Juggling Ethics in El Barrio

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Juggling Ethics in El Barrio
Anthropologists, being scientists whom deal with humans and their society, commonly find themselves at ethical crossroads. However, the ethical responsibilities and challenges that anthropologists face are multi-dimensional in the sense that they include all aspects of society. Anthropologists must take into account the ethical responsibilities he or she has for himself/herself, the people he/she is working with, the general public, and, in certain cases, for his or her own family; examples of which we will see in our dive into Bourgois' In Search of Respect.

The location and subject that Bourgois studied was undoubtedly the reason that he faced ethical issues which most ethnographers may not typically see to such a degree. Bourgois' obvious disgust in exposure to rape and self-masochism within the El Barrio society created confusion and betrayal within himself. Regarding adolescent gang rape, Bourgois cries, "Caesar's voyeuristic bonding and sexual celebration of Primo's brutal account made me even more disgusted with my ‘friends…' I felt betrayed by Primo" (Bourgois 2003:205). This statement is one of many throughout the book that portrays the author's disappointment and ethical struggle while spending time in El Barrio. An interesting part of Bourgois' statement that further magnifies his internal ethical struggle is how he referred to Primo and Caesar as quote-unquote "friends" implying that, at least at this point, Bourgois didn't consider them real friends because of their cruel actions in rape. Furthermore, it seems that Bourgois only questions his relationship with Primo when the subject of rape is involved. Throughout the book it became evident that Bourgois cared for Primo and actually did consider Primo as a dear friend: "As a friend of Primo's, I was worried about his escalating alcohol and narcotics consumption and wanted him to confront his problems." (Bourgois 2003:125). Philippe's dichotomy regarding his friends can be taken as an internal ethical and moral war within himself. The author's use of cultural relativism, a belief that "culture should be explained and viewed objectively" (Lecture 9/6/07), allowed him to create supported claims of structure and agency. However, Bourgois found himself unable to view rape from a cultural relativistic point of view, and he "confronted the contradictions of anthropology's methodological caveat of suspending moral judgment" (Bourgois 2003:189). Bourgois, through a cultural relativistic point of view, rarely stated his opinions of self-destruction to his peers in El Barrio. However, it seemed that the opinions he did voice were because of an ethical issue he was facing: " ‘You motherfu**ers are sick […] That is some sick shit you're saying. You motherfu**ckers were nothin' but a bunch of perverts' " (Bourgois 2003:210-211). At this point, it is clearly obvious that Bourgois truly detests this part of the El Barrio society. In fact, Bourgois' ethical issue on rape is stated again and again throughout the book. The mere massive prevalence of these statements allows the readers to see Bourgois' view on rape. While not to such a degree as rape, Bourgois did show other subject matters in which he had ethical issues with. It seemed that Bourgois was stressed with the fact that children were being destructed in El Barrio (Bourgois 2003:261). This particular ethical conflict was so obvious that he discussed the selling of crack to pregnant mothers with those who worked at the crackhouses (Bourgois 2003:283). Other ethical challenges Bourgois had to balance were the requests of Ray, the crackhouse owner, who wanted Philippe to help him launder money and establish illegal "legal" businesses. Bourgois states that he "always concocted excuses to avoid unwittingly becoming a facilitator to his money-laundering schemes" (Bourgois 2003:28). Additionally, Bourgois dealt with a bit of racism in El Barrio. Although the racism wasn't a direct ethical...
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