ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

(P06)
Symbiotic anthropologies: new disciplinary relationships in an age of austerity
Location Room 8
Date and Start Time 14 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Jonathan Skinner (University of Roehampton) email
  • Emma Heffernan (Maynooth University) email
  • Fiona Murphy (Queens University Belfast ) email

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Chair Emma Heffernan
Discussant Jonathan Skinner

Short Abstract

This panel asks how collaboration - theoretical, academic, applied and activist - is creating new symbiotic anthropologies. It invites papers from anthropologists who create these possibilities through ongoing collaboration in any form.

Long Abstract

Anthropology and ethnography are discipline and practice that involve working and living together for extended periods of time with other subject groupings and other peoples. Yet anthropology and ethnography have both been characterised as being liminal, anti-, dangerous and endangering, and discipline/disciplining. Anthropology can be found working alongside, and being practiced inside: the varied university subject groupings (Life, Behavioural, Social, Humanities, Arts), multinational corporations, NGO's, government bodies, hospitals, business schools. Ethnography can be undertaken and read from stage to play, development work to policy document, street sex corner to newspaper report. To what extent is anthropology collaborative, colonising, symbiotic and ultimately sustainable? What are its relations, boundaries, motives and merits, and the associated fallout, debris, ethics and problems? This panel seeks theoretical, methodological and empirical papers that explore the natures, nurtures and necessities of symbiotic anthropologies.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Bargaining boundaries in symbiotic anthropology: the liminality of the ethnographic narration

Author: Marta Ferri  email

Short Abstract

This is proposal starts from an empirical experience as researcher in the field of the new social movements. In the analysis of creation of meaning in the alter-global movement Rifiuti Zero, the researcher understands the need to be part of it, in order to get better the activists' perception.

Long Abstract

The research here named is based on the informers' way of thinking and acting in order to understand the construction of symbolic representation related to the possible creation of an alternative culture about environment and consumption in Italy. Rifiuti Zero could be considered a grassroot instrument, used to create alternatives in terms of politics, economics and culture, in order to get out from the crisis. In this way, being involved in the movement is helping the researcher not only to understand better the activists' perception and their construction of meaning, but also to get the "backside" of the movement, in terms of conflicts and complexity about power diffusion and network organisation.

During the fieldwork as well as in the re-elaboration of data, there is a kind of continuous bargaining of boundaries, between informers' world representation and the researcher's perception of facts. This seems to put the ethnographic narration in a kind of liminal phase, in the attempt to find a sustainable way to analyse facts. The collaboration between the researcher and the informers could lead to a symbiotic anthropology, but also to some tricky ethical issues. Despite the approach "from the inside" is a methodology increasingly used in fieldworks concerning social movements, the "objectivity" of the researcher's perception must constantly debate with his/her role in the movement. Is the researcher's thought "colonised" by the informers' perception, or is he/she going to be capable to "win" the bargain and to create a sustainable, symbiotic anthropological reflections?

Symbiotic or parasytic? Universities, academic capitalism and the global knowledge economy

Author: Cris Shore (University of Auckland)  email

Short Abstract

The paper asks whether the current relationship between universities and academic capitalism is best described as symbiotic or parasitic. I draw on findings of an ongoing, interdisciplinary study of universities in the knowledge economy.

Long Abstract

The health of social anthropology as a discipline and practice has long been connected to its position as a university-based subject. However, changes in the political economy of higher education, including cuts in public spending, rising student fees, the privileging of STEM subjects over the arts and humanities, and the proliferation of new regimes of audit and accountability, pose challenges for anthropology as well as the future of the university itself. In countries such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand, academics are being urged to be more entrepreneurial, to focus on 'impact', and to engage more proactively with business and commerce in order to create a more commercially oriented 'innovation ecosystem'. The idea of forging a 'triple helix' of university-industry-government relations has become the new common sense that underpins the funding of higher education. But how positive is this supposed symbiosis between public universities and external financial interests? What are the costs of this collaboration? And what are the implications for anthropology? This paper sets out to address these questions by drawing on a collaborative, multidisciplinary research project on university reform and globalization (URGE) carried out between 2010-2013.

Critiquing the limits of anthropological imagination in peace and conflict studies: On the complicity of resistance with counter-hegemony

Author: Philipp Lottholz (University of Birmingham )  email

Short Abstract

This paper will critically engage with the dilemmas of a symbiotic anthropological approach by analysing how 'everyday' realities of resistance are embedded in discourses of counter-hegemony instead of offering a viable 'third way', thus necessitating critical transdisciplinary thinking.

Long Abstract

Anthropological approaches to social conflict and post-conflict transition, and ethnographic methods in particular, have been welcomed as way beyond the impasse in the debate between proponents of a Western-style, 'liberal' peace model and its radical critics. It has been argued that ethnographic perspectives can help to discover the 'local voices' that are muted by hegemonic discourses of Western intervention. Yet, this 'ethnographic turn' has not quite materialised, but remains the sketch of a research agenda that is waiting to be realised by future generations of scholars in peace and conflict studies. This paper will take issue with the claim that ethnographic perspectives, and an anthropological approach in general, can help to resolve political science and international relations (IR) debates about the viability of Western forms of social and political order in non-Western settings. By combining literature-based and fieldwork data analysis from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the paper aims to throw light at the 'everyday' realities of people in so-called transition countries. While debates about the 'liberal peace', democratisation, economic reform etc. have been said to be detached from such realities, the paper will argue that ethnographic perspectives and the realities they unveil might not necessarily point to viable alternatives from global hegemonies. This leads to the conclusion that there is a high need for critical reflection and transdiciplinary thinking in order to expose, critique and avoid the ethical and political dilemmas of symbiotic anthropologies.

