‘Up the Anthropologist: Perspectives Gained from ‘studying up’

Nader, L. (1969) ‘Up the Anthropologist: Perspectives Gained from ‘studying up’’pp. 284–311 inD. Hyms (ed) Reinventing Anthropology. New York: Random House

‘Studying up’ is an approach that includes the perspectives of those at the middle and the upper ends of a stratified society as well as (or rather than) those in the lower end in trying to understand the working of a particular society. To understand how power is exercised, the author recommends that anthropologists study all levels of society including those previously not studied. The main argument is that it is important for the people to understand who shapes attitudes and who controls institutional structures and this can be done through the ‘studying up’ approach. The essay also includes reasons why this approach should be adopted by anthropologists. The author points out what might happen if anthropologists were to study the colonizers rather than the colonized, the culture of power rather than the culture of the powerless and the culture of affluence rather than the culture of poverty. By investigating how the powerful urban society works it is possible to understand how this might have a corresponding effect on the other groups of people at the society. The consequences of not studying up as well as down are also discussed.

Ethical problems that arise while applying the ‘studying up’ approach are mentioned. There often arises confusion when studying one’s own society; the author here asks whether there is one different ethic for studying up and another one for studying down. The ethics that should be applied while studying the public, the private and foreign cultures are discussed in detail.

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