Emotional overlap and the analytic potential of emotions in anthropology


Emotions have historically played a marginal role in many arenas of anthropological analysis, often limited to describing certain aspects of research informants' lives, or explaining the ethnographer's own fieldwork experience. This paper proposes a more nuanced approach, pointing to the analytic potential of what we call emotional overlap. Emotional overlap occurs in ethnographic moments when the emotions of both the informant and the ethnographer are uncovered and acknowledged. Using evidence from a cumulated 28 months of fieldwork in an American prison and a poor Brazilian neighborhood, we describe the analytic potential for emotional overlap in qualitative research. We argue for the importance and necessity of privileging emotions as sites of epistemological reflection, in order to reaffirm what is most compelling about the discipline of anthropology and to maintain its relevance in the 21st century.

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