The reluctant native: Or, decolonial ontologies and epistemic disobedience

Yasmeen Arif


Anthropologists, in regular intervals, tend to ask a cardinal question: How do we know what we know? Storms about ethnography and theory, epistemology and representation rage, and in their wake the debris of epistemic inequities, philosophical villainy, and more, scatter. What do these issues imply for those practicing the discipline outside the power centers where these issues circulate? In this essay, arguments built from the ground up will map the political economy of issues such as: what lies beneath the epistemological positions we occupy (funding, institutional structures, publishing); what are the pragmatics of the knowledge we produce or are obliged to produce (local, “area/region” knowledge); and, what slots do we occupy now (“native,” postcolonial anthropologists)? From that map, I articulate what ethnographic and epistemological potential or constraint is created by those ontologies. This leads me to transpose the cardinal anthropological question to: What can we know from where we are?

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/713723