ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

Inside 'symbiotic' anthropologies: collaborative practices
Location Room 5
Date and Start Time 16 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 2


  • Victoria Goddard (Goldsmiths College, University of London) email
  • Sophie Day (Goldsmiths College, University of London) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Frances Pine (Goldsmiths College, University of London)

Short Abstract

The notion of symbiosis could imply a passive process of collaboration. This panel will focus on active practices and ask how collaboration is recognised and sustained among participants (for example, living or dead, human or non-human) and in different areas of anthropological practice.

Long Abstract

Collaboration is enshrined in anthropological method, yet over time the multiplicity of authors, contributors, perspectives and interests is often shed and edited out of anthropological work. We welcome papers that ask about the boundary between research collaborator and research subject and the implications of both blurring and sustaining this distinction. How do the connotations of collaboration shift over the course of particular projects or visions, between positive and negative values, across elements, such as a building, a text or a political network?

Symbiosis might imply equilibrium but we wonder whether anthropological practices are marked rather by disequilibrium, in part because the temporalities of anthropological practice tend to be open-ended and recursive. Moreover, positions, values, visibility and recognition of different kinds of contributors/contributions change over time and vary by context: you might be an 'expert' contributor at one moment and a research subject at the next; you might share a given aim that is later contested; you might be structurally advantaged or disadvantaged by the institutional matrix.

We invite contributions that explore whether implicit knowledge could be made explicit across collaborative relations. How can we sustain an orientation that is generated and governed by the process of research as it unfolds if we do not define the content of collaboration ahead of time? If ethnography can be seen simultaneously as method, data and theory (Das 2014), what working practices and what kinds of care practices are needed to sustain these collaborations? Finally, what anthropological visions might emerge from them?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.



Author: Sophie Day (Goldsmiths College, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

A colleague gave me the term, storyboard, and thereby contributed to collaborative work in ‘the field’. Through this example, I ask how we might think about networks of collaboration as well as particular relations in specific parts of this more broadly conceived field.

Long Abstract

Collaborative practices support all sorts of anthropological work but they are rarely recognised in the form of networks that stretch, for example, from one field to the academy or to other sites of practice. I present a small illustration that indicates how a comment from a colleague allowed me to explicate a field practice I developed during a project that digitalised photographs of mine from the 1980s, which I took back to Ladakh. Many of the Ladakhis I worked with were far more engaged with these images than with words alone and so I made them small books combining images and text, which also provided more accessible and inclusive tools for discussion. My colleague gave me the term, storyboard, with which I am now trying to negotiate the shape of what is and is not appropriate to write or talk about, how it should be circulated, and according to whom. I have found that some images/stories that were firmly censored initially elicited different reactions when they were brought back.

Collaborative networks of support are normally edited systematically as anthropological production shifts from one site to another, and I wonder if it would be helpful to think of sustaining a network of collaborative practices in place of focusing on specific aspects of this field. How might we think about such networks and the care they elicit?

Working and reworking museum collaboration

Author: Alexandra Urdea (Goldsmiths College)  email

Short Abstract

Our paper questions the collaborative framework within anthropological and museum practices and asks to what extent the institutions and disciplines involved act as separate entities that struggle to mobilize artefacts in one direction or other. (Alexandra Urdea and Magda Buchczyk)

Long Abstract

Collaborative anthropological research within heritage institutions has been attracting substantive funding in recent years, but the social life and the effects of these collaborations have rarely been academically scrutinized (Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2007). These collaborations are thought to facilitate new forms of knowledge practices and models of interdisciplinary partnership (Peers and Brown 2003). But to what extent do practices of 'revisiting' enable a wider impact, and allow more voices to be heard through the exhibition of artefacts?

We discuss the outcome of our PhD research project designed as an interdisciplinary reinterpretation of a Romanian collection in London. The examination of networks of researchers, museum curators and diplomatic institutions demonstrates the tangled nature of the exhibitionary symbiosis. We suggest that the museum holdings have accrued a history of shifting partnerships and representational agendas. Meanwhile, the exhibition discourse does not bring forth these discrete intentionalities; within the setting of museum rhetoric, the objects are made to speak with one voice.

We describe the position of ethnographers working within the current project and the negotiations of practice and power in which this work is situated. The recent incentives for collaborative projects coincide with a context of shortages of funding for both museums and the academic world, which entail an individualistic and competitive approach to knowledge production. How can these contradictory modes of behaving within the discipline of anthropology be accommodated? Such collaboration needs to be unpacked and understood within a wider spectrum of relations (Golding and Modest 2013).

