Heike Behrend’s account of her ethnographic research in Kenya and Uganda is not a heroic success story. Instead, it recounts what conventional ethnographies usually leave out: the unheroic entanglements and cultural misunderstandings, conflicts, mistakes and situations of failure in foreign lands.
The African studies scholar Heike Behrend presents an ethnographic exploration of foreignness that is reminiscent of other great works in her discipline – but the source material she draws on is not notes about the “others” but autobiographical protocols. For, to the African groups the German researcher visits, she initially appears sometimes as a thing, sometimes as a monkey and sometimes even as almost human. We learn how indispensable misunderstandings are to the research process and that, while the exclusion of “intruders” can take many forms it can also always be overcome with mutual patience and goodwill. A book with a high theoretical standard, extremely relevant to the postcolonial discourse and migration debate, full of surprises and a delight to read.
Heike Behrend, born in Stralsund in 1947, studied ethnology and religious studies in Munich, Vienna and Berlin. She worked ethnographically, especially in East Africa, taught at various universities in Germany and abroad and lives in Berlin.
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