I’m working on a book now that’s set in a place and time where people are actively looking into the past and judging others based on what they find. And while the book is fiction, the setting is based on fact – the book takes place in Warsaw in the late 1990s, when lustration was in full force.
Anthropologists take great care to always respect the people they are studying. The Ethics Code of the American Anthropological Association states:
“Anthropological researchers have primary ethical obligations to the people, species, and materials they study and to the people with whom they work. … In conducting and publishing their research, or otherwise disseminating their research results, anthropological researchers must ensure that they do not harm the safety, dignity, or privacy of the people with whom they work, conduct research, or perform other professional activities, or who might reasonably be thought to be affected by their research.”
The American Anthropological Association comes to this point after years of considering and working with some tricky situations. How does an anthropologist conduct fieldwork with drug users in Los Angeles? Or in a culture in which consumption of one’s enemies is believed to benefit society as a whole? Tricky situations indeed.
I recently read and enjoyed Ruth Rendell’s book, The Monster in the Box. In this story, Hannah Goldsmith, a young detective, struggles between her opinions as a feminist and her strong belief in the value of multiculturalism when she is faced with a Muslim family she thinks might be mistreating their daughter. Hannah is not the main character, but her struggle provides an interesting subplot that also keeps the story moving forward.
Fiction is a great venue for exploring questions like this – authors can create characters and put them in difficult situations, just to see how they work their way out of it. Something anthropologists can not do!