The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart
The 25th-anniversary edition of the groundbreaking book that changed anthropology, asserting that ethnographers needn’t exclude themselves or their vulnerabilities from their work
In a new epilogue to this classic work, renowned ethnographer and storyteller Ruth Behar reflects on the groundbreaking impact The Vulnerable Observer has had on anthropology, sociology, and psychology and on scholarly writing. A pocket companion for writers, journalists, documentarians, and activists alike, this book speaks to the power of including oneself in the story, bringing deeper meaning to the relationship between writer, subject, and reader.
In a move revolutionary for its time, The Vulnerable Observer proposed a new theory and practice for humanistic anthropology. No longer should ethnographers write at a distance, clad in their shroud of “objectivity.” In six luminous essays, Behar calls instead for a fresh approach to ethnography, one that is lived and written more openly. Through this very personal account, readers can travel and relate to other peoples and the world around them.
Eloquently interweaving ethnography and memoir, Behar encourages her readers to be open about their experiences, as open as their subjects are with them. She does so in the hope that this work will lead us toward greater depth of understanding and feeling, not only in anthropology but in all efforts to document the shared vulnerability of the observed and the observer.
About the Author
Ruth Behar—ethnographer, novelist, poet, and filmmaker—is the James W. Fernandez Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. The recipient of two Fulbright Awards, a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, she was named a “Great Immigrant” by the Carnegie Corporation and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Behar is the author of several works of ethnography, including Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story and Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in Between Journeys, and the coming-of-age novels Lucky Broken Girl and Letters from Cuba. Born in Havana, she grew up in New York and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. Today she lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Praise for The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart
“As ‘a woman of the border’ . . . [Behar] infuses her vision with insight, candor and compassion.”
—Diane Cole, The New York Times Book Review
“Behar has convinced me that ethnographic empathy will produce an anthropology that has greater meaning than the distanced and detached academic anthropology of the past.”
—Barbara Fisher, The Boston Globe