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Cosmopolitanism in the Academy: the creative potential of engagements with the disciplinary 'other'

Author: Veronica Strang (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

Anthropology is well placed to embark upon collaborative exchanges with diverse intellectual perspectives. By engaging with understandings of materiality in physics and biology, this paper explores the creative potential of cosmopolitan scholarship and openness to interdisciplinary symbiosis.

Long Abstract

Many anthropologists anticipate that the comparison of cultural difference will provide illuminating insights, and our disciplinary identity rests upon being ethnographically open to alternate understandings of the world and the co-construction of knowledge. However, there is sometimes more anxiety about interdisciplinary encounters, with a perceived need to defend the purity of ethnographic theories and methods and resist the hegemony (or the pollution) of academic 'others'. Yet anthropology has particular advantages in interdisciplinary collaborations: skills in cross-cultural translation; overlaps with multiple disciplinary areas of specialism; and holistic theoretical models with room to encompass a range of approaches to research questions. Anthropology may also be said to be intrinsically cosmopolitan, articulating meta-discursive theories in relation to local forms of knowledge. It is thus well placed to embark upon collaborative exchanges with diverse intellectual perspectives, and to support the development of an reunited academy.

Through a brief consideration of some of the ways that dialogues with physics and biology can expand anthropological theories of materiality, this paper explores the creative potential of cosmopolitan scholarship and openness to interdisciplinary symbiosis.

Shaping well-being? Merging anthropological and architectural perspectives on asylum-seeker reception centers in Norway

Authors: Anne Sigfrid Grønseth (University College of Lillehammer)  email
Eli Støa  email

Short Abstract

Exploring asylum-seekers living conditions in Norway, we see a need to combine anthropological and architectural perspectives to recognise how aesthetic and spatial production create a kind of understanding about self and others, while addressing the need to reconsider architectural solutions.

Long Abstract

This paper takes an interdisciplinary approach that combines anthropological and architectural perspectives in exploring the living conditions offered at the asylum-seeker reception centers in Norway. The study conducts short-time field visits to selected reception centres focusing on participant observations, informal talks and in-depth interviews with asylum-seekers and staff together with photographic documentation of aesthetic and spatial features, combined with a web-survey. From our combined approaches we acknowledge that spaces and buildings can create distinctions and define “others” from us. Thus, we recognise and explore how the processes of ‘otherising’ are not only mental processes, but also spatial processes. Holding that built environment is more or less isomorphic with the social system that is developed within it, we address how spaces, borders, thresholds, spatial layout, aesthetics, outdoor areas and location influence the way we include/exclude and create “others” similar and different from our selves. We suggest that the asylum-reception centers as aesthetic and spatial production create and re-create a certain kind of understanding and images about self and others; both among asylum-seekers and the majority population. From such analyses, the project seeks to demonstrate the importance of understanding the specific situation of people living in an insti-tution-like home, to be able to meet their needs through architectural solutions and create appropriate home-environments. Furthermore the project aims to make a book-let that offer inspiration and advice on a conceptual level of asylum home design with focus on the residents’ well-being.

De-reifying autism: a social science perspective on a social / neurological condition

Author: Ben Belek  email

Short Abstract

Anthropologists studying autism face the challenge of discussing it in a way that acknowledges both its biological and socio-cultural components. What are the conditions for – and implications of – anthropologists working to redefine a category of difference produced and shaped by other disciplines?

Long Abstract

Autism spectrum conditions represent a broad category of behavioural, cognitive and neurological atypicalities. While it is now generally accepted that autism has a strong genetic basis, which possibly interacts with environmental factors to induce the condition during early stages of foetal development, it has been suggested that purely biological / neurological processes are inherently unsatisfactory in fully accounting for the phenomenon termed autism. Indeed other factors, such as policy and legislation, self-advocacy, the school system, media representation, medical research, stigma and public conception, to name a few examples, inevitably and significantly act in conjunction with biological processes to shape, in meaningful ways, the manners in which autism is construed, diagnosed, studied and - crucially - performed, lived and experienced. Social scientists writing about autism thus face the challenge of accepting it as a useful and valid category but without reifying the label as one that corresponds unambiguously with a uniformly atypical brain structure. A new definition of autism is therefore needed, one that acknowledges its biological and socio-cultural components, and that embraces the inevitable contingency of knowledge about autism. Following 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork with autistic adults in the UK, I argue that autism would be best viewed as the abstracted collection of traits - sensitivities, preferences, tendencies and strengths - shared in various ways and to varying degrees by those who are deemed autistic. The question then arises: what are the conditions for - and implications of - anthropologists working to redefine a category of difference originally produced and continuously shaped by other disciplines?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.