Is the anthropologist a spy? New Anthropology Matters is out
When anthropologist Michael Madison Walker did research in rural Mozambique, he - as a white man - was variously assumed to be a priest, a development worker, a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, and even a spy. Fieldwork identities is the topic of the new issue of Anthropology Matters.
11 authors reflect on perceived inequalities, differences or power relations, e.g. related to race or wealth, gender or age. As Ingie Hovland writes in her introduction, “the identities that are attributed to us and the roles we are placed in during fieldwork matter - to the people we study, to us, and to the research process.”
But as Nigerian anthropologist and blogger Olumide Abimbola shows, “being similar” is not necessarily less challenging. On his fieldwork among mostly Nigerian traders in Benin, some thought his questions, his glasses and backpack made him a suspicious character or a spy. As he is based at an academic institution in Germany, others thought he must be a German citizen (who could aid others in acquiring German visas). It was precisely the shared similarities (Nigerian background) between himself and the traders, that brought out the differences between them all the more sharply, Olumide Abimbola argues.