Editors' note: We are delighted to announce that Participant Observations is widening its remit. We welcome shorter reactions to conferences, exhibitions, research projects, and reflections on elements of the history of anthropology as a field. How has your experience of organizing or participating in remote conferences been? What online resources have caught your eye in this moment? What works, events, or conversations that you've recently encountered seem to capture vital new or ongoing conversations in the history of anthropology? If you have an idea for a piece, please email email@example.com or one of our News editors. In this spirit, we are pleased to publish HAR editor Nick Barron's short reflection on the 2019 American Anthropology Association Meeting.
In the crowd, I caught your eye
You can’t hide your stuff
You thought I’d be naive and tame
(You met your match) but I beat you at your own game
Such were the lyrics from the song that emanated from Lee Baker’s smart phone as he prepared to give his comments for the panel “Re-Presenting Historical Legacies: A Decolonial Reckoning with Anthropology’s Ruin.” Alongside his co-discussant Christien Tompkins, Baker considered an assortment of papers focusing on the discipline’s tangled historical encounters by centering analyses from the perspectives of those who call field sites “home.” Each of the panelists explored cases at the interstices of anthropologist-community engagements in regions that have been heavily mined for ethnographic knowledge including the Brazilian Amazon, Canadian Pacific Northwest, U.S. Southwest, and Egypt. Less concerned with the “truth” of past ethnographic depictions, the panelists, in various ways, considered what happens when anthropologists (and other social scientists) leave the field. What it is that these interlopers leave behind? How do the people that call “the field” home come to live with the debris of ethnography?
As a participant and panel co-organizer, I was quite intrigued by Baker’s theatrical introduction. As Tompkins underscored post-panel, “all panel papers should have entrance music.” But of course, the choice of this particular song from the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, was hardly trivial as were the sincere and challenging comments from Baker and Tompkins.  As Baker noted, the song tells a story of romantic role reversals in which the seduced becomes the seducer (“you thought you had me covered… but you’re bound to be my love”). While the papers from myself, Rosanna Dent, Taylor Moore, and Joseph Weiss and the panel abstract conceived by myself and Hilary Leathem were perhaps light on romance (at least of the non-platonic variety), they did speak of collaboration, intimacy, affect, magic, and the ways in which these phenomena have continued to bind communities of study to the discipline and vice versa. Importantly, the song indexes an obfuscated and creative agency (“here stands an experienced girl/I ain’t nobody’s fool”). The papers, though hardly unequivocally celebratory in their examination of agency, motioned toward the enduring ways in which the “objects” of ethnographic inquiry have long been engaging, salvaging, adopting, and enchanting anthropology on their own terms.
I reflected on the keen observations of my fellow panelists the following morning as I sat in on the panel “Hate USA,” an appropriately sobering title for an 8:00 a.m. timeslot. In a series of wonderful papers, I was most struck by Nancy Scheper-Hughes comments on Benjamin Teitelbaum’s Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Radical Nordic Radical Nationalism. Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with this book before the panel. However, as Scheper-Hughes summarized, Lions of the North is a recently published ethnography concerning alt-right, white nationalist groups in various Nordic countries. Scheper-Hughes was invited to comment on one of Teitelbaum’s recent articles for a forum in Current Anthropology. She expressed great consternation in the face of Teitelbaum’s self-proclaimed “immoral anthropology,” which has led him not only to observe these groups, but take an active role in their dissemination of propaganda. After a couple of exchanges with members of the audience who made a respectful plea for the value of Teitelbaum’s work and the spirit of his relativism, Scheper-Hughes’s response did not mince words: we are not simply here to parrot the views of others, to be “handmaidens to informants.” With Ms. Franklin’s lyrics still ringing in my ears, I couldn’t help but think, “Who’s zoomin’ who?”
On my return flight to California, I took it upon myself to read Teitelbaum’s article as well as Scheper-Hughes’s published comment. The characterization of Teitelbaum as a “handmaiden” remained most prominent in my mind. In my own research, I consider how anthropologists become wittingly and unwittingly enrolled in the political projects of their research subjects—specifically indigenous groups living in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Seen from the perspective of the historian (and the self-reflexive anthropologist), the roles of “ethnographer,” “advocate,” and “handmaiden” exists on a continuum, and anthropologists do not necessarily determine where they will fall. The ethnographic method is shot through with dialogical twists and turns that are hardly the exclusive design of the anthropologist.
To be fair, Teitelbaum underscores the dynamic nature of participant-observation when explaining his questionable engagements with white nationalists. “So long as we prefer dialogic and intersubjective models of understanding to those of observation and monologue, we are led to embrace a research practice laced with political and moral compromise.”
I suppose this is a helpful reminder for anyone just starting out in the field who might be inclined to take a naive view of knowledge production, which assumes they can stand outside the webs of power in which they operate. However, recognizing the inherently dynamic and situated nature of the ethnographic approach in no way invalidates Scheper-Hughes’s critique nor does it justify Teitelbaum’s rationale. One might assert that all anthropologists are handmaidens of one sort or another. Perhaps there is always some degree of zoomin’. But the important aspect of Franklin’s question (“Who’s zoomin’ who?”) is not just the “zoomin’” but the “who.” Is it not one thing to be a handmaiden of a small community of borderlands Indians, for example, and another thing to be a handmaiden of white nationalists? Veiling such a question behind invocations of the inherently intersubjective nature of the discipline’s signature method is not just morally dubious—it is historiographically hollow.
Ms. Franklin may have passed away, but her acute anthropological commentary remains relevant to the discipline and persistent debates within the ranks regarding the relationship between anthropologists and their interlocutors.
 Aretha Franklin, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” (Arista, 1985).
 Benjamin R. Teitelbaum, Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Nordic Radical Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
 Nancy Scheper-Hughes, “The Case for a Moral and Politically Engaged Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 60, no. 3 (2019): 427–30.
 I am paraphrasing from my notes.
 Nicholas Barron, “Assembling ‘Enduring Peoples,’ Mediating Recognition: Anthropology, the Pascua Yaqui Indians, and the Co-Construction of Ideas and Politics,” History and Anthropology (2019).
 Benjamin R. Teitelbaum, “Collaborating with the Radical Right: Scholar-Informant Solidarity and the Case for an Immoral Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 60, no. 3 (2019): 415.