Reflexivity and research methodology in representing the San : a case study of Isaacson's "The healing land".
The focus in this project is on the analysis of empirical evidence collected from the #Khomani and Ngwatle communities relating to representation, theories of reflexivity and research methodology, as well as responses to The Healing Land (2001) by Rupert Isaacson, in relation to research methodology, representation and ethical concerns. This project will examine if and how research can be beneficial to the San, and interrogate whether auto-ethnography/reflexivity as research methodology can be used as a way of representing indigenous people in ways that empower them. Films and books often give little indication of how, by whom and for what reasons they were produced, which imposes limitation on the knowledge gained by the reader/viewer. Reflexivity is a methodology that incorporates the producer and the production process into the final product. Reflexivity directs attention to the' process and the power relations involved in constructing cultural texts. Representation of the San Bushmen has had a long history of othering, of perpetuating colonial domination. The "Other is never simply given, never just found or encountered, but made" (Fabian, 1990:755). The application of reflexive methodology could have the potential to undo the perceptions and stereotypes projected by unidimensional films, writing and pop-anthropology which give no indication of/attempt to disguise the relationship between producer, process, product and viewer in the representation of indigenous people. Awareness of the interaction between observer and observed also leads to consideration of ethics, power relations and responsibility of academics and filmmakers towards their subjects. This project discusses encounters in the Kalahari in relation to research methodology, auto-ethnography and representation. The primary text critiqued is Rupert Isaacson's book The Healing Land (2001). The application of reflexivity to my own project incorporates discussion of methodology, the nature of the encounter, and negotiating my own subjectivities. "To be reflexive is to structure a product in such a way that the audience assumes that the producer, the process of making, and the product are a coherent whole. Not only is an audience aware of these relationships, but they are made to realise the necessity of that knowledge" (Ruby, 1977:4). Unrealistic and disempowering representation of the San is related to their political and social marginalisation. This also relates to the issue of responsibility of researchers to the subject communities which are their sources of images and information. The subject communities have certain expectations of academics and filmmakers. If these expectations are not met or fulfilled in some way, the local informants tend to feel that they are being exploited. The San often have unrealistic expectations and are unaware of the differences between profit-making films and research; financial constraints on academics, writers and filmmakers; and the processes by which policy is implemented that prevent their hunger and thirst being immediately alleviated (Tomaselli, 2001a). I attempt to test these kinds of assertions and examine whether there are instances where the San feel that they have benefited from and are satisfied by the encounter, and how the principles allowing for a mutually beneficial encounter can be developed. Thus this project will deal with empowerment and development for the San.