Ethnographic accounts depend on analytical categories that, without necessarily posing themselves as universal, allow for recognition of social phenomena that link different ethnographic contexts. The workshop will explore the role of such categories in contemporary anthropology and ethnography.
Ethnographic accounts depend on the use of intermediate categories of analysis which, without necessarily posing themselves as universal, allow for the recognition of social phenomena that connect one ethnographic context to another. Such intermediate categories have long been the lifeblood of anthropology, which constantly moves between representational and interpretive accounts of particular social contexts and cultural forms (ethnography) and an interest in defining the transparticular aspects and relations of human experience (social theory). Since the late 19th century, anthropology has helped develop a number of vital intermediate analytical categories that became widely influential in the human sciences, among them kinship, liminality, ritual, symbolic action, and not least a variety of categories of culture, all of which seek to reconcile the particular and transparticular dimensions. Over the past decades, many of these categories suffered considerable criticism and erosion; some feel that anthropologists now too often 'outsource' their analytical work to philosophy and literary theory. Some even speak of a crisis of the anthropological imagination, connected often to the dwindling relevance of the culture concept to contemporary anthropological analysis. We feel, however, that this crisis of imagination has been overstated; anthropology has given evidence of late of the production of a new wave of intermediate categories, among them categories like friction, assemblage, and partial connection. In this workshop, we mean to explore the vital role of intermediate categories in anthropological knowledge past and present and to think about how contemporary ethnography can improve its work with intermediate categories in the future.