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SIEF2015 12th Congress: Zagreb, Croatia.
21-25 June 2015

(Disc002)

Engaged anthropology: Reality? Necessity? Utopia?

Location A128
Date and Start Time 24 June, 2015 at 10:30

Convenors

Seraina Müller (University of Basel (CH)) email
Miriam Gutekunst (Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich) email
Andreas Hackl (University of Edinburgh) email
Daniel Kunzelmann (TRANSFORMATIONS-BLOG.com) email
Angela Firmhofer (LMU Munich, Institute for European Social Anthropology. www.transformations-blog.com) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel seeks to discuss 'engagement' in anthropology against the backdrop of utopia, asking: Is the idea of a publicly engaged anthropology, just an idealised and naive conception, impossible to implement? Or is it a guiding principle and the motor for change behind the work we do?

Long Abstract

This panel seeks to discuss 'engagement' in anthropology against the backdrop of utopia, asking: Is the idea of a publicly engaged anthropology, just an idealised and naive conception, impossible to implement? Or is it a guiding principle and the motor for change behind the work we do?

Anthropologists aim to understand social phenomena from a personal perspective. That calls for a close and intimate relationship with the informants and for a responsible use of the information and insights one gets. Some critical questions arise from this: What is the purpose of the research? What is the impact of the ethnographic work besides producing texts? How can the research results flow back into the field?

Space and time for such questions and for activities that are not considered academically valuable are shrinking, while academics struggle to secure positions and funding. Never the less there are numerous initiatives addressing these issues. One of them is transformations-blog.com whose funders are the organisers of this panel.

Contributions on the following questions and themes are welcome:

Which trends are currently influencing the public engagement of anthropologists?

What does public anthropology in the digital age look like?

How have new technologies changed the relationship between anthropology and the public?

How can art and anthropology work together ('art as method')?

How can insights and know-how be presented in an appealing way, both within the scientific community and to the public?

Social Anthropology and activism: Where are the limits and overlaps?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Introducing "TRANSFORMATIONS": collaborative blogging in anthropology

Authors: Daniel Kunzelmann (TRANSFORMATIONS-BLOG.com)  email
Miriam Gutekunst (Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich)  email
Angela Firmhofer (LMU Munich, Institute for European Social Anthropology. www.transformations-blog.com)  email
Andreas Hackl (University of Edinburgh)  email
Seraina Müller (University of Basel (CH))  email

Short Abstract

TRANSFORMATIONS is a network of critical social anthropologists who belief that engaging in public discourse is an important part of social science. Our writing and feedback community translates research into a rich and accessible style of writing that will be read and understood not only by our fellow colleagues, but also by a wider public.

Long Abstract

Engaging with a public audience has become extremely important within academia and anthropology. Writing for a wider readership can prove your ability to communicate your research beyond the borders of academia. And it certainly helps to get your name and your work out there.

TRANSFORMATIONS draws on the advantages of different styles of writing and research with the goal of creating something new. Our unique approach to online publishing becomes clear in the distinct genres we created. Each of them reflects the diversity and creativity of anthropology, story-telling and the multi-media possibilities of online publishing specifically. What the project wants is not journalism; it is not literary writing or academia. It is a little bit of each, and yet it looks beyond the limitations of each of these styles. Journalism is fast and clear but often flat. Academia is deep and complex but hard to understand. Literary writing is flowery and beautiful but often extensive. At the end of the road, it’s all about achieving one goal: telling good stories well.

Being a writing and feedback community as well, we seek to empower researchers and the people whose voices they gather because these voices matter. This is why we have built a peer-to-peer feedback community: a network of dedicated and critical social anthropologists who help and support one another to improve each other's writing together. To sharpen our research driven arguments, we think it is essential to learn how to write clearly, creatively, and even beautifully.

