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  • Handle With Care: Ownership and Control of Ethnographic Materials
  • James Leach
Handle With Care: Ownership and Control of Ethnographic Materials, edited by Sjoerd R Jaarsma. Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania Monograph Series. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8229-5777-9; x + 264 pages, tables, map, photographs, notes, bibliography, index. Paper, US$16.95.

This is a valuable and fascinating collection of papers discussing the ownership and repatriation of field notes and field materials. It is the product of sessions run at Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania conferences and bears the imprint of these discussions in useful cross-referencing between chapters. The contributions are short and clear and include writings from ethnographers, archivists, and ethnomusicologists. The issues addressed are highly charged in terms of ethics, morality, and politics, and [End Page 440] the collection will be useful in teaching about these matters. The volume also offers some practical suggestions about how academic anthropology can be made more accessible to the people whose lives and stories are its focus, and also about what one might do with field materials, given the myriad potential sensitivities involved in their dissemination or revelation. Volume editor Sjoerd R Jaarsma provides a thoughtful overview of the issues and the contributions in the introduction.

The first section, "Issues of Access," opens with a piece by David and Dorothy Counts, who advocate writing in ways that make anthropological knowledge accessible; they also discuss their West New Britain website. Alan Howard then describes constructing a web-based archive of field notes and other writings by himself and others about Rotuma. Like other contributors, Howard thinks that such efforts must be appropriate to particular ethnographic situations. Jaarsma argues that ethnographers must consider the complex potential impacts of repatriation, and Mary McCutcheon makes a plea for anthropologists to be clear and reasonable about how others are to regulate access to their materials.

The second section, "Managing the Collected Past," focuses on items already in archives. David Akin and Kathryn Creely's interesting discussion of Roger Keesing's Kwaio material points out that in the current academic climate, much more ethnographic detail exists in field notes than in published articles and books. A number of quandaries are involved in releasing all materials, however, and Suzanne Falgout argues that, in the case she considers, old restrictions are necessary in order not to breach the trust between anthropologists and their informants. Some information (such as genealogies related to land-ownership) is important social knowledge and therefore, sensitivity to local contexts and the conditions of collection is vital (a theme echoed in the next section in the chapters by Chambers and Chambers, and by Oles). Karen Peacock discusses how preserving materials for general benefit in an archive may be interpreted by some as inappropriate metropolitan control over local cultural resources. Writing about knowledge of Hawaiian hula dance held in archives, Amy Stillman thinks that anthropologists themselves are in a position to serve as intermediaries, brokering the imperative to repatriate with a desire to "do no harm," either to communities or to materials themselves (147 ).

Part III, "Transformation, Interpretation, and Ownership," focuses on indigenous assessments of materials that have been returned. Keith and Anne Chambers discuss how their research materials have been taken and used by Nanumeans, changing their culture and the research context in the process. Bryan Oles's chapter addresses the whole basis of the moral instinct to repatriate. He emphasizes that anthropologists "must recognize that all repatriated data are subject to local agency and the demands of its epistemological foundation" (192 ). Nancy Guy concludes the chapters with a discussion of how aboriginal Taiwanese music was appropriated by the global music industry. She argues that anthropologists and ethnographers [End Page 441] must be aware of copyright in order to protect the interests of their informants. The volume closes with a series of bulleted "thoughts," which are distilled from recurrent themes in the chapters.

In his introduction, Jaarsma tells us that "researchers will inevitably have to yield some control over the research process" (11 ). I know of no recent ethnographers of Melanesia who have not been caught up in the agendas of the people they have worked with. This...


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