Talking drums and ethical conundrums


  • Ruth Goldstein Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley



Malian women and children represent the poorest as well as the most difficult to reach through written media. The interrelated practices of dancing, drumming, and storytelling transmit history, cultural beliefs, and current events for people who do not read and write. Researchers in the social sciences and officials for international aid organizations struggle with the circulation and reception of public health literature. They now recognize that native non-governmental organizations with staff that are fluent not only in the native languages but also in the social mores, better communicate with under-served populations through means other than billboards, pamphlets, or power-point presentations. The body, in both a general Western and Malian tradition, plays a particular role in how we come to know the world. This paper describes research conducted in Mali on female circumcision with international aid organizations, native NGOs, and independent human rights activists. Three interconnected areas form a triangular framework: how different research methods like dancing, drumming, storytelling, and soccer can offer valuable phenomenological insights to lived experience; the ethics of learning and listening to these various voices that transmit sexual health knowledge; and the ethics of engaging and disseminating such knowledge. The talking drums elicit new ways of seeing, being, and listening along with ethical ethnographic conundrums.

Author Biography

Ruth Goldstein, Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley

Ruth Goldstein is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. She can be contacted at ruthegoldstein(AT)