Anthropology of activism or anthropology for activism? Academia, public engagement and anthropological work

Author: Begonya Enguix (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to interrogate the concepts of "activism" and "public engagement" in relation to fieldwork and academia. We think that there are many different possibilities for an engaged anthropology and that it is difficult to find a unique and/or general formula of/for action and public engagement.

Long Abstract

The discussions on the role of anthropology in changing (challenging) the world and its potential for setting new topics in the sociopolitical agendas can be traced back at least to the sixties. However, nowadays, the different contexts where anthropologists work and the changing nature of their work make this discussion urgent. Anthropologists are, more than ever before, aware of the necessity for a public engagement of their discipline. However, in general, public engagement of the discipline is presented as separated from the academia.

Departing from my experience in conducting fieldwork in activist settings, this paper aims to discuss the limits and frontiers of anthropological research and of the role of the anthropologist in the field and in the academia. In my experience, the different contexts where we work, and the negotiated nature of the relationship between anthropologists and informants make it difficult to find a unique and/or general formula of/for action and public engagement. In consequence, I propose a discussion on the many possibilities for an engaged anthropology.

This discussion will be centered in the interrogation about what we consider to be "activism" and "public engagement", and the relationship between engaged anthropology and academia. In my experience, producing texts, lecturing and participating in public debates in the media are also considered as activism. In consequence, it is necessary to discuss the existing divide between academia and applied and/or engaged anthropology in order to consider these contexts as complementary, in coherence with the demands and the considerations of my particular context of research.

Hooligans versus salafists: application of culture relativist approach to the analysis of ethno-religious intolerance in contemporary European democracies

Authors: Marko Pisev (Belgrade Faculty of Philosophy)  email
Miloš Milenković (University of Belgrade - Faculty of Philosophy)  email

Short Abstract

In our paper, we recover the debate on alleged moral vacuum lying in the background of cultural relativism (as a research strategy), arguing that social scientists do not need to emphasize their ethical positions while conducting research in order to obtain ethically responsible scientific results.

Long Abstract

In a number of liberal multicultural democracies in Europe a relatively new brand of a "traditional" enmity is being created in the public sphere. This enmity derives its inspiration from a long-lasting Christianity VS. Islam stereotype, and recently it became articulated by a "Football fans against Radical Islam", or "Hooligans against Salafists" type of credo. As far as this problematic seems obvious and self-evident, it nevertheless poses a serious question to anthropology: namely, is it socially and morally responsible to observe such highly problematic social realities from a standpoint of value-neutral, as-objective-as-it-can-get social science? In other words, is a non-biased, relativist methodological approach to "hooligan" or "Salafist" phenomena in any given European society ethically justifiable, even if we privately, as social actors, may think scornfully of such issues? Cultural relativism as a practical rule (which advises us to withhold all our value judgments, at least until we conclude our ethnographic research) opens, we argue, analytical space for symmetrical exploration of socially controversial issues from the viewpoint of our informants, be they "hooligans", "Salafists", or some third party. Originally imagined as methodological procedure which enables theorists to bypass ethnocentric loyalties in anthropology, cultural relativism should be able to deal with ethnocentric and white supremacist spectre of ideas in the same neutral, impartial manner as it deals with puritan Islam and Muslim militant groups. This request for symmetry does not imply advocacy of any kind but a return to high standards of scientific endeavor cultural relativism initially expected of itself, as well as of its theory practitioners.

Users, programmers, politicians. Ethnography as mediation in online participation projects?

Author: Julia Tiemann (Göttinger Institut für Demokratieforschung)  email

Short Abstract

In the development process of two online public participation platforms, the ethnographer acts as a unique intermediary between users, programmers and politicians and thus may facilitate improvements of the (electronic) citizen-state-relationship.

Long Abstract

For my doctoral dissertation, I aim at comparing political engagement in the digital age in Iceland and Germany. Research is multi-sited and takes place in four major research sites: two physical, Iceland's capital Reykjavík and the rural district of Friesland in the North of Germany, as well as two virtual sites, the online participation-platforms Betri Reykjavík and Liquid Friesland. How do the latter become part of everyday-life of the citizens of the former? How do these websites influence decision-making processes in their respective regions? How do the possibilities to engage online influence the ways citizens see themselves as well as politicians and vice versa?

