EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W044)

What are you really doing here? Suspicion and the politics of ethnography

Location Arts Classhall E
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

José Mapril (Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Center for Research in Anthropology (CRIA)) email
Virtudes Tellez (University of Castilla La Mancha) email
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Long Abstract

One of the frequent issues with which Anthropologists are faced in their field experience is suspicion and mistrust. These, of course, have a pervasive effect on our ethnographic accounts. On one hand, they condition the way our interlocutors address us and relate to our inquiries, and on the other, it implies regimes of surveillance practiced upon our field-research and writings. During fieldwork, this suspicion might disappear at least for some of our interlocutors. However, it can persist or sometimes it is even reinforced when "they read what we write" or simply under the influence of international events related with the political context of fieldwork. In doing so, intersubjectivity becomes hard not to say virtually impossible.

In spite of this, one rarely finds reflexive exercises about such issues in anthropological accounts. Thus, the main objective of this workshop is to explore the relation between suspicion and fieldwork and how it reveals the political and ethical dimensions of ethnography. The papers in this workshop are invited to explore these questions that are crucial for contemporary ethnographic and anthropological research.

Discussant: João de Pina Cabral

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Mission not accomplished: negotiating power relations and vulnerability within the Messianic Jews in Israel

Author: Tamir Erez (Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva)  email
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Long Abstract

This essay analyzes the complex power relations this anthropologist encountered while doing fieldwork within a Messianic Jewish community. Contrary to my expectations that my identity as a researcher would protect me from pressures to convert, these paradoxically reinforced the messianic belief that I was on the brink of salvation. The anthropological traits I expressed were interpreted by believers as proof of my upcoming conversion. My resistance to comply enhanced a suspicion amongst the community members that I was a spy and their pastor requested that I leave. What are the dilemmas and ramifications of doing ethnography with a group whose main concern is the ethnographer's life and afterlife? How far can the ethnographer participate in ritual life while aspiring to see the world from 'the natives' point of view', without raising their false hopes? For me, an Israeli secular Jew, immersion in a Judeo-Christian sect was not feasible or desired. What kind of ethnography (or truth) one can achieve, while doing fieldwork in a place one fears?

Spirits, lies, and spies in Havana

Author: Diana Espirito Santo (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)  email
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Long Abstract

Tight-knit political environments tend to engender forms of suspicion that the anthropologist is rarely exempt from. It is perhaps unremarkable that in socialist Cuba, where an ethic of vigilance and self-censorship still plays a foundational role in everyday life, paranoia abounds, and increasingly so among Afro-Cuban religious networks and adepts, where it has become a cosmo-'logic'. In this environment, however, it is not just humans the deceivers or recipients of deception: spirits too wield forms suspicion and misconception among the world of the living with often startling consequences. Drawing on some of my own experiences (among which, to my horror, is being accused of being a spy for Fidel Castro) in this paper I explore the legitimacy and even necessity of dealing with, confronting and rebutting suspicion with the same conceptual and material tools as used by 'others', whether as direct rhetoric, via the mediation or spirits, or through the silent wars of counter-witchcraft.

Respondents' mistrust as an additional source of information at studying social and cultural adaptation of the African migrants in Moscow

Author: Sergey Serov  email
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Long Abstract

In our study of the African migrants in Moscow interviewing and questionnaire interrogation were selected as the basic methods of getting field evidence. However, almost all the respondents expressed mistrust to our study and contacted reluctantly. Even more so, they could consciously corrupt facts in their answers. A strategy for overcoming mistrust was elaborated in the course of research: a choice of place for interviewing, way of formulating questions, manner of behavior, etc. A great number of different factors influence the African migrants' social and cultural adaptation, as well as their way of behavior, including expressing mistrust to a researcher. Other language, social and political order, culture, climate - all this definitely raises a barrier between the migrants and receiving society in which they constitute a very small but physically very well visible minority. An analysis of the reasons for the respondents' mistrust allows to get additional information about their current life situation, position in the Moscow socio-cultural milieu, psychological state, and level of cultural and social adaptation in general. The nature and scope of this information is discussed in detail in the paper.

