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La restitution ethnographique à l’épreuve des enfants

Seconde partie : Outils et modalités de la restitution au quotidien. La réinvention au coeur de la relation ethnographique – Second Part: Tools and Modalities of Everyday Restitution. Reinventing the Ethnographic Relationship

Chapter 8. Forms of Restitution and Its Temporalities. Ethnographic Cases Involving Adults and Children (Mexico)

Neyra Patricia Alvarado Solís


À partir d’une recherche anthropologique menée auprès d’adultes et d’enfants au Mexique, je réfléchis aux différentes formes que prend la restitution et comment les temporalités qu’elle exprime contribuent à identifier d’autres processus méthodologiques et épistémologiques dont la restitution fait partie. Questionner la restitution comme un « retour des résultats de la recherche » permet d’introduire des formes quotidiennes de restitution, observées lors d’un projet documentaire développé avec des Mexicaneros (Nahuas de Durango), lors d’un travail de terrain en anthropologie appliquée (Altiplano Potosino), ainsi que lors d’un terrain auprès des Ludar (Roms), qui parcourent le nord du Mexique. L’observation participante et le temps passé sur le terrain – un temps de partage entre la population concernée (adultes et enfants) et la chercheuse – permettent de poser les questions suivantes : quelle est la singularité de la restitution avec les enfants ? Comment le travail de terrain de longue durée contribue-t-il à l’identification de ces différentes formes de restitution ? Quelles sont les temporalités qui permettent d’identifier les différentes formes de restitution ? Que pouvons-nous apprendre à partir de ce travail ? Quelles sont les différentes formes de restitution ? Finalement, quels enseignements pour l’anthropologie pouvons-nous tirer de cette réflexion sur les temporalités et de différentes formes de restitution ?

Texte intégral

1From a political standpoint, restitution is understood as the action of turning in or delivering research outcomes (objects) at completion. Once research results are delivered, this ethical condition appears as fulfilled. Yet, the matter is more complex.

2The action of “restituting” according to the Diccionario de la Lengua Española (Spanish Language Dictionary) is “to return something to its original owner”, “to restore”, “to put something back in its original condition” or “to put something back in the place whence it came” (1997: 1785). This is not a suitable term to express the process implied, nor the relationship built with persons with whom we constantly exchange ideas, aromas, flavors, opinions, gestures, etc. during the process, and even after. These interactions generate transformations and other processes, results different to those intended at the outset. Our contacts also provide feedback on the outcomes delivered, which implies that the actions are not conducted in one direction. A criticism or comment leads us to reflect on the relationship and the results of our research. The anthropologist does not deliver outcomes to a passive counterpart, as shall be discussed below. Restitution “is not granted by default” just because it is linked to public policies, as happens with human or children’s rights. These processes are far more complex and do not depend on simple good will.

3In this paper, restitution is identified as another form of exchange, as part of the relationship we establish with people during fieldwork and even afterwards (Fogel, 2009), with adults and children, what today is known as the ethnographic relationship. The intent of that which is delivered defines restitution and it is different between adults and children. The distinction not only involves decentralizing adult-centrism, but also acknowledges that temporalities may account for the different types of restitution and their complexities. Which forms does classic restitution take? Which forms of restitution involve children? Which are the temporalities of these forms of restitution? And what can be learnt through restitution and its temporalities involving children and/or adults in anthropology?

  • 96 Autonym of the Roma population who arrived in Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Th (...)

4The answers to these questions emerge a posteriori from the results of different ethnographic cases. The research described here was carried out in Mexico among the native Nahuas communities of Durango (1989-1998), the inhabitants of the Sierra de Catorce and of the desert plains of San Luis Potosi (2002-2010), and the Ludar96, who roam across the northern part of the country giving performances (2009-2019). These long-term research projects produced different outcomes and led to reflections on restitution and the role of temporalities among adults (Nahuas and desert inhabitants) and among children (Ludar). Regarding adults, institutions play an important part in terms of restitution, but also the participation and the collaboration of the population, bringing out new meanings and complexities. In the case of children (Ludar), restitution and its temporalities reveal the world of the “only among children”, where the tensions with adults are clearly exposed.

5Restitution with adults and children is diverse in the different geographical contexts of the reported research, showcasing its differences. Approaching this subject during research, whether by request or not, with adults and children, expressing its temporalities and its varied meanings, expands its anthropological conceptualization.

