EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006

(IW02)

Writing anthropology: genres and cultural translation

Location Wills G32
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 17:00

Convenors

Dorle Dracklé (University of Bremen) email
Helena Wulff (Stockholm University) email
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Short Abstract

This workshop features presentations on anthropological writing genres (Wulff) and creative writing on cultural translation (Dracklé) with opportunities to practice writing, although this is not an obligatory part of attendance.

Long Abstract

Writing is integral to anthropology. We spend a lot of time writing, in different styles and genres. Academic/scholarly writing is obviously the most widespread genre anthropologists must master. Writing grant applications is a somewhat different genre. Faced with growing demand, many anthropologists also acquire skills in writing reports commissioned by development and policy agencies, municipalities, etc. And there is the popular/journalistic genre which some anthropologists learn to pursue parallel to academic endeavours. Yet other anthropologists write fiction inspired by ethnography. The first part of this workshop will present critical papers on writing anthropology in relation to one or more of these different genres. Contributors will discuss teaching and learning how to write, the writing process, topics and genres, form and content, and circumstances that shape anthropologists as writers: research interests, departmental milieux and different generations and traditions in European anthropology. The second part of the workshop is a creative writing workshop focusing on cultural translation with opportunities to practice writing, although this is not an obligatory part of attendance.

Papers

Our families, our conflict: co-authored auto-ethnography in Israel/Palestine

Author: Dan Rabinowitz (Tel Aviv University and CEU)  email
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Long Abstract

In 1999 I was commissioned by an Israeli publisher to do a socio-historical analysis of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. I invited Khawla Abu-Baker, a lecturer in another Israeli university, to be my co-author. Our joint work on the book took place between 2000 and 2002, the first years of the second Palestinian uprising against Israel known as Intifadat al-Aksa. During that time we discovered a number of biographical similarities between us: we were born within six weeks into two families from Haifa; our grandparents emigrated to the town in the early 1920s - mine from the Ukraine, Khawla's from the West Bank; we grew up 20 miles apart, almost went to the same secondary school, went through the war of 1967 as 12 year olds, experienced the war of 1973 as 19 year olds. The occupation of the West-Bank re-united Khawla's immediate family with relatives they had not seen since 1948, while the Israeli control of Sinai sent me on a well disguised eco-colonial mission there. We raise our children in the same territory, and are equally concerned about its future.

The theoretical focus of our book, which is written in essay form, presents a generational analysis of the Palestinian citizens in Israel. But are our biographies, the fates of both our families and the events, processes, vigniettes and memoirs reflected in them not relevant to our analytical project? We decided they were, and proceeded to develop a writing genre none of us had used before. It had the two of us - an Israeli male anthropologist, a Palestinian female social worker - sharing a unified narrative which tells the stories of our respective families in an equalized, somewhat detached third person singular.

Using this published text as an anchor, this paper grapples with the politics of relevance, alterity in authorship, 'facts' and their representations, authority, believability and trust. It calls for more willingness on the part of anthropologists to experiment with unorthodox writing genres, not least in contexts as complicated and conflictual as the one which still unfortunately prevails in Israel/Palestine.

Stories and cosmologies: anthropology as comparative metaphysics

Author: Stuart McLean (University of Minnesota)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper argues for the need to move beyond recent critiques of anthropological knowledge by taking the historical situation of anthropology as a potential site for the contemporary re-imagining of analytic vocabularies, research strategies and modes of writing. Such an undertaking, it will be suggested, is facilitated by anthropology's singular and often paradoxical relationship to the history of what has come to be called "modernity." On the one hand, the emergence of anthropology as a discipline appears inextricably tied to that history, including European colonial expansion. On the other, anthropology's engagement with other, non-Western life-worlds has produced a compendious archive of other possibilities for being-in and knowing the world. The paper seeks to pursue the contemporary implications of this in-between status for researching and writing about the present. It proposes that the people traditionally studied by anthropologists, along with their cosmologies, origin-myths, rituals and magical practices, be engaged not as so much fodder for the project of social scientific explanation (i.e. to be rendered intelligible in terms familiar to a Western academic readership), but rather as interlocutors capable of informing a renewed practice of anthropological inquiry and writing. Such an anthropology would be simultaneously realist, comparative and creative in orientation, concerned with engaging and documenting the contemporary world and attentive to the more elusive registers of virtuality, possibility and becoming. In particular, the paper considers understandings of materiality and transformation as a point of interface between the ethnographic record and current projects for the reshaping of anthropological discourse.

Communicating is more than words: a multimodal and interactive perspective in the making of ethnographic texts

Author: Vincenzo Matera (University of Milano Bicocca)  email
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Long Abstract

Ethnographic writing is since many years a very discussed issue: a crucial point within ethnographic writing debates is the doubt that ethnographic texts are not in a real way pictures of a people and of a place, but are texts in which we are able to read and to see ourselves, our ways to create radical alterity, our ideologies and representations, our class, gender and race biases, and our historical collocations.

From this premise, my paper exemplifies a perspective that runs counter to some of the established viewpoints about the nature of verbal and writing communication, but one that, I argue, gives a richer and more realistic insight into the ways that human beings live in the world and how they interconnect with each other. Beginning from the idea that humans are essentially social beings it rejects the common assumption that our processes of communication lie pre-eminently in the transfer of information or the exercise of verbal (and primarily referential) language. Instead it emphasises the importance of the multimodal resources on which we can and do draw to connect with each other: the amazing array of auditory, visual, somatic, olfactory, and material resources through which humans interact both nearby and at a distance. Language is without doubt still one wonderful channel for human communication - but it must be seen in perspective as, after all, only one among our many communicative resources. So, maybe, the making of ethnographic texts too should be open to a wider imaginary.

Starting from these standpoints, and since the writing of an ethnographer is the account of an unique experience, I argue some crucial questions concerning limits and possibilities to make public those experiences through a device as complicated as writing.

Ethnographic writing under changing fieldwork circumstances: from community to association to individuals' life experiences

Author: Moshe Shokeid (Tel Aviv University)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper presents the changing practice of ethnographic presentation as witnessed by an anthropologist whose field reports have gradually progressed from the introduction of "whole communities" (village and suburb) to the presentation of a society dispersed in an urban environment (an immigrant ethnic group), to the portrayal of participants in voluntary associations and support groups in a metropolitan city (religious institutions, organizations of sexual minorities, and addiction self-help networks). The waning of "thic communal observations" effects a transformation of the type and style of ethnographic description. We will address the issue of maintaining ethnographic authority under the growing incentive to engage in reflexive and literary strategies of writing.

Writing 'expert reports' for the British immigration courts

Author: John R. Campbell (School of Oriental & African Studies)  email
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Long Abstract

Lawyers who represent a refugee making a claim for asyloum in the UK sometimes request anthropologists, as acknowledged country experts, to provide and "Expert Report'.This report (directly and indirectly) assesses the credibility of the asylum applicants claim by specifically commenting on the issues raised by the applicant and/or by commenting on issues specfic to the country from which the individual has fled. Such reports are then submitted to the court together with submissions by the lawyer. In recent years legal scrutiny has increasingly defined the format of these reports by regulating both their content and the language they use. More often than not the Court rejects an expert report on the grounds that the expert lacks the competence to comment on 'legal' issues. This paper examines this genre of anthropological writing and sets out the criteria by which lawyers and judges read and assess the reports.