I tackle these research problems with a pragmatic combination of established methods of ethnography, such as research stays in the physical fields - doing participant observation, interviews and focus groups, as well as methods of virtual ethnography, such as lurking, email-interviews and video-telephony.

This paper focuses on my aim to come up with practical guidelines for both programmers and implementers (administration personnel and politicians) of the online-participation-platforms to improve these tools in user-friendliness and effectiveness. Often, offers of digital democracy are developed and run without real communication between the different parties and in-depth examination of the citizens' needs in such a platform, more often than not due to lack of resources and workforce. Here, the ethnographer works as an intermediary between both sides, actively engaging in the further development of the platforms and thus help to improve the (electronic) citizen-state-relationship.

Mapping community needs and potentials: public engagement as a method to communicate and promote findings from applied research

Author: Pavla Burgos Tejrovská (Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague)  email

Short Abstract

Based on public engagement strategies to promote the findings from applied research in two community development projects in the Czech Republic, I review the methods and challenges of representing community needs to the research subjects, to their community and to institutional and scientific audiences.

Long Abstract

This paper describes innovative public engagement strategies used to promote findings from applied research in two community development projects in the Czech Republic. Both projects are based on the premise that to effectively intervene in any social environment, you need an engaged and understanding local society. The first project is being run in 12 (mostly rural) locations with the aim of testing new instruments of integration of long-term unemployed people into the labor market. Within this project, interdisciplinary fieldwork findings about the regional potentials and needs are leading the local community leaders to comprehend human and landscape potentials, to promote them and use them for the creation of new job opportunities to satisfy the needs of the local society. In comparison, the second project explored the possibilities to reactivate the residents of one of Prague's historical districts, which was facing drastic transformations of public space without participatory planning of the community. Here, anthropological fieldwork analyzed emic understanding of local potential and "genius loci" of the public space. Findings were promoted by community leaders and institutions through a free local magazine and a website, which were created especially for this project. Open resident-experts discussions in those communication channels had the objective to mobilize the community to put pressure on decision makers in order to stop the drastic transformation of the district. Through these two examples, the ethical, social, legal and academic issues of representation when using public engagement to communicate the findings to the participating community and other audiences are revwieved

Ethnography and response - ability

Author: Helena Tuzinska (Comenius University, Philosophical faculty)  email

Short Abstract

Ethnographic interview techniques represent a specific know-how in intercultural communication. This paper focuses on the ways how ethnography may share its insights with the state administration in the process of interviewing immigrants.

Long Abstract

Ethnographic interview techniques represent a specific know-how in intercultural communication. They are unique in its qualitative approach, appealing in understanding both "us" and "the other". This paper focuses on the ways how ethnography may share its insights with the state administration in the process of interviewing immigrants. I aim to discuss possibilities of sharing anthropological knowledge to the professionals working outside the social scientific discourse. Data come from a long-term observation of state practices and engagement in facilitation of trainings for asylum applicants, refugee camp staff, migration office representatives, border police, attorneys and judges in Slovakia and V4 countries.

The contribution addresses conditions which are substantial for acceptance of anthropological know-how by non-anthropologists. I propose that the prerequisites for public interventions are identical with requirements for "doing ethnography". Firstly (1) it is essential to undertake inquiries and long-term observations to understand the language of a particular social group and its local practices. Secondly (2) prior to transfer of specifity of social communication it is vital to question widely distributed notions of human nature as such. These include understanding responses of human brain, role of emotions, memory processes, language functions, transmission mechanisms of concepts such as stereotypes, as well as contextual conditioning of time, space and social group for any interpretation.

Engaged visual anthropology

Author: Federico De Musso (McGill University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on my research with The Network of Solidarity Economy of the Italian South (RESSUD) I argue that visual anthropology can help building a deep engagement between methods and aims of anthropologists and informants in an activist context.

