Women of Valor


Study Your Own

Barbara Myerhoff, 1935 - 1985

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Myerhoff Describes the Differences Inherent in Working with her "Own People"

"I had made no conscious decision to explore my roots or clarify the meaning of my origins. I was one of several anthropologists at the University of Southern California engaged in an examination of ethnicity and Aging."

"At first I planned to study elderly Chicanos, since I had previously done fieldwork in Mexico. But in the early 1970s in urban America, ethnic groups were not welcoming to curious outsiders, and people I approached kept asking me, 'Why work with us?  Why don't you study your own kind.' This was a new idea to me. I had not been trained for such a project. Anthropologists conventionally investigate remote, preliterate societies....[Studying 'your own kind inevitably] creates problems with objectivity and identification, and I anticipated that I, too, would have my share of them if I studied the Center folk. But perhaps there would be advantages. There was no way that I could have anticipated the great impact of the study on my life, nor its duration. I intended to spend a year with them. In fact, I was with them continuously for two years (1973-1974, 1975-1976) and periodically for two more. In the beginning, I spent a great deal of time agonizing about how to label what I was doing—was it anthropology or a personal quest? I never fully resolved the question."

  1. Quote from Myerhoff, Barbara, Number Our Days (New York: Dutton, 1978) 11-12.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Barbara Myerhoff - Study Your Own." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/myerhoff/study-your-own>.