The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart

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Eloquently interweaving ethnography and memoir, award-winning anthropologist Ruth Behar offers a new theory and practice for humanistic anthropology. She proposes an anthropology that is lived and written in a personal voice. She does so in the hope that it will lead us toward greater depth of understanding and feeling, not only in contemporary anthropology, but in all acts of witnessing.

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In The Vulnerable Observer, Ruth Behar--ethnographer, essayist, editor, poet, and a professor of anthropology--challenges traditional theories and offers a more personal approach to anthropology in which the line between observer and observed is not so easily drawn and the observers themselves are not only visible, but vulnerable to their subjects. As she writes, "Call it sentimental, call it Victorian and nineteenth century, but I say that anthropology that doesn't break your heart just isn't worth doing anymore." These insightful, often poetic essays weave together memories of childhood as a Cuban Jewish immigrant with accounts of fieldwork in Spain, Cuba, and the United States. Along the way, Behar tirelessly investigates and elegantly communicates the "central dilemma of all aspects of witnessing." In her own words, "Are there limits--of respect, piety, pathos--that should not be crossed, even to leave a record?"

About the Author:

Ruth Behar-ethnographer, essayist, editor, and poet-is professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She gained national prominence with her book Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story. Her honors include a MacArthur Fellows Award and a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship.

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