DOI: 10.1111/amet.13248 ISSN: 0094-0496

Anthropology and complicated people

Alexander Edmonds
  • Anthropology


Revealing complexity in the world—but also creating it—is at the heart of anthropology. It shapes our engagement with theory and ethics, writing and visual style, and choice of research subjects. But does it create blind spots? I respond to this question by discussing studies of violence, and my ethnographic material in progress on British ex‐soldiers. Owing to the ethical norm of suspending moral judgment of our research participants, we tend to avoid portraying their unlikable traits, internal contradictions, or troubling actions that do not advance our arguments. Ethnography often reveals florid complexity in structures or systems, but it creates simpler depictions of the people who inhabit these forms. Yet, since anthropology has long aimed to holistically capture the truth of social life, it should allow more space in ethnographic narrative for complicated protagonists.

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