Ethnographies of the Hometown: Re-invigorating the Discussion on “Native” Anthropology in Asia

Title: 1344 | Ethnographies of the Hometown: Re-invigorating the Discussion on “Native” Anthropology in Asia
Area: Southeast Asia
Stream: Anthropology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Julius Bautista, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan (organizer, presenter, chair)
Dada Docot, Department of Anthropology, Purdue University, United States (co-organizer, presenter)
Cyprianus Jehan Paju Dale, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan (presenter)
Shiori Shakuto, Tokyo College, International Institutes for Advanced Studies, University of Tokyo (presenter)
Tricia Okada, Tamagawa University, Japan (presenter)


This panel addresses the methodological and conceptual vicissitudes of studying ‘the homeland’ in the production of anthropological knowledge. Over the past few decades, there has been an increase in the number of Asians researching in their own communities, often channelling their cultural and linguistic proficiencies into their ethnographic repertoire (Heryanto 2002). To be sure, anthropologists worldwide have long recognized that the increased prominence of ‘native' ethnographers has contributed to the widespread interrogation and reframing of the discipline’s most foundational assumptions about ‘the field,’ ‘otherness,’ ‘scientific objectivity,’ and methods (Narayan 1994, Kuwayama 2004). The discussion about ‘native anthropology’, however, needs to be refreshed and reinvigorated in a way that recognizes the varied situational, empirical, and institutional tensions that arise from the practice of studying one’s own. Moreover, analytical attention needs to be devoted to the oblique ways in which social scientists today conceptualize the ‘field’ within, especially considering the colonial origins of the formation of national and regional boundaries. This panel features scholars from a variety of institutions and diverse levels of academic appointment. Each of them will explore the various methodological, ethical and conceptual issues that have arisen in their pursuit of an “anthropology of the hometown” (Docot 2018), and will comment more broadly on what this could mean for the practice of ethnography in Asia and beyond.

Panel Abstracts:
The Other Within: Shifting Modes of Alterity in Researching Religion in Southeast Asia
In this presentation, I shall discuss my research on Roman Catholicism in three distinct religious communities in Southeast Asia. My emphasis in doing so will be on the methodological, ethical and conceptual contingencies that have encouraged an analytical shift from conducting research on one’s own ‘hometown’ towards studying relatively more unfamiliar communities of faith. Is engaging with ‘otherness’ a necessary rite of passage towards a full-fledged ethnographic credibility? What modes of alterity dis/empower the production of anthropological insight? Responding to these questions will resonate with the broader questioning of alterity, or otherness, as a paradigmatic concept in anthropology’s modus operandi. In describing my research trajectory, I seek to discuss the fertility of an approach in which the consideration of how the ‘other within’ influences one’s ethnographic positionality.

A Decolonizing Anthropology?: Advancing the Hometown as an Anthropological Fieldsite
At an international conference on Philippine Studies held in the U.S., I sought the advice of a Filipino professor about my project focused on my hometown in Southern Luzon, Philippines. The professor’s tone reverberated with concern: “be kinder to yourself,” adding that I should try to change fieldsites if I still can. I learned during my graduate training that I was not alone in being dissuaded from researching in the home community. Two Philippine-based anthropologists also told me that it is rare for Filipino anthropologists to conduct ethnographic research in their communities. They said that this is because an “anthropological other” is needed, which is how the Western canons of knowledge production have contoured the direction of Philippine anthropology historically (Hutterer 1978; Hollnsteiner 1969; Zamora 1974; Magos 2004). An anthropology committed to decolonization needs to unsettle the canons that fortify the increasingly problematic binaries of the self/other, native/stranger, and objectivity/subjectivity, etc. I contribute to the discussions that complicate these pairings by proposing a turn to the “hometown” as fieldsite. I approach the “hometown” as a compound of two concepts: of the home as a place of intimate attachments with kin and land, and; as a postcolonial town where the personal and entangled colonial histories converge. My proposition that advances the hometown as fieldsite draws from an ethnography of the place to which I trace my roots – the “Town of Dollars.”

Engaged Native Anthropology: Ethical and Methodological Complexities
Engagement has increasingly become a common practice in anthropology, not only as ethical or political choice but also as methodological strategy (Kirsch 2018, Low 2010). While this trend is arguably an imperative in decolonizing knowledge, and more specifically decolonizing methodology (Smith 2012), native anthropologists have more reasons for such engagement. They are indeed part of the society they are interrogating. Based on my own experience of doing research and activism in my home islands of Flores in Indonesia, in this presentation I explore ethical and methodological complexities of incorporating engaged methodology as a native engaged anthropology.

Identity Politics and Ethnographic Practice in the Time of Shifting Homelands
My paper will contribute to the debate on “native anthropology” and the methodological and conceptual vicissitudes of studying “the homeland” through the lens of transnational field sites. Based on 6-year fieldwork studying Japanese retirees and Japanese disaster evacuees in Malaysia, this paper reinvigorates the debate by asking how one positions oneself when the idea, place and the nature of “homeland” itself is shifting for the interlocutors. The paper will conclude by situating the implication of this discussion to contemporary identity politics.

After the Curtain Call: The Homecoming of Filipino Transgender Women Entertainers
The Japanese and Philippine government in 2004 took serious steps to respond to the human trafficking issue in Japan by changing the requirements for entertainer visa. As a result, the number of Filipino entertainers in Japan decreased. Most of these entertainers are cisgender women but little is known about the transgender women. In this paper, I focus on examining the narratives of this understudied group of return migrants’ nostalgic experience in Japan during the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Using grounded theory and drawing on an intersectionality framework, I explore the Filipino transgender women’s untold stories while I consider my research positionality: a Filipino woman of Japanese descendant and a migrant in Japan. Finally, I integrate our stories and discuss their implications of what and where ‘home’ is for us

This panel is on Friday - Session 01 - Room 4

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