ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

(P09)
Hospitality, dependence and mutuality: negotiating positionality and methodologies in the Middle East
Location Room 5
Date and Start Time 14 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Bethany Honeysett (University of Edinburgh) email
  • Veronica Buffon (University of Exeter) email

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Short Abstract

We address the dependencies of hospitality for Middle Eastern anthropologies and how this renders the terms of rapid political change. We ask how positionalities form in contexts of mutuality and how collaborative methodology shapes moral and political dilemmas confronted by regional interventions.

Long Abstract

How do anthropologists situate themselves and their work in times of social change or violent crisis? Middle Eastern anthropology is ideally placed for reflexive and provocative considerations of political, moral and historic-global positionality. The challenge lies in extending unique and compelling regional insights to wider anthropological and interdisciplinary conversations.

Drawing on discussions of collaborative anthropology (Holmes and Marcus 2008), we suggest that the ethnographer's ongoing dependence on hospitality contains inflections of local and regional symbiosis through the subtle entanglements of narrative, historical consciousness and subjective forms which accumulate in the field. Hospitality as a regional trope brings into sharp focus the mutual defining of boundaries, the situating of selves within world orders and views, with all their incumbent scales and intensities of political, moral and historical interdependence, with beneficial or harmful results. We depend on the hospitality of others, and experience collaborative engagement through tumultuous scenarios and times of continuous uncertainty. Moreover we negotiate within academic institutions methodological conundrums of intervention wrought in the field and beyond. This panel seeks to explore the terms of mutuality by which one is asked to situate oneself within such hospitalities, dependencies and reciprocities. How do these terms stimulate specific forms of 'anthropological sensitivity' and placement? How do these methodological considerations impact on the moral and political dilemmas confronted by the contemporary anthropologist working in the Middle East? Furthermore, how can we extend the specific insights of Middle Eastern anthropology to both wider anthropological and inter- or multidisciplinary conversations on methodological trajectories?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Friends, foes and the anthropologist: the methodological peculiarities of a research project on Islamic fashion in Istanbul

Author: Elena Magdalena Craciun (National School of Political and Administrative Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation addresses the challenges that marked research on the divisive topic of Islamic fashion in Turkey, in a time of intense cleavage between secular and religious conservatism, and in a context of dependence on the hospitality of both secular and religiously conservative people.

Long Abstract

Between 2012 and 2014, I conducted fifteen months of intermittent fieldwork on the Islamic fashion industry in Istanbul. This was a period when the grip on power of the Islam-rooted party that had ruled Turkey for more than a decade intensified and when the difference between secular and conservative ideas about and ways of life was felt more acutely than ever. My entrance into the fieldwork was smoothed by the friends I already had in the city. They hosted and helped me deal with the problems a foreigner inevitably encountered. They also criticised me for choosing this research topic. They asked me why I did not change it. They pointed out that because of me they started to think more often about things they would have otherwise ignored. In time, I learnt to think of them as secular Turks. I began my research and met, interviewed and hung around with key players in the Islamic fashion industry, most of them veiled women. They asked me why I chose this research topic. I saw eyebrows raising when I said I lived in a neighbourhood known as secular. I felt my new friends' discomfort when we walked through this neighbourhood. I negotiated my position through and against these oppositions and tried hard to avoid being co-opted into other people's projects. I struggled with moral and political dilemmas, but carried out my research. In this presentation, I discuss this experience and its impact on personal integrity and the cultivation of anthropological sensitivity.

Methodological challenges in times of crisis

Author: Shenah Abdullah (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on methodological challenges confronting both researcher and research collaborators during times of political and economic crisis in Iraqi-Kurdistan. It pays attention to the dilemmas, sensitivities and the difficulties facing anthropologists and their research collaborators in the field.

Long Abstract

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which has been the center stage for IS attacks this summer, and continuing today, has received worldwide attention focusing on the role of violence and the plight of its citizens as victims of yet another atrocity. Meanwhile, ordinary people and anthropologists conducting research in the Middle East during these precarious times are confronted with unexplored personal challenges. These challenges call for the inclusion of new critical insight from these regions concerning the nature of fieldwork into the discipline of anthropology. Drawing from (Bourgois 2010, Graeber 2013) this paper provides new alternative insights concerning fieldwork challenges and collaborations on the ground while working in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. What can we learn from recent ethnographic fieldwork challenges coming out of regions undergoing unprecedented violent and economic transformations? While doing research in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, in times of rapid economic and political crisis, researchers and research collaborators are developing new coping mechanisms during times of uncertainty.

At a time when violence and ethno-nationalist discourses dominate the narrative available about this region, this paper focuses on the conundrums resulting from the multiple crisis and their effects on everyday relations. The current economically and politically driven crises have created new anxieties and techniques of disciplining, which in turn have influenced mutual relation on the ground. These hard times impel us to become more actively engaged with our collaborators and address the hardships, dilemmas, sensitivities and the everyday struggles faced by anthropologists and their collaborators in Iraqi-Kurdistan.

Collaborating between digital and real-world fieldsites: the case of Moroccan networks in Istanbul

Author: Christian Ritter (Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU))  email

Short Abstract

Exploring the case of Moroccan networks in Istanbul, I reflect on collaborative research practices supporting ways of reciprocal exchange between ethnographers and researched communities. The main aim of this paper is to explore the challenges that digitised communication imposed on fieldwork.

