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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Politicals of Knowledge Production and Ethnographic Methods

Did you know... that most Research Method theories or knowledge fields come from larger politico, historical contexts?
  • like most psychology tests were done during the Vietnam war
  • World war II brought dramatic changes to clinical psychology
  • that the Internet was first used to compute details of the U.S Army and therefore for the use of defence
  • Language teaching has all it's methods in War. Communicative method comes from the time of Vietnam war
  • that the history of Dental sciences can be traced back to Nazi camps,where Jews were experimented upon, mercilessly and without their consent
  • the entire field of pesticides emerges from World War II
  • Fort Detrick in Maryland was the headquarters of US biological warfare experiments. Operation Whitecoat involved the injection of infectious agents to observe their effects in human subjects
  • Also there have been and still are numerous human experiments that performed in the US, which have been considered unethical, and were often performed illegally, without the knowledge, consent or informed consent of the test subjects and many of these experiments were funded by the US Govt especially the Central Intelligence agency and the US military!

these are just a few examples which go to show that '90% of all research, scientific and otherwise, happens during wars or for purposes of war,' and everything comes from 'Anthropology'.

Anthropology, roughly put, is the study of humans and culture and it was developed during the colonial period where the colonists would look down upon the people in the subservient outlets, having a superior air or notion about themselves. They assumed that the people there were under-developed, less intelligent and incapable of advancement without their help. to help them they needed to gain fundamental knowledge about them and so they studied the natives. They studied their food, clothes, eating habits, mannerisms... not realising, all along, that their interest lay not in the natives development but in their own benefit. It is said that to market a product to a community, study their culture... and that is what they did, under the guise of 'development'. For the natives being studied they may be an already developed lot and may lead content lives and may feel no need for further development. But the scholar may disagree.

And to this day the gap between the knower and the knowee exists. The problem when it comes to research is that you bring in your own framework and it usually is the scholar's perspective.

To study people they used methods that were ethnograpchic. They evolved

  • observation
  • interview
  • surveys and
  • structured surveys

And then from Anthropology came Sociology which is by definition the study and classification of human societies. But the uncanny truth remains that when it is the study of people from under-developed Nations of the East, it is Anthropology while when studying people from the developed countries of the West, it is termed as Sociology! Before Independent India, studies here were Anthropology... after Independent India, studies here were Sociology.

Towards the end two interesting points were made by Mr. Pinto... the first one he said 'To look at a country's development take a look at it's educational institutions'.

and the second, he was saying 'Politics is not bad... Power is!' he said each one of us engage in our own political space.

I'd like to pose my thoughts on this statement. The word politics today has a negative connotation to it. Politics is not bad, power is but ironically powerful people control the politics of a Nation. And if each of them are involved in their own political space, who will do things for the greater good?


Meenaa N said...

Hi Nutan,

My two bits-
Politics begets power or otherway around too. But, the wise play along the politics ; they do not misuse their power through politic-ing. Politics is the game/name of life, everyone plays it not just at work or at high corridors of power but at home too like all of us are born actors and deliver award winning performances at crunch situations(truthful moments are there too). I would like to know what exactly politics mean? it just cannot mean neagtive, depends on how you use it...

Anil Pinto said...

I agree with your views from the third sentence on.

~nutan~ said...

but the truth remains that - 'At whatever scale politics is rather imperfect way that we actually do coordinate individual actions for mutual or (strictly personal gain)'

picked that from your recent post.
thanks meena