EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(Plenary C)

Young scholars forum: contemporary ethnographic practice and the value of serendipity

Location B2 Henri Lefebvre theatre
Date and Start Time 13 Jul, 2012 at 09:00

Convenors

Isabelle Rivoal (CNRS) email
Noel B. Salazar (University of Leuven) email
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Short Abstract

This plenary is a chance to show-case emerging young anthropological talent. If you want to be part, please mail your proposal as soon as possible to the convenors (before submitting using the online system).

Long Abstract

Ethnographic practice developed within anthropology as a fieldwork method and methodology that values uncertainty and the necessary reflexivity this triggers. In order to give this epistemological challenge a chance, ethnographers were allowed sufficient time to soak in 'Otherness'. Time was deemed indispensable to cope with the ambiguity of what exactly to look for while 'being there', in the field. Long periods of waiting were seen as a precondition for creativity and serendipity. But how to guarantee these unpredictable scientific values while various authorities and media demand from anthropologists, like from other scholars in the social sciences, to shed light on what is going on immediately. External contingencies that stress the quantitative aspects of research output often prevent anthropologists from indulging in 'slow science'. Instead, they have to write and publish quickly to keep their ethnographic account relevant before it becomes obsolete, hereby blurring the line between the anthropological quest and journalistic accounts. How do up-and-coming anthropologists think of the 'good old' long-term fieldwork? What do they consider to be the most ideal forms of ethnographic practice to address present-day research challenges and realities? Which characteristics of anthropological knowledge gathering do they find most essential? What is their ethnographic agenda for the future? This plenary offers promising young scholars a unique opportunity to address these major questions.

Discussant: Danny Miller (UCL)

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Beyond anxiety and disquiet: time for uncertainty

Author: Stefan Le Courant (LESC / Paris Ouest)  email
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Short Abstract

In order to have access to the fieldwork I became an NGO's volunteer providing legal assistance to confined undocumented migrants in France. In this presentation I want to address the questions of representation and norms raised by this double implication in the field.

Long Abstract

To build a research on undocumented migrants implies working on a field already saturated by a multiplicity of contradictory and controversial discourses: political, journalistic, activist, and coming from related social sciences. In order to have access to the retention places - where undocumented migrants are confined waiting for their deportation - I became a volunteer for an NGO providing legal assistance. Starting a research usually requires to get rid of those pre-existing discourses, especially in overinvested realities. But during this fieldwork, I had to occupy a specific place in the framework I was studying. This specific place comes with a particular point of view and specific tools of action - mostly the law - in order to help undocumented migrants avoid removal. Undocumented migrants' everyday life is characterized by disquiet and anxiety. In order to explore this reality, can the long-term fieldwork and the ethnographical uncertainty help us get rid of those pre-existing discourses and particularly the NGO situated point of view?

In this presentation I want to raise the question of this double engagement on the field - academic and linked to community life - not from an ethical perspective but trying to understand the epistemological issues it raises. The question is no longer whose side we should choose but what kind of anthropology we can do when we have chosen our side.

Serendipity mon amour : on disquiet as a prerequisite for anthropological knowledge

Author: Julie Giabiconi (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva)  email
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Short Abstract

Drawing on a personal account of being a phD candidate with a rather classical “object” of study nowadays, this paper will argue that the very uneasiness and disquiet felt both as ethnographer towards the subjects of the research and as an academic-to-(may)be are crucial to produce ethical anthropological knowledge.

Long Abstract

Serendipity may be "the new black" of the social sciences, it surely is a powerful concept. When I look at the definitions I find, it perfectly fits my path in embracing the anthropological "carrier" (in C.E. Hughes' sense) and choosing a topic. A phD candidate working on a treaty signed between First Nations of Northwestern Saskatchewan and Canada in 1906, doing fieldwork on a Dene reserve combined with archival research, my research is not exactly fashionable these days. Except maybe for the "Indigenous peoples" boom in academic production.

Still, it raises tremendous tensions, both in theory and practice. In a context of decolonization of the research on/with/for Indigenous peoples and emerging debates on the politics of cultural identity, finding one's place in the academia is not easy. Let alone entering the field as a European researcher, precisely when the field is a "reserve", this place of mere myths and where politics stands at every corner.

Drawing from my personal experience of "chronic lack of time", this paper will explore the tensions between dimensions of the personal self, the ethnographic self (Bruner 1993), and the academic self in today's practices of ethnography and anthropology.

Ultimately, I argue that the profound uncertainty and disquiet infusing my everyday practice of ethnographer and of academic-to-(may)be is critical to produce ethical anthropological knowledge.

The field as a temporal entity and the challenges of the contemporary

Author: Steffen Dalsgaard (IT University of Copenhagen)  email
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Short Abstract

Despite postmodern critiques and technological innovations, definitions of ‘the field’ as a spatial trope remain largely uncontested. This paper suggests that by conceptualizing the field as temporally constituted (and using a methodology of ‘multi-temporal ethnography’), one can address the ‘timeliness’ of anthropological theory.

Long Abstract

Prompted by the postmodern turn in anthropology, ethnographic fieldwork and its conceptually related notion of 'Otherness' have already been subjected to considerable analytical scrutiny. Yet, despite numerous facelifts as well as the introduction of global communication technologies that allow 'instant' contact, definitions and demarcations of 'the field' have remained fundamentally anchored in tropes of location and spatiality. The association between field and fieldworker is still characterized as being maintained by distance in space. This paper argues that 'the field' - because of the perpetual dilemma of 'how long time is long enough' - must be regarded as much as temporally constituted as it is normally seen as spatial. By exploring and unfolding the temporal properties of the field (e.g. different tempos, paces, extensions and projections of past, future etc.), the paper suggests that the spatially anchored notion of multi-sited fieldwork can be complemented and extended with one of multi-temporal ethnography. This approach implies not only a particular attention to a methodology of studying local (social and ontological) imaginaries of time; it furthermore unpacks the (multi-)temporality of the relationship between fieldworker and the field as it changes over time from research proposal to publication to revisits and so on. It is by thus reflecting over the tempos and temporal projections, which constitute 'the field' under changing configurations, that the questions and challenges of 'the contemporary', and the 'timely' relevance of ethnographically informed anthropological analysis (cf. Rabinow and Marcus), can best be addressed.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.