Introduction to the Special Number on Ethics

By: Fiona C. Ross Guest Editor

Pages 57-61

The adoption in 2004 of the Anthropology Southern Africa Principles of Conduct at the Association's Annual General Meeting offered an opportunity to invite scholars to reflect on ethics. 1 This special number of the ASA journal is the result. In accepting the Principles, the Association agreed to revisit them at regular intervals and the current volume is envisaged as part of the process of reflecting on and provoking questions about ethics.


Imfobe: self-knowledge and the reach for ethics among former, young, anti-apartheid activists

By: Pamela Reynolds

Pages 62-72

Abstract: The paper explores the reach for ethics among young people engaged in opposition to the apartheid state in the 1980s. Structured around the Xhosa concept imfobe, variously translated as morality, virtue, goodness, grace, the paper seeks to locate young peoples' ethical development in the context of every day life. It examines the critical self-consciousness to which young people subject their experiences and decisions and offers a record of some young peoples' actions and thoughts in Zwelethemba, South Africa. It reflects on Foucault's notion of the work of the norm as potentially transformative and demonstrates the ways in which young people stood against the apartheid state's ‘un-norms’ for children.

Subjects: ethics, morality, consciousness, Zwelethemba, political activists, youth, norms


Grief-stricken: Zimbabwean children in everyday extremity and the ethics of research

By: Ross Parsons

Pages 73-77

Abstract: The essay approaches ethics and research through a description of the beginnings of a study of children's lives under extreme adversity in the Manicaland province of contemporary Zimbabwe. An encounter with an orphaned child is described, highlighting the presence of her grief. The child's sorrow and its effects on the researcher are explored in the context of a theoretical examination of grief and mourning. The counter-transferential nature of encounters with grief and suffering is noted. The article invites reflection on the problem of sitting with painful affect and questions the extent to which this necessary but painful process is recognized in attempts to codify ethical approaches to research.

Subjects: ethics, orphanhood, grief, suffering, counter-transference, obstacle, reciprocity


Mortality and the ethics of qualitative research in a context of HIV/AIDS

By: Patricia C. Henderson

Pages 78-90

Abstract: Utilising the story of one man suffering' from HIV/AIDS, the article explores ethical relationship between researchers and an interlocutor over a two-year period in Okhahlamba, the Drakensberg—a remote region populated by Zulu-speakers. Drawing on the philosophical work of Emmanuel Levinas, and Alphonso Lingis, the paper argues for the importance of pre-empting too quick an understanding of illness and suffering, for allowing space for the ill to set the pace and the content of research relationship. Levinas' insistence on solicitude and responsibility in the presence of the vulnerability of the Other is linked to the ways researchers, in addition to being of practical assistance to an ill man, learnt through mutual interaction how to listen, how to remain silent, and how to suspend a particular approach when surprised by their interlocutor. The case study is placed within a context of widespread mourning and death.

Subjects: ethics, HIV/AIDS, solicitude, responsibility, listening, silence


“Ba pi ai?”—Rethinking the relationship between secularism and professionalism in anthropological fieldwork

By: Lesley J F Green

Pages 91-98

Abstract: Epistemological commitments shape notions of what constitutes an ethical presence in the field. The article examines the assumption of secularism, linked to objectivity, implicit in codes of ethics. It argues that in fieldwork, the secular position neither guarantees ethical behaviour nor improves data collection. Reflecting on research encounters among Palikur-speakers in Brazil, the article examines the ways in which objectivity unexpectedly forecloses some avenues of research. Drawing on the Palikur idiom of ‘minahwa’ (to draw one's canoe alongside), the paper posits a change in the relationship between the anthropologist and the subject of research to an I-Thou relationship of mutual presence in which the anthropological self is hospitable to the other. An ethics of facing is posited.

