Accepted paper:

Starting from the bottom: queering anthropological theory and practice


Mark Graham (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper briefly outlines the scope of a queer anthropology and then goes on to consider the sexual subtexts and political and ethical implications of two examples in greater detail: Fieldwork and the study of Failure. It invites anthropologists to explore worlds immanent to those we study.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on a range of theoretical sources, the paper outlines the scope of a queer anthropology and then considers two examples in greater detail: Fieldwork and Failure. In both cases, the sexual subtexts of apparently non-sexual phenomena are highlighted. The paper therefore explores sexual diversity in places we normally might not expect to find it. Fieldwork is an embodied endeavour but it is here framed as molecular and larval, a heterogeneous encounter, not between the organ-ised body of the ethnographer, but between visceral processes that are often the unrecognised or unacknowledged subterranean aspects of fieldwork, ones that connect the ethnographer with actors, organisations and processes with political and ethical implications. Queer fieldwork, I argue, alerts us to the materiality of ethnography to a greater extent than its conventional counterpart. Failure here signifies not defeat or inadequacy, as it is often understood, but an ontological fact of life. It arises from the fact that only a fraction of the multiplicity inherent in all situations is ever made actual. This makes failure something everyone experiences on a routine basis in the sense that things 'could have been otherwise'. It also means that a queer kind of failure is a highly political and ethical phenomenon, one that points us in the direction of suppressed doubts, tears in the fabric of everyday life, the unheimlich, the subjunctive moments that reveal glimpses of other- not least gender and sexual - worlds immanent in those we study, worlds the anthropologist can and perhaps ought to delineate.

panel P058
Whatever is happening to the critical study of sexual and gender diversity in anthropology? (European Network of Queer Anthropology)