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.
Sherine Hamdy faced a form of nationalism when she presented the results of her research on medicine, religion, and health in Egypt at a conference on Islamic bioethics. Because her analysis was critical of health inequalities, especially in the domain of organ transplantation, it was virulently dismissed by Egyptian scholars, their reaction in turn generating protests from North American participants who interpreted it as religious instead of political. As is almost always the case, the positions of both critics and critics of critics were largely determined by historical backgrounds, cultural prejudices, and power structures. This scene is the starting point of a meditation on the quandary of doing anthropology in the Middle East, with the singular tensions between hope and cynicism, cheerfulness and negativity that undermine political debates.