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The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart Paperback – November 6, 1997

ISBN-13: 004-6442046312 ISBN-10: 0807046310

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (November 6, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807046310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807046319
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In The Vulnerable Observer, Ruth Behar--ethnographer, essayist, editor, poet, and a professor of anthropology--challenges traditional theories and offers a more personal approach to anthropology in which the line between observer and observed is not so easily drawn and the observers themselves are not only visible, but vulnerable to their subjects. As she writes, "Call it sentimental, call it Victorian and nineteenth century, but I say that anthropology that doesn't break your heart just isn't worth doing anymore." These insightful, often poetic essays weave together memories of childhood as a Cuban Jewish immigrant with accounts of fieldwork in Spain, Cuba, and the United States. Along the way, Behar tirelessly investigates and elegantly communicates the "central dilemma of all aspects of witnessing." In her own words, "Are there limits--of respect, piety, pathos--that should not be crossed, even to leave a record?" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Behar was filled with self-loathing and guilt when her grandfather died of cancer in Miami Beach in 1989 while she was away doing anthropological fieldwork on death customs in a Spanish village. That personal tragedy led this University of Michigan anthropology professor to jettison the notion of the anthropologist as semidetached participant-observer, and instead to champion the "vulnerable observer," the ethnographic fieldworker who spells out, and works through, his or her emotional involvement with the subject under study. These six impassioned, intensely personal essays exemplify this subjective approach to varying degrees, though less successfully than Behar did in Translated Woman, the life story of a Mexican street peddler. A Cuban Jew whose grandparents emigrated from Russia, Poland and Turkey in the 1920s, Behar moved to New York City with her family, fleeing Castro's communism, in 1962 when she was nearly five. In one searing essay she discusses the family's 1966 car accident which left her with a broken leg; an invalid for a year, she later recognized "the body is a homeland," a locus of stored memory and pain. Other pieces deal with her return trips to Cuba, her supportive friendship with a Mexican-American woman, her reconnecting with her Jewish heritage and her charged relationship with her husband and his white Methodist Texan family. Her luminous essays build cultural bridges and challenge conventional ways of doing anthropology.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By "leo-cubano" on September 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
As an anthropology student in pursue of the human face of my career I found the light at the end of the tunnel when I read the Vulnerable Observer...and as a Cuban in exile, the book broke also my heart...Not only Dr. Behar marvelously demonstrates the humanness of the hands and mind behind the typewriter (actually behind the keyboard), but she also opens the doors for those of us who want to be visible to the reader, and not precisely as narcissists but because as she says in her book "...The exposure of the self who is also a spectator has to take us somewhere we couldn't otherwise get to. It has to be essential to the argument, not a decorative flourish, not exposure for its own sake. It has to move us beyond that eclipse into inertia ..., in which we find ourselves identifying so intensively with those whom we are observing that all possibility of reporting is arrested, made inconceivable. It has to persuade us of the wisdom of not leaving the writing pad blank" (Behar, 14). We need more anthropology like this and more anthropologists like her...
Another vulnarable observer...
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sergio Augusto Freire de Souza on May 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book brings to life the fact that it is not possible to separate science from discourse. It shows through its essays that what sees the fact is not the impartial researcher's eye (does it exist?) but the value-stricken vision of the observer.
In this sense, we are all vulnerable observers. A must for those worried about the deep questions posed by science as a neutral practice. All of us are part of a web of meanings that makes us understand the world and comprehend a fact as a fact. Good reading for those who think positively as well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. Livingston on April 16, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book covers the notion of including yourself in scholarly writing as a way of acknowledging your bias, and thusly over coming it. Beautifully written and interesting, especially for those seeking to learn creative non-fiction. (ie ethnographers, art educators, critics, anthropologists, etc)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By JypsyJBook on May 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
Behar's first-person anthropological essays are perfect for the postmodern generation of intellectuals. Why pretend that we're unbiased, dispassionate observers when clearly we're human beings who are deeply affected when we witness war and poverty and other tragedies? Why has the Academy considered this distance to be preferable? I'm not an anthropologist myself, but I guess you could say I'm a writer/journalist and I think these principles can apply to this field as well.
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