What to give in return? - handling suspicion in a Roma community from Romania

Author: Zsuzsa Plainer (ISPMN (the Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities) )  email
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Long Abstract

"It's OK you're interested in researching us but how would you reward our stories?" - was the question Roma from Galilei Street (an urban district in Romania) frequently addressed me enhancing their suspicion. "Giving something in return" has a longer history in anthropological methodology and research ethic: reflexivity of the 80ies deconstructed the invisible researcher figure, disciplines like applied anthropology or feminism disclaimed his/her superiority towards the informants. Its demand is enforced here by a set of differences: a learned, relatively well-off Hungarian is called upon to reward Roma, regarded as underclass-members. Accounting mistrust and the need for reciprocity as a less personal issue (but embedded in classificatory system local Roma are marginalized through), typical incentives (money, food, gifts) are enlisted. As all are proved to be inadequate to gain the informants' trust, another technique is suggested with its benefits for research-politics revealed: helping the locals in their business with public institutions.

'Aren't you really one of us?' Negotiating suspicion and participation in the BDSM scene in Melbourne, Australia

Author: Julienne Corboz (University of Melbourne)  email
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Long Abstract

Suspicion in ethnographic field contexts is often rooted in the perception that the anthropologist as outsider has personal, professional or political interests that are different to those of her interlocutors. I draw on my ethnographic research in the BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Domination/Submission, and Sadism/Masochism) scene in Melbourne, Australia, to illustrate how suspicion may also arise when our informants position us as insider or as 'one of them'. My initial refusal to adopt a BDSM role (e.g. dominant or submissive) or to participate in BDSM practices led to enormous suspicions based on why I was unwilling to acknowledge my alleged BDSM identity. These suspicions had profound consequences for my research, and increasing my access to knowledge became dependent on my willingness to participate. In contrast to many ethnographic field experiences, gaining the trust of my informants required me to prove my difference and to maintain rather than destabilise the self/other distinction.

Trust is a scarce resource: some reflections on fieldwork experiences in Egypt

Author: Sarah Johanna Hartmann (Free University of Berlin)  email
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Long Abstract

"Trust is a scarce resource in Egypt", a colleague of mine once remarked. The government does not seem to trust its people and most citizens do not seem to trust their government or governmental institutions. Foreigners, however, often encounter great hospitality and openness. Under these circumstances, being a foreigner and "outsider" can actually be helpful in conducting fieldwork. On the other hand, methods of anthropological research naturally invite suspicion, especially in a context, where espionage stories and conspiracy theories abound.

The aim of my paper is to identify and analyze patterns of trust and distrust which I encountered during several periods of fieldwork in Cairo between 2004 and 2010 and reflect about their implications for my work. The fact that my research focuses on the informal, and to a large extent illegal, practice of private tutoring within the mainstream education system, has posed additional challenges and ethical problems regarding access and relationships with "informants".

Co-operation and manipulation: experiences from ethnographic filmmaking

Author: Beate Engelbrecht (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity)  email
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Long Abstract

Doing ethnographic fieldwork with film in Mexico, Burkina Faso, India, and Indonesia about ritual, craft, architecture, and developmental processes has confronted me with a variety of situations of uncertainty, mistrust, but also of committed cooperation and friendship.

I began my carrier as anthropologist doing fieldwork in Mexico. I faced various situations of mistrust and misinformation. That changed when I started to film. People got an insight in my work. They knew film is, they saw us working, they got a feeling of presence, and they saw later the results. Later I used film as a tool of communication, investigation, and co-operation. Film has some advantages: the process is open, the people follow closely on what one is doing, and they feel, they have a possibility to intervene. But the people manipulate the film situation also, they participate in the film construction even the filmmaker is not aware of it.

The anthropologist as suspect - when the past isn't such a foreign country

Authors: Sónia Ferreira (CRIA (FCSH-Nova))  email
Sónia Vespeira de Almeida (CRIA - FCSH - Universidade Nova de Lisboa)  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper, drawing from our joint-experiences in working about the past, we'll try to reflect on the inner tensions in approaching the study of historical events from, dominated or counter-hegemonic, social memory framed discourses.

In so, asking ourselves how to justify our presence, explain our interest in the research and working alongside our informant's own agenda, naturally more concerned in telling their story, sharing their vision of the facts and legitimizing their version of the events.

The relationship construction with our informants, necessarily involving interest expressions and period knowledge demonstrations, feeds representations about the researcher, largely supported on ideological positioning and class-based solidarities which, not necessarily factual, diminish the initial suspicion; while forcing the researcher into a lengthy ethical self-questioning.

To what extension should we feed, or even allow, misrepresentations of the researcher, even if they ease the information gathering process.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.