AN ETHICS FOR WORKING UP?: Japanese Corporate Scandals and Rethinking Lessons about Fieldwork

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Critical Asian Studies

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Almost forty years after Laura Nader's initial rallying call for anthropologists to “study up,” research on power holders and elite individuals and institutions still constitutes only a small fraction of ethnographic work. In addition, many of the methodological and ethical issues specific to studying up remain under-examined. Most discussions of methodological and ethical dilemmas in anthropology to date have assumed a power differential that favors the anthropologist. What happens when the power vector points in the other direction? Through the retelling of dilemmas faced when dealing with a very powerful and prominent field subject, I set the stage for a broader examination of the often taken-for-granted ethical and methodological norms of contemporary anthropological fieldwork. While pulling apart the intertwined narratives of a corporate scandal and a corporate-sponsored women's soccer team, I attend to the ways that studies of those in power often de-center commonly held assumptions within anthropology about the primacy of participant observation, the importance of rapport, the question of for whom we write, and the need to protect subjects’ anonymity. Underscoring the analytical utility of attending to the process of ethnography, rather than just its products, this essay aims to raise some questions about the ethical and intellectual responsibilities of anthropologists, specifically those questions that arise when one studies up.


The version of record can be found through Taylor and Francis.