6I will first introduce some forms of restitution in archaeology and anthropology. This will be followed by personal documented examples of forms of restitution practiced with adults and then those applied to children, scrutinizing their temporalities, their modalities, and the anthropological questionings on their subject, which at the same time reflect their contributions to anthropology.

Forms of Restitution in Archaeology and Anthropology

  • 97 Consequently, the French research project was cancelled in the 1980s.

7Restitution in archaeology and anthropology has extremely diverse meanings. In archaeology, it addresses the respect for the remote past of populations claiming a direct link to osseous remains from archaeological sites, as in the case of Argentina (Cosmai et al. 2013). In Mexico, the Tohono O’otham of Arizona, United States, asserted a claim on the sacred sites where their ancestors lie in the territory of the Papagos in Sonora, Mexico. This political demand forced an institutional intervention and the closure of the archaeological project as a solution to the conflict.97

8In anthropology, cultural and traditional heritage restitution in Spain (Cruces 1998) has been approached as an area to be negotiated throughout the entire research process, for only in this manner can public policy results be obtained. This perspective focuses on the entire process and not on specific moments. Another form of restitution in anthropology is the restitution of research outcomes in an interactive manner. For instance, Glowczewski (1999) presented the Warlpiri’s chants and desert routes (Australia) in a CD-ROM format, which was distributed to museums and universities. This event revealed the tensions between UNESCO’s universal rights on images and recordings of Indigenous peoples and copyright, as well as its links to ethics in anthropology. In another text, De Largy Healy (2011) reflects on restitution through cultural archives and the transmission of knowledge through audiovisual media kept by museums in Australia: she presents these examples in a country where people have a direct relationship to new technologies. The author wonders what is being restituted. These musings indeed warrant follow-up questions. Is restitution automatic when carried out through interactive museums in the shape of images in motion and audio? What does the source population make of these videos, photos, and audio recordings? What do the users think of them, particularly as these materials appear within context? Another form of restitution arises from new technologies applied to anthropology. Pourchez (2004) proposes the use of these technologies, rendering the field diary obsolete and automatically making them the ultimate example of restitution, as they go beyond political, economic, social, and meaning boundaries, as if these were universal.

9The above arguments raise several questions: are audiovisual, audio, or photographic media the best forms of restitution and/or of broadcasting to a wider audience? Are these audiovisual forms the research outcomes aimed for in the context of restitution? Or are they the result of widespread broadcasting in research that can be presented as restitution? Are not the underlying ethics of restitution from audiovisual materials part of the foundational argument for returning tangible objects that can be kept in archives? Are audiovisual technologies applied to anthropology a “substitute” for field journals when a journal can be kept? These questions pose mainly the expectations of the researcher’s society.

10Answers may be numerous and audiovisual materials also represent some type of exchange – going back to our definition of restitution – within the research process. This exchange occurs dynamically between the researcher and the people with whom the research was accomplished, as well as with the society to which the researcher belongs. This is not the only form of restitution and reveals issues linked to temporalities, as shall be discussed below.

Restitution of Research Results With Adults and Its Temporalities

11This form of restitution has different meanings according to the temporalities it expresses, in addition to those of the process in which it occurs. This leads us to think about the different spaces, temporalities, and agents of restitution, such as public officials and institutions participating in projects, as will be discussed.

Ex Situ Deferred Institutional Restitution: The Documentary Pidiendo vida (Pleading for Life)

  • 98 The Video Biennial of Mexico (1994) award and the Carlos Velo Unique Award to research of the Scie (...)

12One of the outcomes from the research on the Mexicaneros, Nahua people of San Pedro, Jícoras, Durango, Mexico was the documentary Pidiendo vida (1992), produced by the former National Indigenous Institute (INI), where I used to work as a researcher. The INI accepted my proposal for a documentary while I was researching topics on orality and rituals as part of my dissertation for a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology (Alvarado, 1996) because it covered a scarcely researched topic and population. The population also authorized the project, but during its course, disagreements with a communal member regarding the illicit profit I, as a researcher, could make from the knowledge obtained while recording the documentary had to be resolve jointly with authorities and the communal assembly. We explained, following Williams (1998), that the anthropological procedure was a way of learning and restituting knowledge. The intervention of another community member led to the proper development of the project. It was Apolonio Reyes, a regional indigenous leader, who explained that the video was a way to be seen by others, to share how they live in a place outsiders never visit and could lead to benefits for the community and everyone. The oddness of my presence in these villages rarely visited by outsiders was made understandable and discussed among them. The documentary was recorded on video and the editing process was completed in 1993. Following that, it was rapidly entered into video and ethnographic film festivals. The documentary obtained two awards98, one in cash and the second in the form of a diploma, which were handed over during an assembly to the community authorities in charge at the time. In return, the director and I received a recognition from the community assembly members for our work. They acknowledged our honesty in delivering 5,000 new pesos to the community. Can these awards also be considered a kind of restitution of the research process? The answer is yes, but in a deferred form. The awards granted by the evaluation committees to Pidiendo Vida are evidence of external recognition towards the Mexicaneros, but through research outcomes, and are given to the director and researcher. Nonetheless, the official awardees decided to hand over the awards to the authorities and assembly members of San Pedro Jícoras, Durango.

