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‘Indigenous’ or ‘Insider’ Anthropologists

‘Indigenous’ or ‘Insider’ Anthropologists

This chapter addresses some of the issues on advantages and disadvantages of this change.

Anthropology is the study of the past and the present of human. To comprehend the broad
sweep and complexity among cultures across the entire spectrum of human history,
anthropologists refer and build upon information from biological and social sciences as well as
physical together with humanities sciences, (Anae 2010; p. 229). A significant main concern for
all anthropologists regardless of whether they are insiders or outsiders is to find solutions to
human problems through knowledge application. Historically, all anthropologists have received
training in such areas as: physical/biological anthropology, sociocultural anthropology,
linguistics and archeology. However, due to the frequent integration of perspectives by
anthropologists of the several of the mentioned areas in the process of research and professional
lives, indigenous and insider anthropologists have their advantages and disadvantages.
Comprehending the categories in regard to the actions of people is a significant anthropological


research tenet, (Anae 2010; p. 240). This is a concept that need to apply to scientific studies, yet
anthropological analysts often ignore the scientific content and hence end up ignoring a
fundamental aspect of the conceptual framework in which anthropologists act. This paper
analyses, in the context of anthropological change, the advantages and disadvantages of
indigenous anthropologists and insider anthropologists.
Anthropologists do believe in the idea that there is unsettled contradiction in regard to
being anthropologist and being indigenous. Being involved in anthropological community for a
long period of time enhances confidence that this belief is an indication of the general mood that
exists in the departments. Generally, anthropologists do believe that being indigenous might be
associated with the danger of developing subjective mind, being biased and becoming less
scientific. With reference to the indigenous anthropologists of the third world, it is seen as a
danger and as a flow being indigenous and this must be avoided by all means. Anthropologists
do acknowledge the so called “paradigm-breaking and paradigm-building capacity of Third
World perspective”. They therefore recognize the objectives of third world indigenous
anthropologists. This renders anthropology less prejudiced against people of the third world by
reducing its ethnocentricity as it uses language and paradigms. Hence the general anthropology
mood is the one that the indigenous anthropologists of the third world consider a trouble maker
and intruder who need discipline. This is supported by the fact that anthropology is seen as a
western discipline for western scientists(Kanaaneh, (n.d.).
Advantages of indigenous anthropologists and insider anthropologists
An increasing number of anthropologists are conducting an anthropology of home by
conducting researches within their indigenous communities. The main theoretical and


methodological contributions for indigenous researchers have emanated from the debates
stemming from “native” anthropology, (Kanaaneh 2012; p. 5). Historically, anthropology has
been involved with stretching outside the indigenous community of the researcher. However,
with the widening circle of ethnographic practices, the native anthropology has now assumed
two other labels, which are used interchangeably, namely insider anthropology and indigenous
anthropology. The term is insider anthropology is more popular due to the debates and
confusion surrounding the “native” and “indigenous” labels. Insider anthropologists can be
proposed to be “hybrid anthropologists” because they are anthropologists who remind us that we
are all multi-cultural or bi-cultural because we belong to both professional and personal worlds
whether at the field or in our households, (Kanaaneh 2012; p. 5). These researchers can track the
critical diversities in comprehending and reporting the way the knowledge came to them, which
is a process called cultural knowledge location. Native anthropology can be seen as having
advanced into insider/indigenous anthropology since the latter can be seen as a reflective form of
the former, implying that insider anthropology stretches beyond simply “practicing at home” ,
(Kanaaneh 2012; p. 5).
Insider/indigenous anthropologists address the concern that there is no need to conduct
fieldwork in the first place, if the anthropologic reporting is a rendition that is completely
subjective, in which any pattern or order of the results is only from the ingenuity of the
interpretations by the researcher, (Geertz, 2006; p. 232). Unlike the ancient native
anthropologist, this insider/indigenous anthropologist has a room to express how they feel about
the reported findings, just provided that their feelings do not impact on the accuracy of what is
reported. The focus is therefore on the empirical observation data, the analytical and descriptive
generalizations that can be implied from the respective observations, and the procession by


which the derivation of the latter is done from the former, (Geertz, 2006; p. 232). Therefore,
insider/indigenous anthropologists are of the orientation that reflects on the method, and provide
a projection of what anthropology might be like in the future; whereby they envision even more
serious need for scientific methodology research. How revealing and personal insider/indigenous
anthropologists become during reporting is much up to the individual anthropologist, because
this is more “an anthropology of experience” rather than just “conducting anthropology”. This
makes it possible for the insider/indigenous anthropologists to communicate to their audience
what they have drawn on for inspiration and information, (Geertz, 2006; p. 232).
The other advantage of insider/indigenous anthropology is that it can incorporate both the
emic and etic approaches – these refer to the two forms of field research conducted and the
viewpoints attained; from the social group (the subject’s perspective) and from within outside
(the observer’s perspective), (Bloch 2011; p. 123). The insider/indigenous anthropologist under
the emic approach can investigate how the indigenous people think; their categorization of the
world, the behavioral rules, the things that have meaning according to them, and how their
imaginations and explanations progress. As well under the etic approach, they can assume a
scientist-oriented framework shifting the attention from local categories, observations,
interpretations and explanations into the individual anthropologist, (Bloch 2011; p. 123). Still,
insider/indigenous anthropologists can possibly eliminate the alleged inherent confusion between
these two approaches, and instead of preferring one to the other, they can use them as
complements to anthropological research, significantly, in the interest regions regarding the
human nature characteristics as well as the function and form of human social structures. With
the combination of the two approaches, insider/indigenous anthropologists provide the “richest


