Who Do I Serve?
A few years ago I was recalling fieldwork anxieties to a colleague. His response was to ask, ‘who do you serve?’ The question threw me: I wanted to say, ‘No one, I’m Australian’. A simple provocation and I become a wild colonial girl. We had attended a conference in Delhi together and it got him reminiscing about his time as a student in India: he spent a few years studying and travelling, accumulating friends, stories, bits and pieces of learning and love and devotion to the country. From memory, the conversation took place after we’d returned to Melbourne. We were having one of those nurturing collegial conversations: someone keeping me company as I gently worried away at the ethical conundrums of cultural research. He told me that from his long, indolent time spent meandering around India it is the question from a student friend that returned to him most readily, keeping him in check. His friend asked matter‐a‐factly, ‘who do you serve?’ It was intended as a straightforward question, assumed to have a ready answer: not designed to illicit consternation, anger and certainly not existential angst. He couldn’t answer. But he said now he regularly reflects upon it. The answer had become his navigational star.
BIRD ROSE, D., 1996. Nourishing Terrains: Australian Aboriginal Views of Landscape and Wilderness. Canberra: Australian Heritage.
GIBSON, R., 2010. Intimacy. Cultural Studies Review, Vol 16(1), pp. 170-176.