When I teach my students a basic introduction to ethnography, we always talk about the inherent benefits and disadvantages for scholars working in an emic/etic relationship to the culture they are studying (in other words, insider/outsider relationship). They answer quickly and correctly: insiders have detailed knowledge of the culture and greater specialization in its inner workings, but they are emotionally invested which leads to bias. Outsiders have less specialized knowledge of insider traditions, but also have less emotional connection & hence less (or more realistically different biases). For a 50 minute intro to ethnography, this is about the depth we get into. It’s of course far, far more complicated than this in reality, and in practice scholars are often a little of both.
Rob Brooks is not an anthropologist, but this article clearly illustrates the advantages of being an insider and an outsider. Brooks is a white male evolutionary ecologist specializing in the biology of sexual conflict at the University of New South Wales in Australia. He received his education in South Africa. He’s an insider (male and scientist) and an outsider (Australian and educated outside of U.S.). He’s clearly an expert – in fact, he appears to be one of the specialists in his field. He’s also a man and whether we like it or not his gender enables him to say things about men that women would be labeled “feminazis” and immediately discredited for saying. He is also not consumed by the lived realities that make us so emotionally invested in this election (or at least, not to the same extent).
I encourage you to read the article. It’s at once humorous and highly enlightening. After exploring how unlike female humans, female Australian Black Field Crickets “shut down that whole thing,” he went on to say:
“What strikes me about the anachronistic attitudes of evangelicals and their Republican puppets to abortion, contraception, family planning, female economic empowerment and feminism in general is just how unambiguously male these attitudes are. All of these issues are informed by what suits men’s evolutionary and economic interests. Or more precisely by what suited the interests of men, especially rich and powerful men, before the industrial revolution.
An entire political party in one of the most advanced and educated countries on earth has become a caricature of the most basal evolved insecurities about masculinity. They seem terrified of losing control over the means of reproduction and petrified of cuckoldry.” Read more here: The Conversation.