If Truth Be Told: The Politics of Public Ethnography
Didier Fassin is James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, a Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and the author and editor of many books, most recently, Prison Worlds: An Ethnography of the Carceral Condition.
Lucas Bessire’s long-term presence among the Ayoreo Indians, who are regarded as one of the most recently contacted ethnic groups and live in dire conditions at the border between Bolivia and Paraguay, put him in the delicate position of intermediary between this population and the local nongovernmental organizations representing it before international agencies. As conflictive relationships developed between native leaders and their self-proclaimed advocates, the question soon became one of legitimacy and relevance as multiples discourses, including those of missionaries, ranchers, government officials, and the indigenous peoples themselves, expressed the supposed needs and will of the Ayoreo. More specifically a tension arose between two public ethnographies: one, tactical, which used ethnographic authority to impose the paradigm of a traditional society to be defended; the other, reflexive, which critically analyzed such authority and proposed instead an indigenized version attentive to the voices of those directly concerned.