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  Contemporary anthropology is characterized by reflexive self-scrutiny. In this process it submits its own motives and methods to scrutiny. Anthropologists, critical about power imbalances related to the historical imposition of Western conceptual models on other societies, have tried to restore the balance between the power relations of the discipline and those it studies.

The methodology of anthropology has created a reliance on constructing the world-view of other societies through a long and close interaction with a few, selected, indigenous informants. Interpretative anthropology since the 1970s placed extra importance on the way, and the precise terms, in which indigenous peoples described their lives. Yet the attempt to understand others\' world-views in their own terms is inevitably hampered by our own assumptions about the way the world is ordered. The best ethnography can hope for, with such a methodology, is to try to understand what informants perceive. A reflexive approach in ethnographic writing attempts to articulate the relationship between anthropologist and informant as one of dialogue. This involves the anthropologist self-consciously locating his or her own perspective in academic writings.

The hermeneutic principle, which describes the way in which the observer participates in the creation of a new reality, has thrown light on the problem of the role of the observer. It is now recognized that ethnographers can never claim to perceive as the indigenous people perceive. Their observations can ultimately only be an individual interpretation.

The postmodernist influence in Western culture fractures preconceptions and denies any possibility of objectivity, or finding an ultimate truth. Anthropologists responded to this general disenchantment by experimenting with the style and form of their writing. Some have perhaps become over-reflexive, lapsing into totally subjective self-indulgent experiments, where the society under investigation comes across as a mere incidental. CL

See also language.Further reading V. Crapanzano Tuhami, Portrait of a Moroccan.



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