Using your Voice

In high school you were probably taught to never use “I” or “me” or “myself” in an academic paper (unless your teacher was an anthropologist!) However, using one’s voice and observations is fundamental to anthropology. This section addresses how and why we use the first-person in our writing.

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Video of prof talking about personal voice 


Establishing the authority of one's experiences and observations as data can be a daunting task. Here's what Harvard Anthropologists have to say:




A defining feature of anthropological writing, and indeed anthropological work in general, is the incorporation of one's own thoughts, experiences, and observations in the research and writing processes.

Anthropological data often comes from relational forms of research, including but not limited to interviews and participation in daily community life or events. These methodologies inherently rely on the researcher's own observations, experiences, and positionality within a conversation, a community, an event, etc. Anthropology's use of subjective observations as one's data yields both opportunities for making the written work uniquely personal and challenges for the writer in deciding how much to include himself or herself in the written narrative. 

Using one's personal voice in anthropological writing can take a wide variety of forms. It can help in telling stories that make one's reader interested in your topic, but it also provides a mechanism to support one's claims or explain one's work. For example, anthropologists use personal voice to explain their investment in their topics, to ground or reflect upon their positions within communities of study, or to explain a particular encounter or event. 

When deciding how much of oneself to incorporate in a narrative, it may be helpful to ask:

  1. Does my particular experience of this event (as a guest, an outsider, an insider, a scholar, etc.) offer a unique perspective that supports or challenges my claim?
  2. Is it important to explain my stake in this issue or position within this community?
  3. Does using my personal voice to explain methodologies, thought processes, or research challenges help to hold me accountable within my work?

Below are some examples of the myriad of ways that anthropologists approach using personal voice within their wirings:


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Uses of Voice in text