13Here the temporalities and the spatialities of restitution are diverse: the research and the subsequent video recording completed by the team in San Pedro Jícoras and nearby villages; the in-studio editing; the transcription and translation of texts with assistance of a Mexicanero; the post-production between director, operator, and researcher; the participation of and awards to the documentary in festivals in Mexico City; and the external recognition and awarding of the prizes to the community in San Pedro Jícoras. Several places and temporalities are represented in this example, but, specifically, the awards in the festivals and the delivery of the funds and diploma to the authorities determined the external recognition of the way of life of this community and its inhabitants. Despite being abstract, it is an external restitution conveyed by the filmmaker and the researcher. Nonetheless, this event is linked to the presentation of the documentary to the community itself as a form of deferred restitution in situ.

In Situ Deferred Restitution: Presentation of the Documentary Pidiendo vida

14The presentation of the documentary in the political-religious center of San Pedro Jícoras, Durango, in 1993 was well accepted. Many came from nearby villages (adults and children), expressing their joy at being together through laughter, hilarity, and silence, watching scenes about themselves. While they watched people performing common practices (farming, dancing, and children playing and running), they expressed laughter and called out their names even if they were close to them. The scene on the vigil for a ritual specialist caused a great collective silent tension. It was the collective silence of a time and place recognized and shared in the face of an unexpected event, as is death, in a scene seen months after the event itself. The outdoors town square where the documentary was screened and the moment of the screening were decisive in provoking both collective laughter and silence. The presentation of the documentary as an a posteriori restitution, took place in the researched community, in the familiar surroundings of the people who took part in it, and in front of an important number of adults and children. At the end of the documentary, the children left saying: “Hasta mosta, “See you tomorrow”; “Gracias”, “Thank you”; “Ma Dios mixtaxtá”, (lit., “May God reward you”); not forgetting the “pachón” (from pacha, Nahuat for “hairy thing”), as they called the microphone, which had a furry sleeve to isolate it from the wind and which always brought out humorous comments.

15The following day, the person with whom I had transcribed and translated the documentary from Nahuat to Spanish gave me an alternate explanation of the editing process. Placido carved several parallel lines on an adobe brick in the wall of his house and told me “You put things that go here (before) and other things that go here (after).” It explained the contradiction in the chronology of events of the “el costumbre”, the ritual to ask for life, in a framework that was not their own. This editing process confirms that not only do we not return what we take, but that what we return has been transformed and may not be recognized by those to whom we return it. Despite the participation of members of the community in the translation, we observe what is returned as part of the exchange and this may not meet their expectations. This void is not analyzed in cases of audiovisual restitution and proves that motion pictures are not universal conceptions and cannot be thought of as “speaking for themselves”. Nevertheless, this criticism serves to shows that the ethnographic relationship continues after fieldwork and continues to be reflexive in both directions.

16The times and places that emerged from the screening of this documentary were several and were presented in a condensed form. They refer to the actual shooting of ritual moments, the actions of children and the comments that the scenes in the documentary provoked. The collective silence, including ours, the outsiders, in the face of the passing of a ritual specialist and of his absence during the screening of the event within the community, are temporalities and spatialities that brought back a time and place common to all the community, the expression of the bloc, that Williams (2014) observed with regards to the silence of the Manuches as a tribute to the dead. These two examples show a reciprocal communication from the exterior to the interior of the community, but also a reverse motion that shows the complexity of the sites, temporalities, and meanings of what initially has only been called deferred restitution, a posteriori, ex situ or in situ.

Ritual Implorations Among Mexicaneros as In Situ Restitution

  • 99 Recurring themes during the 1990s in the discussions of the International Oral History Congress, 1 (...)

