HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article, in English, on the early work of ethnographer Daisy Bates in Australia.
McDonald, Edward M. & Bryn Coldrick, 2022. “‘Out Amongst the Natives’: Fieldwork and the Legacy of Daisy Bates, a Controversial Ethnographer in Australia,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
Born in Ireland, Daisy May Bates (1863–1951) was a self-made anthropologist and welfare worker among Aboriginal people in Australia, where she first migrated in 1883–1884. Bates used participant observation techniques prior to and during her appointment by the Western Australian government to undertake research on Aboriginal language and culture, a position she held from 1904 to 1911. Her trajectory intersected with that of the newly arrived A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, whose status as a professional anthropologist eventually overshadowed the vast contributions of his female counterpart. Having worked as a journalist in England, Bates’s ethnographic skills were intertwined with a compassionate interest in the present conditions and the future of Aboriginal people, but some of her controversial views and eccentric ways have transformed her legacy into an enduring challenge. She has long been denied the status of a ‘real’ anthropologist, at best considered an “enthusiastic amateur,” and her work is typically discredited because of moralistic views about her personal life. Examining her correspondence and published and unpublished papers, Eddie McDonald and Bryn Coldrick argue that much of her work is both anthropological and insightful and her ethnographic fieldwork compares favorably with Malinowski’s developments a decade later. They suggest that Bates was ahead of her time, avoiding many of the shortcomings of ‘modern’ anthropology. However, in other ways she remained a pre-modern anthropologist with a focus on ethnology, endeavouring to create an encyclopedic compendium of ‘facts’ about all aspects of Aboriginal culture. But then, so did many of her contemporaries.
In this illuminating article, McDonald and Coldrick argue that much of the criticism of Bates and her work is moralistic and ‘presentist’ and fails to acknowledge the complex history of the development of anthropology and ethnographic fieldwork. They contend that Bates is an “excluded ancestor” who needs to be ‘reclaimed.’ Her corpus of ethnographic material also needs to be examined in such a way as to provide a more critical understanding of the development of the discipline of ethnographic fieldwork in Australia.