understanding” of culture or society view. Without a fusion of these there would be a struggle to
apply the overarching values of one culture, (Bloch 2011; p. 123).
Disadvantages of insider/indigenous anthropologists
The fact that anthropology has historically comprised of extending beyond the
community of the anthropologists brings concern that the new insider/indigenous framework is
shifting research sites in the anthropologist’s indigenous community, (Engelke 2012; p. 4). This
has raised debates regarding the application of traditional native anthropological methods to the
individual’s indigenous community. There are various significant methodological issues in
insider/indigenous anthropology comprising of concerns like cultural competence, distance,
translation, and the definition of “native”, (Engelke 2012; p. 5). The quite ancient native
anthropologists offer critiques to the more evolved anthropological practices of
insider/indigenous anthropologists by conflicting the customary position of insiders as objects as
well as opposing euro-centrist dominance in academia. Additionally, critiques have been active
in voicing the variability of human identity, which implies that every researcher is both an
outsider and insider. These are insights that are very crucial to the insider/indigenous
anthropologist, and it remains debated that they a fully incorporated into insider/indigenous
anthropology, (Engelke 2012; p. 8).
On the religious standpoint, another shortcoming of the insider/indigenous is that if an
anthropologist shares the same beliefs with the “natives, any belief at all, there is an implicit
anthropology discipline concern, (Bloch 2011; p. 123). The concern is that since the
insider/indigenous anthropologist has a room to express how they felt about the reported
findings, he/she might be conceding a lot anthropological authority. This is still a major concern


despite the argument that human beliefs remain “a cruel possibility” that originates from the
denial to acknowledge that an anthropologists research subjects might have knowledge regarding
the human condition which is individually valid/applicable to the anthropologist. The challenge
to the insider/indigenous anthropologist here is the problem of maintaining a proper distance/
exclusion from the inner lives of the indigenous people, (Bloch 2011; p. 126).
At the heart of anthropologists or ethnographers insider/indigenous approach to research
is the paradox of acting as an observer and participant at the same time. The methodological
issues presented in regard to insider/indigenous anthropologists regard to the balance of tacit
knowledge access versus the ability to maintain objectivity in the final analysis which is notable
in the insider/indigenous problem, (Geertz, 2006; p. 232). It is widely argued that while trying to
gain greater insider access, the anthropologists forfeit their ability to objectively maintain
empirical observance. There is a problem of accessibility and acceptance, and the ability to
comprehend the subject which descends from this. In insider/indigenous anthropology, class or
gender may for instance interfere or even intersect with other factors of the insider/indigenous
status. This demerit can be presented in the broader terms of an epistemological concern of how
the insider/indigenous anthropologist can know and, importantly, how he can deal with another’s
knowledge. These are among the several significant anthropological concerns on the knowledge
possibilities as well as the limits relating to assessment of tacit knowledge, (Geertz, 2006; p.
In summary, anthropologist’s belief that there is unresolved contradiction or “tension”
between what it implies being indigenous and being anthropological. Following critiques who
have a long-running engagement to the anthropological community, it is noteworthy that this
concerning belief, which might be stated explicitly, informs on the overall mood surrounding the


discipline, and its associations and departments, (Anae 2010; p. 239). The general native
anthropologists feel that the insider/indigenous anthropological approach is subject to subjective,
individual biases, or, basically the fact that it is not entirely scientific. In a particular regard to
insider/indigenous anthropologists from third world countries, the practice of being
insider/indigenous is regarded as both a danger that has to be avoided, and a fault that has to be
fixed or even a setback that requires conquering, (Kanaaneh 2012; p. 11). Consequently, the
readers of the evaluation done by the anthropologist in regard to ‘anthropologicality’ and
‘sciencitivity’, in the case where it is from a third world insider/indigenous anthropologist, is
inevitably an evaluation on the basis: “did this insider/indigenous anthropologist manage to
successively avoid the danger by fixing the flaw and conquering the setback of being an insider
or indigenous?” it is largely argued in anthropology that the paradigm-building and paradigm-
braking capacity of modern day insider/indigenous is hard to acknowledge, because they are of
the view that the aim of modern day insider/indigenous anthropologists is to subject
anthropology to less subjectivity against the insider/indigenous peoples hence reducing its
ethnocentricity in its use of paradigms and language, (Kanaaneh 2012; p. 7).
In the general analysis, there are issues raised by the advantages and disadvantages of the
change from a more ancient-based anthropology approach to the more evolved present day
insider/indigenous anthropology, (Anae 2010; p. 229). There are various questions that can be
raised concerning this change like: what is the outcome when the distinction between the
“anthropologist” and the “native” is not clear, and what happens when the “home” turns to
“field”? The advantages and disadvantages outlined are concerned with what indigenous/insider
politics and perspectives present to the practice of anthropology, and what the practice of
anthropology can offer the indigenous community. The point of concern is how the study of


culture can be conducted in an environment where insider/indigenous anthropology has
familiarized “exotic” and made it possible for “familiar” to exotically exist. Another major issue,
regarding the advantages of insider/indigenous anthropologists analyzed, is the manner in which
the anthropologists and indigenous community peoples will maintain an indigenous sense in the
face of insider/indigenous anthropology.


Anae, M 2010. ‘Teu Le VA Toward a native anthropology’ in Special Issue –Genealogies:
Articulating indigenous anthropology in/of Oceania. Pacific Studies, 33 (2/3): 222-241.

Bloch, Maurice, 2011. How We Think They Think: Anthropological Approaches to Cognition,
Memory, and Literacy Westview Press

Engelke, Matthew, 2012, “The problem of belief: Evans-Pritchard and Victor Turner on “the
inner life.”. Anthropology today, 18 (6). pp. 3-8.


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