17For my Bachelor’s dissertation, I also recorded several implorations, called se tahtol (1989-1993), among the Mexicaneros of San Pedro Jícoras. A ritual specialist named “mayor” calls out the pleas in the different community rituals termed el costumbre that are performed on the tops of hills. While transcribing and analyzing them, there was a phrase I did not understand so I returned to see the mayor and asked him to listen to the fragment. He did not recognize himself as the person who was imploring, nor did he recognize the content of the imploration, he only kept saying “Niyuk mochi ten”, “It is all there”, and when asked about the incomprehensible segment, he kept saying “Inin amo nikmát”, “No, that one I do not know”. This example of restitution as an exchange is also an anthropological query, not only in the sense of the underlying ethics of the oral story, but because there is an existing conflict between the person interviewed, who refuses to acknowledge that the information recorded by the historian comes from him99. This topic brings out a double discussion on problems of temporalities, of the events themselves and of the transcriptions and translations of the pleas and of the anthropological analyses. There was a similar case involving the chants in the rituals of the indigenous people of northeast Mexico and of the southwest of the United States (Alvarado 1994: 135-36). Anthropologically, archaic non-translated chants and sometimes even recounted myths are acknowledged, but the issues faced when recordings are not acknowledged by the speakers in the recorded audios are not addressed. Are we dealing with individuals ritually transformed at the time of the pleading and recording? If so, could we now understand the refusal to acknowledge authorship of the vocal recordings when listening to them under different conditions? Are we dealing with archaic chants? Are the recordings transcribed with a third party who identifies them as myths? The latter is the most frequent form of research, but it is worth mentioning that the translation is done by a third party and not by the speaker of the event. The legitimacy of the third party's interpretation cannot be denied, but it is necessary to reflect on this issue. In this case, the audio is not recognized by the speaker; so, during restitution we are not returning what we took from the person who gave it to us. Could the different temporalities and places of the ritual event, the recording, the transcription, the listening, and the discussion hinder the speaker from identifying its content? These reflections show the complexity and difficulties of what is simply known as audiovisual restitution and bring forward methodological and epistemological considerations in anthropology.

Restitution and Participation: Los minerales del Real y su desierto mágico100

  • 100 This project was financed by Conacyt (Strategic Project 2007), the San Luis School, the San Luis P (...)
  • 101 For more information on this project see Alvarado (2013).
  • 102 The results were triptych brochures of new (regional map 2008 and health knowledge 2011) and pre-e (...)
  • 103 The INAH published “Álbumes familiares antiguos: memorias fotográficas” (Ancient Family Albums: St (...)

18This collective project101 was designed and developed in collaboration with people from the region, such as tourism officials, tourist guides, common land authorities, a biologist, anthropology students, and the principal researcher. All those involved took part in participatory workshops where possible outcomes were proposed, designed, researched, and finally disseminated102, including a photographic exhibition curated initially by the owners of family albums and later by a curator. Some potential outcomes were planned from the start, such as, a photographic exhibition and touristic route triptych brochures, but the methods were collectively designed on the go. Participation and restitution occurred throughout the research process. For example, for the photo exhibition, in response to a request addressed to the Real de Catorce population, people brought their photos to be scanned in the photo lab set up on site but stayed on to eat with the team while they waited for their photos to be returned immediately after processing. This mistrust was due to a previous request where the loaned photos had not been returned. Meanwhile, people’s explanations of the photographs (places, stories, dates, events) and the identity of the people on them were audio recorded. Scanning of photos, lunch, and returning the pictures were part of restitution activities. In the workshops, the participants proposed routes, specific places, and anecdotes to be documented. Some people also volunteered themselves to plan the route jointly with the team. During the two-day workshops, everyone ate together in an open space that allowed the participants to spend time with their children and the children with each other. The project results were presented at the Cultural Centre in Real de Catorce, in 2008, with the attendance of the project participants and the municipal, common land, and state government authorities from San Luis Potosi. Everyone received brochures and those who provided photographs were given a disk with their photos in digital files, in high and low resolution103. Everything was well received and appropriated, so much so that when the permanent exhibition in the Real de Catorce Cultural Center was loaned to the Cultural Center of the neighboring city of Matehuala, several photo owners voiced their discontent and demanded the collection be returned, threatening to otherwise remove their photographs from the exhibit. They proudly took over the exhibition and now show it to visitors as part of their history. Following the set-up of the exhibition, a specific segment of the local population came up with their own autonym, “Catorceños”. Caught in between a pro- and anti-mining struggle, within a climate of tensions and social unrest regionally, nationally, and internationally, which rendered them less visible, and in between the First Majestic mining company, NGOs, and the Huicholes, the Catorceños revealed themselves.

