Accepted paper:

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


Steffen Dalsgaard (IT University of Copenhagen)

Paper 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.

Paper 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.

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