Long Abstract

Following the free trade agreement between Morocco and Turkey in 2006, increasing numbers of Moroccan nationals traveled to the Turkish metropolis Istanbul. This paper examines how social networking technologies changed the ways of conducting fieldwork and reflects on the moral consequences these changes engender. Moroccan migrants come to Istanbul with various motivations ranging from transnational trade and immigration to education and transmigration. The main aim of this paper is to explore the challenges that digitised communication imposed on fieldwork. Based on participant observation and semi-structured interviewing, the ethnographic study unveils the prevalence of social networking technologies amongst Moroccan residents of Istanbul. In addition, the paper raises methodological challenges that occurred in the course of the fieldwork in the metropolis due to the ubiquitous digitalization of lifeworlds. For example, the methodological ideal of establishing an equilibrium between proximity to and distance from the researched communities necessitates a substantial rethinking since clear-cut boundaries of fieldsites vanished and social networking technologies increasingly interconnect various fieldsites. Fieldwork-based research thus includes both face-to-face interactions and online communication. During my fieldwork in Istanbul, I combined participation in real-world events with observation of activities in digital spaces and experienced a wide range of dependences from local hospitality to digital friendship. Based on my fieldwork experience, I reflect on the ethics of reciprocal fieldwork and the ownership of ethnographic information by shedding light on strategies for mutual research, such as collaborative blogging.

Scholars as guests: on hospitality and fieldwork in Iraqi Kurdistan

Author: Kawa Morad  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the following questions: Can anthropologists do work without “hospitality”? In what ways do political, social, and economic conditions shape the hosts’ understanding of hospitality and its implication in precarious conditions?

Long Abstract

Cultural anthropologists, probably more than the scholars of any other discipline, crucially depend on the hospitality of their hosts, be they individuals, institutions, or nation-states. Since collecting data primarily involves participant observation and interviews, cultural anthropologists cannot conduct research without the consent and generosity of the people they study.

This paper is based on fieldwork in Iraqi Kurdistan between 2012 and 2014 and analyzes three forms of hospitality. These three types differ with regard to their contexts and how they shaped the author's experience at and of the field-site. The first emerges from the dîwananê (or the guest room) of stranbêjîs, who are performers of oral traditions. The second is located at the Kurdistan Regional Government's directorate for residency and the third is a refugee camp near the city of Duhok, 70km north of Mosul. In explicating these instances of hospitality at communal and bureaucratic levels, this paper draws on Holmes and Marcus' "collaborative ethnography" (2005) and Andrew Shryock's notion of hospitality as an act of "sovereignty" (2012).

Can anthropologists do work without "hospitality"? To what extent do acts of hospitality reinforce or undermine the anthropologist's bid to write an ethnographic account? In what ways do political, social, and economic conditions shape the hosts' understanding of hospitality and its implication in precarious conditions? By addressing these questions, this paper will shed light not only on the types of hospitality anthropologists require, but also on the different ways in which various hosts view their generosity.

Living in a village guard in Diyarbakir province: practices of hospitalities and dependencies during political conflict

Author: Veronica Buffon (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on hospitalities and dependencies I experience during fieldwork in Diyarbakir province, Turkey. I argue that the political conflict between Kurds and Turks contributes in shaping the ambiguities and contradictions embedded in local and temporarily specific forms of hospitality.

Long Abstract

Drawing from my ethnographic fieldwork in a village guard in Diyarbakir province, also known as the Northern Kurdistan, I propose a notion of hospitality, which is not generic and atemporal, but the result of a weekly negotiation and re-negotiation with a Kurdish woman, particularly a sufi healer, her family and her patients during the time I spent in the community.

An encounter between strangers, the healer and I, the dimension of which was then extended to the community, became a daily practice of exchange and reflection over the political and religious aspects of our lives (and after lives) which show how my positionality could reinforce ambivalent aspects of hospitality and at the same time create space for the transformation of our status from 'guest' and 'host' to 'friends'. Insecurity dictated by the Turkish military presence and police control in the village and the impossibility I experienced of fully reciprocate hospitality reinforced both the control over me, the researcher, and at the same time my dependency over the healer and her family. Theoretically, this paper aims to reflect on the ethics in everyday life during field work from the researcher's perspective by taking into account the 'risks' imposed on the community in accepting a stranger and at the same time the moral dilemmas shaped around the pressure of firmly taking sides within an on going political conflict.

'You love us as much as you eat!' Furniture, food and the methodological compartmentalisations of hospitality in Damascus, Syria.

Author: Bethany Honeysett (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how the boundary-making of hospitality in Damascus illuminates specific confluences of the political and the phenomenological. I argue that the terms of hospitality figure and ground the ways ‘the everyday’ was implicated in the police state of Syria prior to the civil war.

Long Abstract

Hospitality as a Middle Eastern trope is central to ethnographic elaboration on local practice; conjoined with what is often dismissed as 'belly dancing and couscous' its implications beyond anthropology are often treated uncritically. This paper uses the terms of hospitality among middle and working class Damascenes prior to the civil war to show how attention to hospitality and indeed 'belly dancing and couscous' is crucial to understanding the grounds and figurations of political practice and the categories we use to denote them. Ethnographic praxis forces the anthropologist to experience the utterances, rhetorics and phenomenological configurations of boundary-making and compartmentalisation. By exploring such processes from a domestic vantage this paper addresses the methodological terms of the 'everyday' and its specific configurations with the 'political' in Syria's police state. I use the sensual experiences of hospitality and its attendant reciprocities, compartmentalisations and compositions of furniture, food and domestic spatial arrangements as a heuristic device to demonstrate why hospitality is a politically implicated trope. By paying attention to the ways one is asked to situate oneself within such hospitalities, reciprocities and assemblages of dependence, methodological categories such as 'the everyday' are brought into question. This I argue simultaneously destabilises the grounds on which ethnography is legitimised and enjoins us to take seriously ethnography as 'methodology', in order to situate the emic requisites of categories such as the political, the everyday, the hospitable and the terms of bearing witness to radical social change and violent rupture.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.