19Several temporalities are also expressed here: those of the collective and participatory organization of the workshops, of the fieldwork, of the routes, of the routes showcased in the contemporary or old photographs, of the families, and of the triptych brochures read by visitors, among others. These are multiple and collective temporalities and spatialities. The historical and contemporary temporalities and places, conveyed by the photographs in the exhibition, by the key moments of the anti-mining struggle, and by the acknowledgement of the inhabitants of the region that they are Catorceños, condense the temporalities and places of complex processes that are also part of restitution.

Temporal Complexity and Meaning in Restitution With Adults

20Restitution as an a posteriori return of research outcomes, following diverse temporalities, takes different meanings. The Mexicaneros’ agreement to participate in the documentary and their trust as well as the award granted are an external and abstract restitution for the Mexicaneros as it comes from an external unknown place. At the same time, restitution becomes meaningful when delivered to the community, because through their ethics, the researcher and filmmaker “represent” not only the institution but themselves. The award belongs to the Mexicaneros and this acknowledgement validates the teamwork. The presentation of the documentary in the community revealed that the outcomes may or may not meet the expectations of the people with whom we research (questioning the editing process), which leads us to consider audio-visual restitution and the condensing of temporalities. Nevertheless, the expression of the bloc evokes a particular moment: a specific space and similar feelings of respect towards the dead among those in the community and those external to it. Implorations have their own temporal dynamics because of the possible transformation of the ritual specialist who recites them and the temporal distance between transcription and translation, as well as with its anthropological interpretation. To the latter, one can add the different questions regarding the chants or prayers of the indigenous people of Northeast Mexico, which evoke greater complexity in said restitution. Conversely, Los minerales del Real project shows restitution as a process throughout and participation as compressing spatialities and temporalities that are also conveyed in the photographic exhibition, which in turn contribute to social vindication.

21These different temporalities lead to diversification and render restitution more complicated by introducing ethics, political viewpoints, participation, and collaboration in what originally was perceived as only an a posteriori delivery of outcomes during a reflective process with adults. What characteristics does restitution take during everyday life with children? I think these questions cannot be fully answered if we do not include another, more intimate domain, that of the everyday. In this space, children are present alongside adults, but also in the places and timings generated among themselves. Otherwise, we would remain within the domain of the adult-centered political collective, although, as we have seen, there are underlying differences of degree as well.

Restitution With and Among Children

22The ethnographic examples with and among children facilitate an approach to restitution where their temporalities emphasize actions, turning on its head what we previously understood as restitution. It is now a matter of understanding amusement, acceptance, cooperation, and complicity at the center of the exchanges between adults and children, and between the children themselves, reflecting the importance of temporalities.

“Fun” in the Mazatlán Aquarium

  • 104 Children’s discontent can be seen in the film Angelo My Love (Robert Duvall, 1983), where Angelo, (...)

23In 2015, during a fieldwork stay of 15 days in the temporary camp of a Ludar family settled there to perform variety shows, and almost at the end of my stay, noticing that my son (10 years old at the time) was finding it difficult to cope with the intense life of camp, I offered a visit to the Mazatlán Aquarium. He invited a boy (11 years old) to whom his parents gave permission without a problem, since they were almost of the same age and got along well. The visit to the Aquarium was not trivial, for outings were common and considered ethnographic events during fieldwork. Children can become upset104 or demanding, isolate themselves, or abruptly leave the discussion space to show their disapproval of an unwanted decision. In this occasion, the children expressed convincingly what the grandmother and their parents had told them: “This visit is for Emilio and Ramses”.

24We left for the aquarium in the morning to return in time for Ramses’ performance that evening. Both boys talked excitedly about swimming with dolphins, while we waited in line to pay for the entrance fee and to listen to an introductory speech and be presented with the sequence of the visit. They decided on the itinerary to take, although I personally organized practical issues (toilet, water, breaks, and disagreements, among others). Following their wishes, we started at the dolphins show, then went to see the birds and finally the fish tanks, skipping the remaining sections.

25The dolphins followed a routine along with their trainers. Every time they jumped in the air or hit a ball, they would splash water onto the audience near the pool. The heat and the water splashing motivated several children to come closer to get wet. Some parents warned: “You’re going to get wet”, “You’re going to get sick”, “You don’t have any clean clothes”. Some children came close cautiously avoiding the water; others did not hesitate and stayed close to their parents. Ramses and Emilio were the only ones who got soaking wet. At the end of the show, they came back to me and seeing my “too bad” face, they said: “We’ll be dry soon.” Here we observe a tension between what the children want and what the adults want and do during the same event. For the children, it is the time to share the water with the dolphins, the water they “give us [the children] because it is hot”, as they said, while for the parents getting wet means additional unexpected work.