Stoicism as action: the paradox of collaboration while doing nothing but understanding during fieldwork

Author: Angeles Lopez-Santillan (CIESAS Peninsular)  email

Short Abstract

The relationship between subjectivity and objectivity in research is given in the social field we try to attain. It is our decision though how to engage in social action in that social field; but our own desires are not really what matters, but our conditions of possibility

Long Abstract

Ethnography had its grounds in positivist thought to attain objectivity while doing fieldwork. Beyond that, ethnographers were trained to do ethnography practically alone in supposedly isolated places. Nowadays none of these are the case. Objectivity is always into question and places had become nodes of global relations: tourists, journalists, physicians, environmental three huggers, environmental policy actors, political parties, and other not neatly situated local actors conflux. So negotiation of our presence in the field has become a real conundrum. This negotiation, is also a reciprocal act of exchange. This negotiated situational character of ethnographers in the field renders each of them to carefully take decisions about proximity, engagement, participation, even speaking about the matters -and the people- to attain. In this paper, I analyze the battlefield of tourism production in the northern region of Quintana Roo, México to show how doing nothing and taking no part in the field was the way to express action and engagement. I content that subjectivity is the main way anthropologist and ethnographers have to understand peoples reality. Moreover, I do think that objectifying our own subjectivity in the social field we study, allows anthropologists to show commitment, engagement and to provide critical information to the "other". The conditions of the possibility of taking action while doing nothing made the difference while objectifying my presence, but mostly, the interest groups, factions and battles were taking place there.

Collaboration, negotiation, application: exploring relationships between ethnographic practice and evaluation research

Author: Joanna Reynolds (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)  email

Short Abstract

An examination of different sets of collaborative practices that emerge around ethnographic research on the enactment of ‘community’, embedded within an evaluation of a community initiative. Reflections on implications for calls for a more publically-engaged, applied anthropology.

Long Abstract

In this paper I seek to explore different sets of collaborative relationships within an evaluation study, arising not only between research practices and the 'field', but also between different research agendas and trajectories. I draw on experiences of applying ethnographic approaches to explore the enactment of 'community', embedded within a broader programme of research evaluating the public health impacts of a community-based initiative. I reflect on the practice and meaning of collaboration in this context; I consider how dialogic relations between the epistemologies, methods and goals of my research and of the main study are negotiated, and have come to shape other collaborative relations, namely those between my ethnographic practices and the people, spaces and objects of the field. The specific focus of the research also raises further questions about the meaning of collaboration, and the political rationales underpinning movements towards a publically-engaged, collaborative anthropology (Gottlieb 1995). In the specific initiative being evaluated, 'communities' are cast as autonomous agents with control over the management of financial resources. If, as Lassiter argues, ethnographic fieldwork is "by definition, collaborative" (2005 p84), there arises potential for conflict between the aims and practices of ethnography, and the research object (and subjects) of this study, the supposedly 'autonomous community'. I will consider the extent to which this autonomy and collaboration can be compatible, and the implications of this for positioning my research within an evaluation agenda, and for how different practices of collaboration may strengthen and undermine the potential value of an applied anthropology.

Energy Empires: interdisciplinarity at the intersection of society and technology

Author: Daniel Knight (University of St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

Framed in debates in the emerging field of “energopower”, this paper discusses interdisciplinary energy research in western Thessaly, Greece, presenting moments of fruitful (mis)communication and instances when partners become subjects and subjects become collaborators.

Long Abstract

The EU and Greek government herald renewable energy as the saviour of the state at a time of fiscal destitution. Seen as a way for the state to repay extortionate debts and decrease national deficit, photovoltaic (solar) and wind developments in Greece have attracted much attention from international business prospectors. But the cladding of sustainability associated with these 'clean', 'green' technologies belie the impact on local people who turn over agricultural land to multinational energy companies on long-term contracts. Energy is a powerful tool at the forefront of neo-imperial politics and research at this frontier reveals how local people believe that national sovereignty is negated in the desperate scramble for renewable resources instigated by the United States and northern Europe. Due to the multiple scales of business, governance and specialist knowledge involved, research at emergent intersections of society and technology must be an interdisciplinary project.

What Dominic Boyer (2014:324) terms "energopower" - the complex power games played by western states and multinational corporations in the name of energy - has consequences at all levels of society and politics, from the EU and nation-state to local livelihoods. Advocating ethnography as a method to capture these complex scaled interactions, since 2011 I have worked with engineers, physicists, geographers, political scientists, government ministers, business executives and local farmers and technicians to explore the emerging world of new socio-technical assemblages in western Thessaly, Greece. This paper will discuss interdisciplinary energy research, presenting moments of fruitful (mis)communication and instances when partners become subjects and subjects become collaborators.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.