Long Abstract

Based on my research with The Network of Solidarity Economy of the Italian South (RESSUD) I argue that visual anthropology can help building a deep engagement between methods and aims of anthropologists and the informants in an activist context. RESSUD is an association of farmers and food activists that promotes sustainable short supply chains for agricultural products. Among their goals is to facilitate "coproduction", a system of crowd funding for food products based on mutual trust between groups of buyers and producers. This type of provisioning is practiced as a way to escape the disrupting effects of neoliberal supply chain and create a socially and environmentally sustainable mode of consumption. The coproduction of the documentary L'Altra Faccia dell'Arancia (The other side of the orange), that narrates RESSUD's endeavours, sheds new light on the ways to engage with the informants and their agency in anthropology. By stressing the cross-fertilising effects between the practice investigated, the investigative method itself, and the results of the fieldwork, I will discuss how the researcher and the activists' ends benefitted and hindered each other. The coproduction of the film helped RESSUD to be visible beyond its limited borders at the same time in which it allowed the anthropological research to take place. Specifically, I use the notion of "coproduction" to understand the common ground for the education and trust that is produced in the relationship between producers and consumers and between anthropologist and informants in the making of both network and film.

The haunted discipline: folklore studies between cultural policy and cultural brokerage: reflections from the Italian case

Author: Fabio Mugnaini (Università di Siena)  email

Short Abstract

How it has come about that the mere claim that folklore is a field of study free from involvement in politics is itself a clearly - though possibly unaware- political statement:  demonstrated by a  survey of the history of Italian folklore studies and by focusing on  some contemporary examples.

Long Abstract

Folklore studies have been constantly pervaded by a crucial relationship with political assumptions  or with political practices, even though at the same time they have been haunted by attempts to present folklore as an innocent topic and its knowledge as a neutral field.

In Italy, folklore studies revived in the Republican and democratic phase as an openly political approach to the subaltern culture, under the guide of de Martino and Cirese, who drew on Gramsci's philosophical and political legacy, even though, at the local level, many folklore institutions and folk actors, often strive to demonstrate their distance from the political debates and divides.

With the crisis of the great narratives of the late 80's, even the reciprocal implication between politics and folklore began to fade away. However politics reappears, within new missions for folklore research.

Right-wing regionalisms, ethnic pride issues, often phobic or discriminatory, enter into the play on the chessboard of folklore studies and of folklore promotion or support; there comes also the new universalistic paradigm of Unesco' s heritage, once extended to annexe the intangible cultural aspects of local communities and

minorities' life.

In such a context the folk scholar has to renew the historical commitment to the discipline of the everyday and of the common

people, meeting the subaltern cultures where they actually lie and grow,  stressing the value of the folk heritage beyond -or against- its touristic finalization, and making  folklore study explicit as a critique of the present political mainstream.

Final discussion: engaged anthropology - benefits and dangers of an emerging trend

Authors: Angela Firmhofer (LMU Munich, Institute for European Social Anthropology. www.transformations-blog.com)  email
Daniel Kunzelmann (TRANSFORMATIONS-BLOG.com)  email
Seraina Müller (University of Basel (CH))  email
Andreas Hackl (University of Edinburgh)  email
Miriam Gutekunst (Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich)  email

Short Abstract

We are looking forward to discuss panel-related questions, share our experiences from the practice of applied and engaged anthropology, and exchange ideas about how novel future engagements could emerge.

Long Abstract

We are looking forward to discuss these and related questions, share our experiences from the practice of applied and engaged anthropology, and exchange ideas about how novel future engagements could emerge:

o How can we differentiate between public, applied and engaged anthropology?

o What are the benefits, and what are the dangers of public visibility and engagement for researchers?

o How can we make use of the technological innovations that have changed the relation between researchers and audiences, and where are the dangers of these technologies?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.