26During the bird show, both children participated actively, responding immediately to the invitation the trainers made to the public. The constant initiative of Emilio and Ramses to touch the birds and place them on their shoulders or their hands led the trainers to make both children wait for their turn so other children could get a chance. Yet, the two were always willing to respond to the open invitation, arriving before any others, jumping over benches to reach the stage. When the trainers would say: “These boys already had their turn, let’s give other children a chance!”, they would wait impatiently and relentlessly, staying close to the trainer. They enjoyed being part of the show and never felt questioned. I did not say anything about their perseverance, and they ended up being included in the acts. At times, the trainers would say: “Well, they are already here, and since nobody else wants to come up” or “Well, since they’re already here, we’ll ask Ramses and Emilio to…” While this was happening, more and more children were participating on each occasion, which made it more difficult for Emilio and Ramses. Sometimes, one was luckier than the other and had an eagle stand on his arm, while the other managed to touch macaws or parakeets. Both ended up exhausted. We walked a little and sat on a bench, they drank water and ate their sandwich – brought over from the camp – and then visited the fish tanks. It was the final stop.

27In closed spaces, like the fish tanks, both circulated independently, sometimes calling out to each other, commenting something, or calling me to show me some small jellyfish, later a bigger one, or a fish. When a seahorse appeared, they would stop to comment on its smallness, color, shape, and “beauty”. They did not follow the established sequence of the exhibit, they went to what interested them most, at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end, and started the circuit over again. I felt a bit overwhelmed with these comings and goings in a crowd – because it was the school holidays –, but then I realized that they moved as they did within the camp: they went to wherever they wanted. I asked them to meet me at the end of each module until reaching the exit, as a “control measure”. They did so, but when we met at the exit of this section, they had already gone through the beginning and the end several times. They were impatiently waiting for me sitting under the shade of a tree. We bought water and ice cream and returned to the camp.

28On the way back, I asked them what they had liked best about the visit. Emilio answered, “Getting wet!”; Ramses said, “Touching the birds!” They argued over each other’s preference and ended up admitting that everything had been fun. Emilio has always shown his delight for water. For Ramses, however, touching different birds is part of his everyday environment, he knows how to handle them in the magic acts in which he participates. At the camp, both shared with everyone their experiences with the birds, and what they had seen in the fish tanks. They insisted on how they had managed to participate in each of the bird acts in spite of the trainers’ annoyance and the audience’s laughter.

29The visit to the Mazatlán Aquarium highlighted that there are activities that are not compatible between adults and children, due to the difference of meaning, such as getting wet. The perseverance of Ramses and Emilio to participate in the acts motivated other children to also do so, in addition to highlighting that they both wanted to touch the birds despite the trainers’ displeasure. Their behavior in the fish tanks showed that each child has different interests, and they will not necessarily follow the pre-established sequence of the exhibit: some tanks were seen and others not at all. The route proposed in the Aquarium to all visitors is an option but, in this case, they demonstrated it was truly selective.

30There are different temporalities and time management strategies in the different places of the aquarium that depend on the condition and participation of those involved, such as parents, trainers, and children. The expectations of some are not those of others. This example shows that when we take children on an outing or to have fun, the latter may not happen because we impose rhythms and a different view of what fun is supposed to be, as well as other limits that adults may impose.

31Restitution was not only taking them to an aquarium but letting them get wet and allowing them to impose their own rhythm to their active participation in the bird show and to their visit of the fish tanks. This is why on the way out they said: “Yes, that was fun!” Fun was the restitution in those specific places and moments. Nevertheless, if the authority of adults towards children is expressed rigidly, this hinders “entertainment” or impedes us from perceiving how easily some children can communicate with animals, as is the case for Ramses.

Agreeing to Take Them to the Circus

32In August 2017, the above-mentioned Ludar camp in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, had to move. With land available and an installation permit granted by the municipal authorities, the camp was lifted. The moving process lasts three to four days and everyone participates, including the children. The tent must be taken down, chairs put away, the arena removed, the kitchen dismantled, the inside of the caravans arranged so items do not fall, the dogs, roosters, pigeons, parakeets, and plants must be locked up, and everything must be loaded onto trucks for removal. When arriving at the other plot, the reverse movement also takes several days, aiming to start the weekend with the show.

