hughes 415) identifies that anthropologists have always
approached the study of war, conflict, and aggression at a distance making it difficult to
understand the harsh realities some people live with. Philippe and Scheper-Hughes hold the same
belief that the struggle between the powerful and powerless is what is at issue for anthropologists
and affects how they cast their lot.

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With the fall of Soviet Union and the collapse of the Berlin wall, the late 90’s was
proclaimed to be the beginning of the “end of history” and the beginning of democratic regimes
as well as the free market on a global scale. Despite the fact that peace and prosperity had begun
taking shape as the new world order, countries have also become susceptible to insecurity and
conflict. This has made anthropologists intensify their work surrounding issues to include
democracy, human right, and social justice. Anthropologists such as Lynn Stephen, Philippe
Bourgois, Nancy Scheper, Faye Harris and Linda Green confront the concept of anthropology of
liberation in dangerous spaces and what it could signify for the discipline. The need to consider
the postmodernist de-constructivist view of culture as text within symbolic anthropology is
expressed in (Harrison 64), this is because it places US anthropologists in a difficult ethical
position when traditional anthropological ideas are applied in a politically polarized world. As
early as 1960, social scientists based in North America had already noticed ethical dilemmas
among fieldworkers studying and living in a world rife with political chaos. The historical
development of anthropology as a functionalist theoretical framework can be seen in how the
Great Britain made its economic and political fantasies a reality by dominating African countries
with indirect rule.
Philippe constructs a vision of a politically engaged and committed anthropology I his
argument that ethical considerations of human suffering are not discussed with primacy to ensure
disciplinary ethics. Ethics is an indispensible virtue that is paramount among anthropologists as
they endeavor to study the wretched of earth. The author relates his own experiences conducting
fieldwork in conflict ridden areas such Honduras and Elsavador where he claims to have faced
primary ethical challenges and obligations such as that of the Salvadoran government engaging
in tremendous human rights violations. Philippe reinforces the notion that researchers should

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choose not to actively engage ethical issues of concern for people they work with. With regards
to how ethical questions should be answered, (Philippe 44) identifies that there is no definitive
approach to how moral inquiries should be answered. Philippe stresses the idea that there should
not be anything incompatible between symbolic anthropology and political economy.

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Work Cited

Bourgois, Philippe. "Confronting anthropological ethics: Ethnographic lessons from Central
America." Journal of Peace Research 27.1 (1990): 43-54.
Harrison, Faye Venetia, and American Anthropological Association. "Decolonizing
Anthropology Moving Further Toward an Anthropology for Liberation." (1991).
Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. "The primacy of the ethical: propositions for a militant
anthropology." Current anthropology36.3 (1995): 409-440.