Subjects: ethics of facing, belief, secularism, hospitality, Palikur, Brazil, minahwa


Codes and Dignity: Thinking about ethics in relation to research on violence

By: Fiona C. Ross

Pages 99-107

Abstract: Beginning with an anecdote concerning consent forms, the paper offers a critique of assumptions that legalistic protocols offer an adequate guarantee of ethical research. Drawing on research on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it explores some of the complexities that research on violence brings to the fore. In the light of testifiers' concerns about the proliferation of their testimonies in contexts beyond their control, the paper proposes that ethical research rests on responsibility for the voice of others and responsiveness to the other; becoming what Alphonso Lingis (1994) describes as ‘an other for the other’.

Subjects: Ethics, violence, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, legalism, voice, dignity, responsiveness, responsibility


A voice in control?: narratives of accused witches in Chhattisga

By: Helen M. Macdonald

Pages 108-114

Abstract: One characteristic of violence is the unmaking of language and fracturing of the victim's social world. In recent theorising, narrative is posited to play an important role in restoring the victim to his/her status as a social person. Fiona Ross (2003) has argued that it is naïve to assume the ‘speaking self equates with the healed self. She shows that individuals can be harmed when they lose control over their narratives circulated in the public sphere. Using an encounter with a woman accused of witchcraft, my article traces the way her experience has been appropriated by her family and in broader spaces of engagement between villagers, police, media and finally, the anthropologist. The article raises questions about the contexts in which there is no voice for a woman to assert her control. Seeking to contribute to an ethical theory of risk and vulnerability, this paper suggests that closer attention should be paid to the processes of forgetting and grieving as forms of control articulated through the body.

Subjects: ethics, Chhattisgarh, forgetting, memory, narrative, voice, violence, witchcraft


Reflections on the ethical dilemmas that arise for anthropologists conducting fieldwork on the provision of sexuality education in South Africa

By: Nolwazi Mkhwanazi

Pages 115-122

Abstract: The revised ethical guidelines and principles of conduct for anthropologists in Southern Africa offer suggestions for the anthropologist's relations with and responsibility to research participants. Reflecting on the provision of sexuality education, I draw critical attention to the premises that underlie these guidelines, in particular those underpinning what the principles of conduct describe as a commitment to ‘local understandings of respect and dignity’. In doing so, the paper reflects on the discrepancies between ideals and practices.

Subjects: ethics, sexuality education, personhood, identity, fieldwork


Fieldwork in shared spaces: positionality, power and ethics of citizen anthropologists in southern Africa

By: Heike Becker, Emile Boonzaier & Joy Owen.

Pages 123-132

Abstract: The paper reflects on the ethical complexities of fieldwork ‘at home’ in Cape Town, South Africa and Namibia. It draws on Cheater's (1987) idea of the ‘citizen anthropologist’ to consider the obligations of resident anthropologists to the subjects of their research. It shows the shifts in understandings of research and the research relationship and explores the power dynamics of such relationships. It argues that anthropologists should be viewed in terms of situated identifications in order to lead the ethics debate towards more historically and politically conscious considerations.

Subjects: ethics, positionality, reflexivity, citizen anthropology, fieldwork


From exposé to care: Preliminary thoughts about shifting the ethical concerns of South African social anthropology

By: Andrew Spiegel

Pages 133-141

Abstract: Social anthropologists working in South Africa during the late apartheid period expressed their abhorrence of the apartheid system in the preamble to the association that they formed. Many set as their goal the work of ‘exposé anthropology’, using anthropology to reveal the iniquitous consequences of apartheid. Apartheid's formal collapse and the institution of a democratic constitutional regime has reduced the need for such exposé, but current political-economic circumstances preclude easy or rapid transformation of the extreme poverty and deprivation that continue to plague the country's population. The article addresses the question of what an appropriate ethics for anthropology in such circumstances might be and proposes an ethic of care.

Subjects: exposé anthropology, ethic of care, archaeology, apartheid


Ethical guidelines and principles of conduct for anthropologists

Pages 142-143

Ethical concerns arise in the context of anthropology's care for and about local moral and social worlds and the regional and global connections in which they are enmeshed. Anthropology's research questions, methods and approaches give rise to close and often lengthy associations between anthropologists and those with whom we conduct research. Our primary obligations as scholars, students, researchers and consultants are to treat participants as subjects not as the objects of research or as a means to an end, and to ensure our work meets the highest standards of scholarly integrity and accountability.