33By midweek, and almost with the camp totally set up, grandfather Tato, the camp chief, promised to take all his grandchildren (nine boys and girls) to the nearest circus. All the children were excited. With this promise, they all hugged their grandfather, kissed him, and crowded around him, especially Nikita (five years old) who hardly ever embraced anyone. Nikita is a highly judgmental child; she does not easily talk to others and lets everyone clearly know her dislikes. She was also distant with me and only at the request of her paternal aunt would she address me as “Aunt Neyra”. When it was time to go to the circus, the grandfather came to see me. I was exhausted for having helped install the kitchen, but he said that all of them would not fit in his compact vehicle and asked me to drive them in the institutional vehicle I was using. I agreed and immediately Nikita, full of happiness, hugged me and called me “Aunt Neyra”. It was the same delight all children displayed on their faces. This single gesture gave way to a closer relationship between the two of us. We went to the circus and were let in for free, as it is a standard agreement between circus people. We attended a show with a small audience. The children invaded the circular arena but sat on the benches once the show began. We returned before the end of the performance since we were all exhausted.

34Here, restitution was simply to agree to drive them to the circus. That moment triggered Nikita’s openness and new ways of relating to her, as well as the pleasure of sharing all together a different, yet similar space to the one of their activities in the tent, but now as spectators. An analysis on this subject will be the topic of another paper.

Cooperation and Organization in the Among-Children

  • 105 In terms of kinship, marriage between first cousins who grew up together cannot happen and therefo (...)

35In December-January 2015-16, at the Ludar camp in Mazatlán, during a one-month stay, two girls (13 and 12 years old) and two boys (11 and 12 years old) made a video recording about a love story. All four children actively participated, giving ideas of how they should set up the scenes, distributing different roles, and choosing shooting locations, as well as deciding who would record and who would edit. The subject was simple: a boy and a girl were in love, but the girlfriend caught the boy hugging another girl and left the scene running. Using Espinoza Paz’s songs, a well-known singer in the Mexican Pacific, the boy looked for the girl to apologize, and they finally made up. The initial location was the interior of a caravan, followed by the camp’s open spaces and returning to the inside of a caravan at the end. The music was chosen by Ramses. Salome, Emilio, and Anastasia played the main characters.105 Emilio did the editing on his cell phone. Once the audio and video recordings completed, all four had a say during the editing process. They discussed which scene was better and where this or that fragment of a song or image should go.

36When they shared the result, we recognized everyone’s good ideas and creativity because they had all conceived, selected, discussed, and recorded the scenes, as well as participated as actors, producers, editors and in the post-production. They were thrilled with the final outcome.

37This example reveals how boys and girls can organize themselves to develop a project in a couple of days and carry it out, obtaining results. Being creators and executors, they follow their own rules, showing how restitution can take place between children: with participation and cooperation between boys and girls and the know-how of each and every one aiming for a common goal. The video clip is a collective outcome. The example above questions the idea that adults “teach” children such things as organization, collaboration, cooperation, and performance. Here, the children demonstrated the contrary, as they designed and carried out a common aim.

38Fun voices the time and place of its expression; accepting to drive them to the circus triggers the instant in which a closer relationship develops between researcher and little girl; the video clip, as restitution – exchange – between children, is proof of their ability to organize, of their skills and of collaborative teamwork between genders. Here, important axes of the among-children domain cross each other, acting upon collective collaboration.

Conclusion: Temporalities and Ethics in Restitution

39Restitution as a form of exchange shows, in all cases, that it is a process. Temporalities contribute to identifying the moments and rhythms of the different types of restitution with adults, children, and in the among-children domain. Ethical and political standpoints that reveal existing tensions are triggered by the compression of temporalities and the moments they refer to. The examples discussed here show the complexity of restitution in anthropology, leading to new discussions.

40Restitution with adults, where external institutions awarded prizes to the documentary, is a recognition that becomes restitution when the filmmaker and the researcher introduce an ethical component by delivering the prizes to the community. The agreement and the trust with and of the population of San Pedro Jicoras was more important. The questioning of the editing process after screening the documentary, a screening conceived as a restitution, problematizes audiovisual restitution by opening an ethical discussion on how to make documentaries that account for different temporal conceptions. Moreover, it extends reflexive ethnographic thinking to after the research’s completion. The questions emerging from the restitution of the audio recordings of ritual implorations, through the different temporalities they express, also enable a reflection on the effectiveness of audiovisual restitution and epistemology, where ethics in anthropology are present. In the Los minerales del Real project, the restitution of the results was accompanied by the participation and collaboration of the population and institutions of the region, with an ethical and political positioning; in particular, the photographic exhibition contributed to give a voice to the inhabitants of the region, a population not acknowledged at the time as actors in the mining conflict. Here, ethics and politics go together in the relationship and interaction between the researcher and the population in question.

