Emotion and ethnography: Thoughts on outreach and its limits
(University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
These are reflections on how anthropological expertise is mobilised in debates over migration, as in the 2015 sense of crisis. The role of emotion in politics is an analytical and practical problem, needing both ethnographic scrutiny and scholarly experiments with “affective” communicative forms.
Paper long abstract:
I will offer some brief personal reflections on how anthropological expertise gets mobilised in discussions around migration, with particular emphasis on the sense of “crisis” gripping media and policymakers in 2015 in Europe. As is well known, established “expert” positions tend to emphasise rational, abstract accounts of contentious social phenomena, migration being a strong case in point. This has serious consequences in a polarised public sphere. By reaching out into the public sphere with a “voice of reason” on highly charged topics such as migration, “experts” effectively leave the whole emotional terrain to other (political) voices. The debate becomes stuck between positions speaking different languages, separated by a reinforced borderline between rationality and affect. In other words, the role of emotion in politics is both an important analytical and practical problem, in need of further ethnographic scrutiny on the one hand, and scholarly experimentation with “affective” forms of communication, on the other.
Migrants, refugees and public anthropology