Today, in my qualitative methods class, we talked about Harry F. Wolcott’s ethnographic trilogy, that starts with Sneaky Kid and its Aftermath: Ethics and Intimacy in Fieldwork. The short version of why this work is problematic is based on the power dynamics between Wolcott and Brad, the subject— the so-called “sneaky kid”— of his anthropological study. To say that Wolcott and Brad had an imbalance of power is an understatement. Aside from the researcher/researched power imbalance, Wolcott had Brad eventually performing tasks, Brad lived on Wolcott’s land, and they were also physically intimate for a short period of time. After Brad disappeared for a short time, he comes back and tries to light Wolcott’s house on fire and is jailed for arson.
All this to say, we talked about this book in the context of ethical research and what this research is for. My professor talked about the importance of respect, responsibility, reciprocity, and relationships, along with the constant reflexive question of how your research is serving and honoring the populations with which you work. And all of these I agree are critical foundations for any work and all academic research.
What stunned me from the Walcott example was not just the breach of ethics, but how celebrated he still is within the academy. Here is a man, that for me, essentially exploited a young man who exhibited extreme vulnerability (in housing, mental capacity, trauma, and more) and was failed by the larger systems at hand. And yet, when all is said and done, Walcott had a flourishing career, even after these publications, and Brad sat in jail. Where do we say enough?
Perhaps, in the context of this week, I am also angry about Casey Affleck winning the Oscars on Sunday and I’m still angry (and tired) when I think about who is sitting at (or perhaps vacationing away from) the Oval Office.
And yet, academia, especially education as a field is one that for me is so implicitly and explicitly tied to social justice, that hearing of the continued acknowledgment and dare I say, celebration, of Wolcott’s research shook a part of me that held fast to “what we do, matters.” My TA and classmates pointed to the importance of agency and the choices we can (and are obligated to) make to not reproduce or support or condone these actions. As researchers, we are not just called to be ethical in our own research, but also called to disrupt practices that continue inequity and marginalize/exploit vulnerable populations. Today, my love for academia took a hit and I’m waking up tomorrow a little more critical, which is probably a good thing, and also a needed reminder that our field is just as flawed as the ones we like to critique.
Having spent 2019 intentionally reading Womxn of Color, I'm carrying the same intention into 2020. Check out my bookshelf of some of my faves and send me recs!
When I'm trying to concentrate, I like having background music that's super dramatic. For some reason, instrumental music is instrumental (pun!) in helping me concentrate. Most of the songs are Korean-drama OSTs (original sound tracks), w/ a few classical music scores in the mix!
I don't categorize anything other than my "random round-ups" because it takes too much work (insert laughing emoji).