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.
Nadia Abu El-Haj analyzes the attacks to which she was subjected after the publication of her book on the political significance of Israeli archaeological practices in Palestine, as some Zionist scholars and networks campaigned to deny her tenure, attempting to discredit her empirical work as methodologically flawed and her theoretical approach as ideologically biased. Beyond her research ethnography itself was at stake as epistemological questions were raised about the protection of her sources and the generalization of her findings. While these questions must certainly be addressed by ethnographers, it is remarkable that they would be brought up only when ethnographers uncover uncomfortable truths about sensitive issues. El-Haj had touched upon the most shielded topic in Western societies, the one that has been euphemized under the official call for civility and on which censorship and self-censorship have become extreme in recent years.