Questioning the Authenticity of an Ethnography that Lacks a Local Voice

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Karen Tranberg Hansen’s goal for this article was to explore the social life of the second-hand clothing trade and figure out whether it was actually benefitting those for whom it is intended. By utilising reliable information, she creates a well written and supported article. However, a lack of local opinions gives the article a dispassionate and detached tone. What happens when an anthropologist writes an ethnography that is missing the authenticity of a local view? Can that be made up for by using reliable sources? Hansen uses the description of experiences people on the receiving end of the second-hand clothing trade to show how it impacted them and their livelihoods. These descriptions are the closest we get to a direct local opinion and gives us a peek into how the second-hand clothing trade impacts poorer countries like Zambia. People in the West who donate clothing to charitable groups, the not for profit organisations, which resell the major part of their huge donated clothing stock, and the commercial textile recyclers, graders, exporters and importers(Pg 251). All these people benefit from this trade while the consumers ( people in poor countries, like Zambia per say ) are scolded and shamed for buying these clothes rather than supporting their local businesses and providers. This sort of contradicts the aim, right? People are sending clothes to poorer countries only to shame them for accepting them. The second-hand clothing trade effects the lives of many individualsespecially women. The second-hand clothing trade is largely in women’s hands, and it provides women with new opportunities for self-employment. (Pg254) Women are able to keep active and control economic capital to support the household. In this way, the second-hand clothing trade is benefitting the local women. Without these stories being told, a reader might be misled into thinking that the second-hand clothing trade is generally harming the local communities, especially women, involved.

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As previously stated, Hansen doesn’t include any direct opinions from the locals involved in the situation – contradicting one of the most important anthropological tools ( Participatory Research with retrieval of local opinions and voices). Hansen’s article doesn’t include any quotes from local people, and her use of she, they and he is very frequent. Of course, her research had to include conversations with locals – however, we do not hear any direct opinions from them in this piece. Without this authentic view from a local, we are hearing about their opinions and struggles from a person who grew up in Western civilisation – which contradicts one of the most important rules of anthropological research ( being that anthropology allows locals to speak out and have their voice heard ), and could possibly cause a negative impact on a community. Without a local voice, the culture could be taken as something else and misjudged. For example, only with the voice of someone from the culture would we be able to begin to question whether religious coverings like the burqa or the hijab actually represent oppression – something most of us associate with the latter. Lila Abu-Lughod refers to another anthropologist’s work ( that of Hanna Papanek, 1982 ) and describes how Panapek had spoken with several women in Pakistan and revealed that they die the burqa as ‘portable seclusion’ and ‘mobile homes’ within their culture and communities. Hansen impacted the community she speaks of. The purpose of this article was to question whether the second-hand clothing trade is accommodating the right group of people and/or if it was working effectively. Hansen uses many quotes and a lot of information from big media cooperations like the Guardian, the Washington Post and the New York Times which may persuade the reader to listen more carefully to what’s been said since such large influential platforms write about this topic. This initial curiosity may spark a will to do something larger – for example, help edit the clothing trade system to accommodate all those who are involved. Hansen has also told the story of the women in Zambia and given them recognition for their successful lifestyles. The women’s active work, harnessing economic capital from this international trade to support the household (Pg255)To write an anthropological article, a writer must be conscious of the fact that the community they are writing about may very well be reading the article once it is published. Hansen has spoken about facts: When government protection gave way to free-market principles in the transition to multi-party politic in 1991, the industry was in a precarious state. (Pg 255) Because of this, fortunately, there is little room for misunderstanding. The disadvantage to this however, is that without a local voice, the article can only reach a certain level of authenticity.

In conclusion, Karen Tranberg Hansen has explored the second-hand clothing trade using clever anthropological tools like reliable and well-known sources to help persuade the readers to listen to what she has to say. On the other hand, her lack of local opinions and voices makes the article sound detached and perhaps even too analytical. When a persuasive article is written based on statistics and information, it is hard for the reader to connect with the story and be motivated to help.

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Questioning The Authenticity of an Ethnography That Lacks a Local Voice. (2019, Jun 12). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from
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