Monday, March 22, 2010

Is It Easier to Ask Forgiveness than Permission? - Introducing EthnoCuba

Friends and colleagues both, Ariana Hernandez-Reguant and Paul Ryer, host a year-old blog EthnoCuba ( that I just discovered.  As the name indicates, Ariana and Paul, both anthropologists/ ethnographers who have done sustained research in Cuba, have built thier blog around current research and conferences focusing on all things ethnographic, "ethnic," and "racial" - braodly defined.

It is now on the El Yuma blogroll.

One of Ariana's recent posts responds (in part) to my letter to the editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education.  While she generally agrees with me that (a) doing "real" research is indeed possilbe in Cuba and (b) the Obama administration should further open up academic exchange with the island, she makes a detailed, nuanced, and quite well-informed caveat that is worth reading. 

Essentially, she agrees that while it is indeed easier to ask forgiveness than permission, it is best (and often essential) to ask for and receive permission (and get some form of institutional support and/or collaboration) to do proper and sustained ethnographic research in Cuba.

Here's a sample of her point:

While I agree with Ted and with the spirit of the Chronicle’s letter on the need for a radical change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, I would also like a situation in which research would be facilitated also on the Cuban end. A tourist visa is not enough. Not all research projects are created equal. Some of them are impossible to carry out without explicit on-site permission and facilitation. [...] 
Without a proper research affiliation in Cuba, there are archives, survey populations and marine reefs, among many other possibilities, that are off limits. [...]
Furthermore, ethnographic research (which is after all the inspiration for this blog project) requires a lengthy stay. I am of the old fashioned opinion that proper ethnographic fieldwork cannot be bypassed and substituted by a few short trips; much less if such research is the basis of a dissertation-type project. [...]
Henken seems to be advocating complete freedom of research, and I do agree in principle with that position, but in a world of international states and borders it is unfortunately a utopia. In the end it comes down to whether the ends justify the means. For as long as a specific research or student visa is required by the Cuban government as a prerequisite to conduct bona fide academic research on the island, as responsible university professors we cannot advocate the breaking of that country’s laws. I, for one, would very much like to see U.S. roadblocks disappear, and subsequently, I would also like to see the parallel Cuban bureaucratic process eased. [...]

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