41In restitution with children, temporalities can be precise moments or a series of events that express emotions, tastes, agreement, and acceptance. These are details that imply an applied ethics in relationships with children, enabling them to express themselves. “Fun” and children’s timings for doing things go against the spatial distribution established by adults. The know-how during a common goal between boys and girls gives new meaning to the relationship and exchanges between persons and with places and temporalities. These examples show how children can define themselves and impose themselves in the face of adults, also demonstrating that they can organize themselves and cooperate to obtain shared outcomes. Restitution with children and among children responds to innovations, creations, and transformations in their own environments, which adults may scarcely recognize.

42Ethics in restitution processes fulfill a fundamental role by not accepting that restitution is “returning something in its initial state” and only material items. It is a process that conveys others, as well as the involvement of the researcher. Consequently, an implied ethical and political stance sparks other reflexive processes in the ethnographic relationship, hence enriching anthropology.


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96 Autonym of the Roma population who arrived in Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They integrated the country through trade, street performances, and metalwork repair.

97 Consequently, the French research project was cancelled in the 1980s.

98 The Video Biennial of Mexico (1994) award and the Carlos Velo Unique Award to research of the Scientific Cinema Festival of the National Autonomous University of Mexico).

99 Recurring themes during the 1990s in the discussions of the International Oral History Congress, 1994, Columbia University, NY.

100 This project was financed by Conacyt (Strategic Project 2007), the San Luis School, the San Luis Potosi Tourism Secretariat and its Altiplano Delegation, and the Municipality of Catorce.

101 For more information on this project see Alvarado (2013).

102 The results were triptych brochures of new (regional map 2008 and health knowledge 2011) and pre-existing (on horseback, 2008; in four-wheel drive vehicles, 2008) tourist routes. We also organized a course-workshop “Conoce y reflexiona sobre el Altiplano potosino” (“Learn and reflect on the Potosi Highland”), where biologists, historians, and anthropologists gave conferences about common topics concerning the north of Mexico: mining, the desert, the flora, the fauna, orality, social complexity, migration, among others.

103 The INAH published “Álbumes familiares antiguos: memorias fotográficas” (Ancient Family Albums: Still Image Memories) in Real de Catorce. Zona de Monumentos Históricos, from the digitized photographs of the 2007 Conacyt Strategic Project, Los minerales del Real y su desierto mágico, after consulting the families owning the archives.

104 Children’s discontent can be seen in the film Angelo My Love (Robert Duvall, 1983), where Angelo, a Rom Greek boy, refuses to go to school in the USA, despite being forced to by his mother:, consulted on May 13, 2018.

105 In terms of kinship, marriage between first cousins who grew up together cannot happen and therefore neither can a loving relationship. This condition clearly determines the choice of roles.


Titulaire d’un doctorat en ethnologie (Université de Paris, X, Nanterre, France), elle est enseignante-chercheuse en Études Anthropologiques à El Colegio de San Luis, A.C. (Mexique). Elle a étudié les déplacements des populations dans le nord du Mexique, les systèmes, l’oralité et les temporalités rituels, les pèlerinages dans les déserts mexicains, le rituel et le spectacle, le rituel et l’enfance, l’enfance et le handicap chez les Mexicaneros (Nahua) de la Sierra Madre Occidental, les Papagos de Sonora, les populations de l’Altiplano Potosino et les Ludar (Rom). Elle a reçu le prix national de la recherche en sciences humaines de l’Académie des sciences du Mexique en 2008.


She holds a PhD in Ethnology from the University of Paris X, Nanterre, France, and is a professor/researcher in Anthropological Studies at El Colegio de San Luis, A.C. (Mexico). She has studied the mobility of populations in northern Mexico, ritual systems, orality, and temporalities, pilgrimages in the Mexican deserts, ritual and performance, ritual and childhood, childhood and disability among the Mexicaneros (Nahua) of the Western Sierra Madre, the Papagos of Sonora, the populations of the Altiplano Potosino and the Ludar (Roma). She received the National Prize for Research in the Humanities from the Mexican Academy of Sciences in 2008.

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