Uncomfortable Knowledge: Toward a Pedagogy of Reflexivity


  • Benedict Singleton School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg
  • Maris Boyd Gillette School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg
  • Anders Burman School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg
  • Ruy Blanes School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg




Reflexivity is a hallmark of good ethnography and many consider it a defining characteristic of anthropology. It is thus surprising that anthropologists have not paid more attention to how we teach students to be reflexive. Many of us learn reflexivity by making mistakes in the field, yet discussions of anthropological faux pas and their potential contributions to reflexive learning are typically limited to informal settings and occluded or heavily curated within our research outputs. In this article we employ analytic tools from the theory of sociocultural viability, in particular the notions of clumsiness, elegance, and uncomfortable knowledge, to contribute to developing a more explicit pedagogy of reflexivity. Since reading ethnographies plays a major role in how we teach anthropology, we argue that anthropologists should do more in their publications to highlight how awkward moments can deepen reflexivity. To advance this agenda, we provide cases of uncomfortable knowledge drawn from our own field experiences, highlighting how the social, emotional and embodied awkwardness of each situation contributed to acquiring reflexive insights. This article is thus a call to initiate prospective researchers earlier into the messy backstage of anthropological research, including by clarifying how the embodied and affective aspects of our interactions offer potential for deepening reflexive knowledge. In the hopes of facilitating the development of our pedagogies of reflexivity, we conclude the text with four recommendations that we feel will encourage reflexive learning from awkward fieldwork encounters.