by Erica Weiss and Carole McGranahan
Why do we use pseudonyms? For many scholars the unironic answer is: “I don’t know. We’ve just always done it this way.” How is it that we explore the habitus of others, but are unable to recognize our own? That is, despite the energy and time anthropology invests in its own reflexivity, anthropologists have left such as major topic as the effects and ethics of pseudonym use mostly unexamined. In this collection of essays, we contend that the use of pseudonyms often has high ethical stakes for research participants and ethnographers that we have not sufficiently considered as a discipline. Real consequences are involved; this is not simply a technical or methodological matter of anonymity. Decisions about whether to use or not use pseudonyms concern anthropologists around the world and from different subfields. Our contributors are cultural, linguistic, and visual anthropologists who work in fieldsites as varied as Tibet, Nepal, the Caribbean, Switzerland, Israel/Palestine, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Canada. Pseudonyms affect us all.

A search for anthropological reflections on pseudonyms yields a great deal of miscellany and oddments. In the acknowledgment sections of our books, we often rue our inability to name fieldwork interlocutors. At times we reflect on how pseudonyms are ineffective in certain communities, but we use them anyway, an experience shared by several of our contributors. George W. Stocking Jr., our detail oriented in-house historian of the discipline, does not discuss the origins of their use. Here and there, in essays and articles and even letters to the editor, we discuss problems with pseudonyms. Most of our discussions are about how to effectively implement pseudonyms (Nelson 2015; Vorhölter 2021) or concerns with once-concealed identities later revealed (Fisher 1980), rather than asking why we are using them in the first place. We contend that we need to seriously revisit the “why” of pseudonyms, rather than skipping ahead to a conversation about how to use them.