Foucault in China
(University of Zurich)
Paper short abstract:
This paper discusses the challenges of research in surveillance regime countries with the help of the concept of self-discipline. It focuses on silences, omissions, and the politics of speech. It also explores the agency of informants and the researcher, and discusses the question of methodology.
Paper long abstract:
Research in countries with extensive controlling regimes such as the People's Republic of China is a challenge to social anthropologists who are expected to live for extensive periods of time in the field, conduct in-depth interviews and engage in participant observations. Research in regions like Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China raises a number of important methodological and moral issues. First, the presence of secret police and constant supervision raise fundamental questions of how to collect data and how to work with informants and assistants. Second, the researcher is faced with the omnipresent societal fear created by propaganda, surveillance and repressions. This fear significantly influences social relations, ways of communicating and language of communication. Third, awareness of a danger that the researcher brings onto her informants and assistants while in the field, and also later through her publications, results in researcher's self-censorship in terms of questions posed while in the field, the way research data are analyzed and in terms of what part of these data is eventually openly published. This paper attempts to discuss the challenges of socio-anthropological research in surveillance regime countries with the help of the Foucaltian concept of self-discipline. It focuses on silences, omissions, politics of speech, and technologies of "muting." On the other hand, it also sets to explore the agency of both informants and the researcher. Lastly, it focuses on the question of methods and "scientism" of a research where omissions and silences constitute crucial part of the research material.
Under suspicious eyes: surveillance states, security zones and ethnographic fieldwork