ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

(P56)
The ethnographer's slip: fail again, fail better
Location Science Site/Engineering E101
Date and Start Time 06 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Sebastien Bachelet (University of Edinburgh) email
  • Koreen Reece (University of Edinburgh) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

How should anthropology examine mistakes and what goes awry? What can failing bring to the practice of ethnography? In this panel, we seek to explore the issue of 'failing' in a range of ethnographic contexts and reflect on mistakes' productive potential for anthropology as a discipline.

Long Abstract

Drawing upon a recent renewal of anthropological interest in serendipity and uncertainty, we wish to examine the topic of mistakes, errors and failings. What theoretical and ethnographic insights can be gained from paying close attention to things gone awry? We seek papers examining specific instances of botches, bungles and blunders from a wide range of ethnographic contexts (from failed states to medical oversights, failed asylum claims to slip-ups in ritual practice). In the light of recent reflections on ethnography's 'field of screams', we seek contributions which also address the issue of failing and mistakes with regards to ethnographic practice. For instance, in contrast with the figure of the omniscient and purposeful ethnographer, what could be the contribution of mistakes to the practice of ethnography (and its teaching)?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The role of luck in successful anthropological fieldwork

Author: Jonathan Alderman (St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on fieldwork experiences with the Kallawaya ethnic group in Bolivia, I will discuss the role luck plays in successful anthropological fieldwork, principally by relating how I feel I was lucky in my own fieldwork.

Long Abstract

This presentation will discuss the role luck plays in anthropologists' fieldwork. Drawing on fieldwork experiences in Bolivia, I will look at how my own fieldwork was influenced—especially at the beginning—by good fortune. During the first few month of my fieldwork, I was given several different roles by others as they sought to make sense of my presence and to identify me to others. At various time I was known as a tourist, gringo, or simply Jonathan. My most lasting identity (apart from, I suppose, my name) was "ambassador". I began fieldwork with the Kallawayas in Bolivia, following their autonomy assembly in drawing up their statute for autonomy. At the first meeting I attended I was suddenly introduced to all present at an English ambassador. I had no idea that the President was going to do this and thus no control over the identity which was foisted upon me. I will describe in the paper why I see being introduced in this way as being lucky for me in terms of the relations which it enabled with others in my fieldsite, and conversely, how in many respects this introduction may in some other ways have been unlucky. I will try to relate this to wider conclusions regarding the role of luck in the success or failure of anthropological fieldwork, and whether we create our own luck as anthropologists or we have to adapt to the circumstances that open up.

From the horse's mouth...

Author: Valerie Will (University of the West of Scotland)  email

Short Abstract

All was lost - but "failure" was merely the beginning. This paper considers the serendipitous insights gained from recruiting an equine research assistant who didn't want the job.

Long Abstract

This paper considers the failures and affordances related to involving a horse as an ethnographic research partner. My research aimed to explore service quality/health within the equestrian livery yard (rented stable accommodation) sector. I planned to situate a horse at a livery yard so that together we could experience all aspects of livery yard life and culture from an insider perspective.

The horse who became my research partner - Zorca - was recruited at the Cavan Horse Sale in Ireland and during the summer prior to beginning the ethnographic study, I spent time at home with her getting to know her personality and learning her likes and dislikes. However, I became aware that I was uncomfortable at the thought of moving her to a livery yard - but this was the research I had envisaged and I felt obligated to move forward.

I selected the livery yard carefully but, despite meticulous preparation, my vision of having an equine research assistant failed monumentally. Following her move to the livery yard, Zorca was incredibly unhappy and I had to withdraw her from the study because of the impact on her physical and emotional wellbeing. My research had failed - I was an equine ethnographer without an equine and at this point I felt all was lost. This paper considers the serendipitous insights I gained "from the horse's mouth" and how, instead of being the end, this "failure" was merely the beginning.

A failed island of no strangers

Author: Salim Aykut Ozturk (University College London (UCL))  email

Short Abstract

Residents of Kinaliada, a predominantly Armenian island off Istanbul, constantly compare their tiny island to those of others. Their articulations of a failed island sheds light into contemporary Armenian community making processes in post- Genocide Turkey.

Long Abstract

Residents of Kinaliada, a predominantly Armenian space within the Istanbul's Prince's Islands Archipelago, constantly compare their tiny island to those of others (i.e., Jews, Greeks and Turks). They believe that their island is a failed island, as unlike other islands, its residents lacked unity to deal with the ongoing problems about security, housing and municipal services. For them, in such multi-ethnic setting of the islands, each island is identified as a materialization of an ethno-religious community, and the failure of Kinaliada is believed to be a direct result of the failure of its Armenian community.

The failure of the island sheds light into Armenian community making processes in post-Genocide Turkey, and everyday comparison to other islands work in relation to comparison to other non-Muslim communities and their experiences under the nation building processes in the country. There is an essential link between the failed island and the (failed) community of its residents, which account for the various diversities that deny Armenians of Istanbul a sense of unified community. Based on three years of extended research, this presentation focuses on demonstrating how constant comparison and public discussions on failure have become performative sites where simultaneously social intimacy is constituted and the right of excluding others is granted. In such context where failure in solidarity (as a community) brings about intimacy (among individuals), there is hardly any place for strangers, including the non-Armenian researcher.

From field constraints to 'native's point of view': journey of a female ethnographer

Author: Saloka Sengupta (Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad)  email

Short Abstract

What happens when a leg of field work does not go by the plan? This paper investigates the occasions where the ethnographer fails to understand the nature of the field but eventually realizes the potential benefits of those mistakes.

Long Abstract

Nachnis are the women dancers in the rural provinces of West Bengal, India who perform in the backdrop of the Jhumur songs, a form of folk music that revolves around popular myths of Hindu deities Radha and Krishna. The performances start late night in an open village surrounding and lasts till morning. The Nachnis are accompanied by their paramours or partners called 'Rasiks' and other male instrument players on stage. The audiences of the programs are dominantly men, residing in nearby villages and belonging to the lower strata of the society who attend the performances in an inebriated state. While attending these nightlong performances the female ethnographer is interrupted by the audiences, and often confronted situations out of control (such as inappropriate behavior from the audience) resulting in not getting to observe at all. In the recent discussion of 'field of screams' this paper examines the failure and frustrations of the ethnographer who could not collect the information as planned before and at the same time could not get back to the same place because of time constraint and constant discouragement, thus creating a gap in the collected data and the already existing data. But with sufficient time spent on the field and 'in depth' reading of the incidents actually revealed that this gap can actually lead to the 'native's point of view'. By the process of gaining experiences and ceaseless corrections in an ethnographic approach this paper shows how the field is changing the discipline and not the discipline changing the field.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.