Introduction Dumont the Headman and I

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J'-JI'"]1The Headman and Ambigllity and Ambivalence the Fieldworking Experience


[-! Dllmont






Vniversity of Texas PressA"stin and L011don

. IntroductionThis book is about the Panare Indians of enezuelan Guiana and me, the investigating anthropologist. have already written a book about the Panare (Dumont 976). True, it was more about Panare objects than about Panare subjects, more about " thing" than about them. Now, as am about to take a second look at the Panare, wish to shift tl1e focus of my analysis, reorienting it toward the goal of an anthropology of the subject. Not only will continue to direct my gaze at them; addition, want to consider how they gaze at me. Myeffort will be directed toward perceiving, apprehending, and interpreting the "and" of the relationship which my fieldwork built between an "" and a "they." emphatically do not intend to dwell myopically either of two extremes: neither the self-indulgent emotions of a fieldworker vainly attempting, by confessional narratives, to create an introspective travelogue, nor the simpleminded obsession for the hard, computerizable, and computerized data which, with their positivistic aura, pass for the ultimate scientific sopl1istication some anthropological circles. Between these two different forms of the same monologue tl1ere must be room for something else. This something else may be difficult to pinpoint, yet it is nothing other than the result of ' complete immersion a foreign culture. What is at issue here is the recognition of a dialogle established, despite all odds, between an "" and a "they"; fact, it is the whole process of anthropologizing whic11 takes place there, t11roughout the entire time "" and "they" are associated. Although every single fieldworker must eventually face such a process, it comes as a surprise to me that few of my colleagues hae paid more than serice to it. Yet an ethnographer obseres what he/she is prepared to observe, more and less; other words, my preparation, my goal as a knowledgeabsorber acts upon my material as a filter, that is, as a contrivance for freeing data acquisition from the suspended impurities of experience. addition, my own cultural and psychic makeup is such tl1at do not





, observe passively: act and react, toward .and something. This some1 thing happens to be a someone who is also acting toward and reacting \to me. This particular kind of interaction, implied and brought about "by immersion and insertion a concrete fieldwork situation, determines both the locus of my discourse and its focal . this ven'. ture, hope to gain some insight about "" and "them"; otherwise - do not see the point of having gone "." Thus, it might even be said that anthropology as such interests me minimally and that my attention at this point is turned rather toward anthropologizing. This is not say that do not recognize a great heuristic value anthropological models; fact, the reverse is true, since freely use one or another depending upon my specific conceptual needs. The issue here, however, involves dialogue and interaction rather than one-sided displays of data and conclusions. this attempt at interpreting my fieldwork experience, am actually trying to answer only one question, narnely: "Who (or what) was Ifor the Panare?" Even though am not a strict hermeneutician, have not used the verb "interpret" haphazardly, and can see a congruence between my use of this term and its definition by Palmer: "Interpretation ... can refer to three rather different matters: an oral recitation, a reasonable explanation, and a translation from another language .... all three cases, something foreign, strange, separated time, space or experience is made familiar, present, comprehensible: something requiring representation, explanation or translation is somehow 'brought to understanding' -is interpreted" ( 969: 14), The interpretation of the relationship that existed between the Panare Indians and myself requires what would like call a return to the text, if may use the word "text" a metaphorical sense, referring to the development time, the interweaving the process of certain types of interactions. ~y interaction with the Panare is bounded space and timeJ It began a Saturday afternoon, September 2, 1967, when first met Juanchito, the Panare headman of Pavichima my first arrival at Caicara, and it ended a cloudy morning late ~.Rebruary 1970, when left the settlement of Turiba Viejo for good. Ut began and it ended. It is made up of a rnultiplicity of actions and . manipulations, of performances which acquire t11eir full meaning l a posteriori reference to the context which the interactive text developed. The text is only supposed be rneaningful-in fact loaded with meaning-but also amenable description, even a "thick description" to use the e,xpression which Geertz (1973: 7) borrowed from ~e (1949 yet such a thick description of the text, if is to



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be an interpretation, also requires interpretation of the context with which it interacts a dialectical relationsh@ It should be clear that the context always, and by definition, precedes the text. Thus it follows t11at, order to comprehend the relationship which established with the Panare, is necessary, although certainly not suffi.cient, first to acquire some familiarity with the way the Panare interact among themselves and with others, whoever these others may be. Thus "context" this case refers to the system of communication existing among the Panare, one that is both st~ctural and eventual, possessing both form and content. "" here refers to something more fluid, rnore concrete, more diffi.cult to apprel1end, and can be said to require the use of " actor-oriented method" which "attempts to understand the actor's view of his own social world. involves analysis of the Sbls which give meaning and through which understanding is possible, as well as the social and econonic conditions within which these symbols operate; other words, how experience is organized" (Rabinow 1975: 3). both the context and the text, one can recognize an ideal, mative aspect as well as an actual, behavioral one. It is the of articulation of th.ese two aspects which interests me. And it can be seen now that my original question, "Who was for the Panare?" was but a pretext, the ordinary sense of the term as well as its etymological sense. For such a question-rather than the spontaneous and immediate answer given to it-continually informed my anthropologizing throughout the duration of my fieldwork. many different ways, and imperceptibly for me at the time was happening, the answer to this question was provided daily the field. But addition, the answer wl1ich now can be provided a meditated, reflective, and terpretative way calls forth a whole set of other questions prompted by the first question. relationship between '' and "they" is necessarily dialectical and eventuates three logical, yet overlapping and, as it were, progressivo-regressive stages: a confrontation, a search for meaning, and, optimally, a recognition. These t11ree stages correspond roughly to t11e three dialectical steps: thesis, antithesis, and synt11esis. The confronta~ ..L'! ~ corresponds to the initial situation which am and they are they, eac11 his own terms. The search for meaning corresponds to the~in whic11 an exchange takes place, one which they figure me out and figure them out, so to speak. Finally and timally (which rneans t11atit does not necessarily happen), recognition " -v.} takes place, at wl1ich point the t-~ris recognized his,Lb.eLQtherness. (, ~ Therefore, by taking the pretext of my initial question beyond an







investigation of text and context, seek to detail the texture of my social insertion among the Panare, the texture of anthropologizing. this a texture of compatibility or of domination? Ultimately, does anthropology fall below its aim, thus remaining pure confr9ntation, even an endorsement of ethnocide? Does it reach it~ aim, Jtt&IClngto the other's meaning? Is it capable of going beyond its aim, toward tlle recognition of someone else' s otherness? Such is the series of questions which will mark the path of the present work, so tllat, starting from a precise and definite anthropological praxis, may this way add my modest contribution to tlle elaboration of a critique of anthropological reason. It goes without saying that this type of reflection does not occur a historical vacuum. Quite to the contrary, am only pursuing an effort which, one way or the otller, has already been undertaken. matter how critical and even polemical, tlle following pages still constitute a tribute of sorts to my predecessors, since it is reading them that acquired a taste for anthropological reflection. Jim Watson reports that one day the late Ralph Linton .asked a graduate student, already back from the field for sone time, how the writing of his dissertation was coming. " 'Oh, it shud move along . quite well,' replies the student, ''once get through beating the life out -of my material' " (Watson 1972: 299). Authenticated or apocryphal, this anecdote rings true to most anthropologists, am sure. And yet, - sometimes wonder whether most of anthropology has not embarked - the same ill-fated course as this mercifully anonymous student. Even practically speaking, there are good reasons for maintaining the liveliness of the experience. Put facetiously, a little life our work will not kill us. But more seriously, there are imperative theoretical reasons for doing so. '>',," ;'2._ Few sociocultural anthropologists have cohfined themse