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The Contemporary Pacific 15.1 (2003) 211-214

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Ethnographic Artifacts: Challenges to a Reflexive Anthropology, edited by Sjoerd R Jaarsma and Marta A Rohatynskyj. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2000. ISBN0-8248-2302-8; viii + 255 pages, notes, bibliography, index. Paper, US$29.95.

Most contemporary social and cultural anthropologists are well aware of the divided character of ethnography, a practice of creating knowledge and a form of representing it that is foundational to their discipline. Being persons in-between when conducting fieldwork, strangers who also belong, they have double responsibilities when they write, as well. They must take into account the effects of publishing their findings on the communities they study and they must simultaneously address the concerns of the academic discipline to whose body of knowledge they contribute. While perhaps in the past these two sets of audiences and responsibilities could have been kept quite separate, certainly since the end of the colonial period differentials of power have shifted. As citizens of nation states, the people ethnographers study today tend to have more say and control over the parameters of ethnographic research. They also have [End Page 211] better access to the texts ethnographers write and may themselves participate in both audiences. In addition, over the last few decades anthropologists have lost a privileged claim to the attribution, description, and analysis of "culture," which in the contemporary world is a contested notion with high political currency.

In this volume, social and cultural anthropologists who work on Pacific societies explore ways in which ethnographic texts have effects beyond the purpose of contributing to anthropological knowledge, such as in the relationships between ethnographers and the people they study, in social relations among the people under study, or as vehicles for the construction of their collective identity. The editors ingeniously point to ethnographic texts as "artifacts," as things in circulation that have a social life of their own. They circulate between ethnographers and diverse constituencies of local host communities and their wider social environment (eg, state institutions, bureaucracies, national elites, the media, and political debates). Furthermore, ethnographic texts circulate in the academic sphere, where they represent their authors as much as the research subjects.

Eight substantial chapters are presented in two parts, framed by the editors' introduction and a thoughtful, stimulating epilogue by Jonathan Friedman. Part one, "Ethnography as Personal Dilemma," consists of four chapters on questions of voice and the politics of representation. All show that, contrary to the title, issues of representation are political rather than simply personal. Ethnographers make decisions about textual representation in the context of the social and political relations in which the people they study live and in which they participate and partake, and in the context of the professional social relations in which they as researchers are embedded. The resulting dilemmas ethnographers face call for a reflexivity in seeing themselves, as Friedman puts it, "not as mere subjects, but as social beings in a socially structured context" (207). Rather than mere subjects, in other words, ethnographers are what in anthropology are known as "persons." By reflecting on themselves as persons, ethnographers can make explicit their own involvement in these various social and political relations as well as their participation in the narratives they produce. Reflecting on oneself as a person is more than self-reflection, but also a reflection on how one is perceived by others and how one figures in their lives—who one is to the community of people one studies.

In one of the most accomplished chapters, Niko Besnier reflects on his responsibilities toward people on Nukulaelae atoll (Tuvalu), both when conducting fieldwork and when writing. Given his awareness of differing versions of events, of relationships between people with contesting voices and interests, of the benefit drawn from people's propensity to gossip, he makes explicit how the decisions ethnographers make concerning representing voices and events in their writing are political choices with political implications. Underlying this is the important question of precisely who is the "community" toward whom an ethnographer has responsibilities.

Toon van Meijl addresses issues of representation through...