Take Courage From an Example: The Anthropologist and the Ballybrans

Stanford anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes, went to a village in western Ireland, Ballybran, to study the relationship there between longstanding social customs and mental illness. Scheper-Hughes lived amongst the Ballybrans, engaging in a kind of study known as ethnography. As a result of her study, some of the inhabitants of the village became angry about the way Scheper-Hughes depicted them. They spoke out about it, even argued about it. Others began to examine some of the complicated problems of their community and started discussing them. In any case, the inhabitants of this village were changed by having been studied, and they looked at their circumstances with fresh eyes, with a perspective gained from having a foreign observer in their midst.

Similarly, because Scheper-Hughes was concerned about the way her new friends in the village became bitter about her findings, she reexamined the purposes and methods of her field. She began to challenge some of anthropology's ethical obligations to the people it studies.

Thus, both the villagers and the visiting expert were changed; they learned from each other. Further, there can be little doubt that both were qualified to respond to the study, and they did so, though in quite different ways.

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