"You can't sell all your knowledge of or about a people - or can you? Or how much do you sell/ who do you compromise?" [Emphasis added].
Philip let me apologise, wholeheartedly. I guess that my provocations, made just for the sake of argument, triggered something that may become rather harsh. Elitist sounds almost like a compliment when compared to anti-democratic (oh boy anti- you say!), but both of them sound a bit too personal for an academic conversation aimed at unpacking our understanding of where our specific strengths lie as ethnographers. So please let me step back a moment and reflect on your words and what may have provoked them.
Aren't you replying to the question, "Is it ever right to sell your knowledge of a people?" instead of Brett's actual question,"You can't sell all your knowledge of or about a people - or can you? Or how much do you sell/ who do you compromise?" [Emphasis added].
As I recall, the classic mode of social anthropology in which we were trained largely avoided this issue by its focus on social or cultural facts, i.e., generalizations concerning local common sense, rules, values, habits, whatever, ascribed to a group instead of particular individuals. This methodological stance implied that a critical task for ethnographers was sorting through their field notes and carefully cross-checking to eliminate the idiosyncratic. Informant anonymity was easy to maintain, since the anthropologist wrote about a collective them instead of particular individuals.
In the last several decades, however, trends on both the scientific and interpretive sides of the discipline have eroded this stance. The scientist's desire to know more about how customs, habits and opinions are distributed in populations, the historian's desire to know who said what, speaking from what social position or life experience, the notion of giving voice to the voiceless, embraced as a moral imperative by many: all make it increasingly difficult to write about a collective them without revealing details that make individuals identifiable. When the idiosyncratic is data, how can it be excluded? But should it be revealed if embarrassing or dangerous to the individuals in question? To which we must now add, in the case of people and peoples aware of libel, slander, copyright and intellectual property law, how to address the claims of those who demand control of what is said about them or compensation for what they assert are their intellectual assets.
In these circumstances, the "If not all, then how much?" question can no longer be evaded.
Do you not think it is likely that people offering scarce resources--and funds are always scarce, in the sense that there is never sufficient for the demand--to support ethnography, will expect some benefit, some payoff from it? I don't think it is unreasonable for taxpayers and officials to ask whether they are getting fair value for their investments. Certainly we can justify ethnography in humanistic terms of self reflection and self criticism, and should do so. But we can strengthen our requests for resources with evidence that our work is useful in practical ways also, in advancing the collective projects that we as citizens and our elected officials have endorsed.
Geertz said something about culture being silent about itself. Ethnography allows to watch what people do versus what they say. Deeper meanings are sussed out to give a clearer picture of human interaction.