The Dynamics of Power and Ethics: Ethnoarchaeological Fieldwork with a Marginal, Semi-literate community in South Asia

Anthropologists and archaeologists who work closely with the local communities are normally required to submit their research proposal to an institutional ethics committee for review. Although initially this might seem cumbersome, it is a necessary academic ritual that makes the researcher aware of their ethical boundaries and responsibilities in the field while engaging closely with a community in their own cultural contexts. It also seeks to protect the interest of the participating communities by encouraging the researcher to acquire informed consent from their interlocutors. The researcher is normally required to get a “Consent Form” signed by the interlocutors by which they agree to participate in the project as informants. This form, composed in the vernacular of the participants, ideally contain a general outline of the research project, the potential usage of the collected data (including images and video recordings) and an assurance of anonymity of the participants. Although the requirement for written consents works well in the research involving literate communities, it presents a methodological roadblock while studying the non-literate or semi-literate ones.

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