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Allenbach, B. (2004). Fieldwork and Power: The Psychoanalytical Concept of Transference as a Means to Understand Processes of Intersubjectivity. Free Associations, 11(1):110-121.

(2004). Free Associations, 11(1):110-121

Fieldwork and Power: The Psychoanalytical Concept of Transference as a Means to Understand Processes of Intersubjectivity

Brigit Allenbach


This Paper will Focus on the question whether psychoanalytical conceptions could be an aid for coping with power relations during fieldwork. The cases that will be mentioned are based on my fieldwork in Burkina Faso in West Africa (Allenbach von Moos, 1997; Allenbach, 2002). For seven months I lived in a common area in Koudougou, an urban centre with about 50,000 inhabitants. I'll begin with an extract from a conversation with a neighbour who later became one of my regular informant.

She asked me if a black person would be invited in my country at all. I answered: ‘Yes, in my country there are nice people too, who are interested in people from abroad’. She replied: Here we try hard to entertain a nasara, a white person. If this person refuses what we offer, we think, that our offer isn't good enough. We are happy, if a nasara stays with us. Have you seen the delightful reaction when the children can shake hands with a nasara? For a lot of children here, this is the first time they encounter a white person at close range. Normally the nasara are priests or nuns. Or the children see the Chinese doctors in the hospital. () The white people come to show us, the poor, how we can better our lives.

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