Shaming of the Anthropologist: Ethical Dilemmas during and in the Aftermath of the Fieldwork Process


  • Rachel Burr The Open University



This paper focuses on ethical dilemmas encountered during the fieldwork process. Questions are raised about the extent to which anthropologists should become involved in, and possibly alter, the experiences of the people they conduct participant observation among. Here it is argued that although much is written about ethics in anthropology, anthropologists do not make explicit clear guidelines concerning the level at which they should become involved in the communities they study. It is suggested that there is currently a divide between those who believe they should retain distance in the field and those who support some forms of local activism or other types of involvement. I present my experience of doing research in Vietnam among children who were at possible risk of contracting the AIDS virus and who, in the aftermath of fieldwork being completed, tested HIV positive. The paper also explores ways in which we can continue to draw on such experiences once we have returned from doing fieldwork.

Author Biography

Rachel Burr, The Open University

Rachel Burr completed her PhD in the anthropology of childhood at Brunel University in 2000. Her central interest is in the local interpretation of the rights of the child in countries outside the North. She argues that Western countries' strategy of making each nation state separately answerable for their own success or failure in relation to child rights, ignores the difficulties in dealing with structural abuses that are part of the global system. She proposes that anthropology fieldwork should take into account the impact of globalisation. Rachel previously worked as a social worker and now teaches at the Open University.