EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Transgression as method and politics in anthropology

Location Wills 3.33
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 17:00


Ursula Rao (University of Leipzig) email
John Hutnyk (Goldsmiths College, University of London) email
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Short Abstract

Transgression as method and politics builds on the idea that participation in a cultural encounter transforms perception and investigates how transgressive practices have triggered the re-theorisation of conventional forms of thought and life.

Long Abstract

The workshop focuses on transgression as a method and practice that transforms fieldwork from strict social science to something more engaging. It builds on the idea that participation in a cultural encounter transforms perception and investigates how transgressive practices have triggered the re-theorisation of conventional forms of thought and life. We invite participants to contribute to a debate about anthropology as a field in the making, which is reshaped through experience in and feedback from the field. Anthropology here appears as a social science and a social practice that through participation transgresses its own boundaries and thus undergoes constant securitisation. We invite papers that reflect on fieldwork, the engagement that results from long-term involvement, and the implication experiences in the field have for the project of writing about the other, who has become close, and part of oneself. The method of transgressive involvement has implications for the position of anthropology in the global debate of culture and the global marketplace where culture is framed, defined and reified. We would like to draw a connection between participation as method and the political position that can result thereof. The panel directly takes up the theme of the conference 'Europe and the World' by discussing the implications our work has for opening up and closing channels for communication and exchange. We will discuss a particular kind of global encounter that is produced through anthropology itself and gives us specific vantage points from which to reflect on and shape an encounter that no longer can/should be understood in terms of a clear dichotomy.


Celebrating transgression: an introduction

Author: John Hutnyk (Goldsmiths College, University of London)  email
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Long Abstract

Discussions of method can become predictable in the teaching factory where social anthropology is sold for export dollars (pounds, euros) in an international education market. It is to the credit of some teachers of anthropology that the old ideals of ethnographic practice, criticism, doubt, and even paranoia, can maintain an anthropological pedagogy that does not succumb to formulaic closure. The idea of open-ended inquiry persists, and is valued. Whether it be the 'surrender and catch' of Kurt Wolf's ethnographic engagement, or the cunning inversions of the trickster figure who bumbles through to the solution no-one could anticipate, the injunction to challenge, upset, provoke and outrage refreshingly innovates where so much anthropology battens down.

Taking up the themes of 'transgression' and 'transgressors' that have been central to the anthropological writing of Klaus Peter Köpping over many years then seems highly appropriate. This talk introduces the panel.

Insider or outsider: reflecting research with Muslim feminists in Senegal

Author: Nadine Sieveking (Georg-August-University Göttingen)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper reflects on research on the negotiation of global development concepts such as "gender equality" or "women's rights" by Muslim women in Senegal, carried out in the framework of a comparative research project on the negotiation of development in different Muslim societies. It refers to the exciting and confusing experience of doing fieldwork among Senegalese women organised in different kinds of structures on different societal levels, ranging from NGOs, academic and state institutions, to diverse political, cultural, or economically oriented groups and associations, including religious organisations of different kinds. Interacting with women in these different fields meant a transgression of boundaries and an engagement in relations with shifting, partly adopted and partly rejected identities (as anthropologist, sociologist, possible donor, possible convert, and last but not least as mother of a child with a Senegalese Muslim father). While participant observation during fieldwork was oscillating between participation as an insider and as an outsider, the research process as such opened other dimensions of participation: it meant to be part of a trans-local space constituted by (mostly female and some male) academics and activists, who are engaged in different ways in the de- and re-construction of identities. Transgression is an important aspect of this space, where discursive boundaries and stereotyped oppositions (between "the West" and "the Muslim world") are challenged, transformed and re-invented. Reflecting on this encounter (between "we" academics, and "the other" activists, Muslim feminists, etc.), crossing boundaries based on territory, gender-order, social, cultural or religious norms, the papers also intends to present a perspective on the transgression of disciplinary boundaries (sociology - anthropology).

Knowledge through change and rule breaking in the field

Author: Judith Okely (Oxford University/University of Hull)  email
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Long Abstract

With the increasing bureaucratisation of knowledge grant applications are ever subject to well honed topics and themes all set in advance. The positivist tradition continues its hegemony of hypotheses which exclude deviation and transformation. Pre-ordained formulaic methods which anticipate aims and outcomes permit minimum scope for the traditions and continuing practices in anthropology. In encountering other cultures through participation and active intervention, the fieldworker has to be open to what the people prioritise. By definition, s/he cannot know the beliefs, values and even the most ordinary practices of cultural difference. Drawing on dialogues with numerous anthropologists this paper explores examples of knowledge through transformation. The latter frequently occurred through transgressing rules which the hosts had taken for granted which were inevitably strange to the outsider.

The anthropologists rarely adhered to agenda set back home by research managers. Nor did they follow mechanistic, scientised methods. Once in the field, the majority of anthropologists changed topics. Some changed locations, if not continents. Innovation was required. The ensuing research emerged from openness to what was there and the peoples' politics and concerns. The anthropologists, who conducted fieldwork in Asia, S. America, Africa or Northern and Southern Europe also learned when confronted with and sometimes colluding in transgression. This became crucial knowledge through rupture, both in a supposedly familiar Europe and beyond.

Fraternising with the enemy or betraying friends?

Author: Stefanie Lotter (SOAS)  email
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Long Abstract

As anthropologists we generally prefer the underdog to the dictator in our choice of informants. Nevertheless, studying elites can provide us with valuable experiences of ambivalence.

After mastering the initial hurdle of gatekeepers and successfully trespassing into the field of elites, it is a particular challenge to establish trust and rapport. Elites who treasure and guard privacy and professionally choreograph their public appearance may not generally be considered prime suspects for the post of the key informant.

However having arrived in the field and engaged with the powerful and influential we are as anthropologists met with suspicion amongst our kind upon our return from the field. How could we fraternise with 'the enemy' and now speak so warmly about those who are responsible for all the social misery and absurd inequality in the country? Has participation transformed our perception of the world? Were we brainwashed by those well educated and highly eloquent elites who we now claim to have befriended?

How can we possibly engage and show empathy for people who defend their father's decisions to have political opponents executed. Can we feel pity for an insane ability to ruin businesses and disperse money? And why would I decide to cover up for participants who are ridiculous and unkempt?

If transgressive experiences help us to understand social relations, what exactly prevents me from transgressing loyalty by disclosing those unkind details and endangering participants whose political opponents have taken to the streets in millions fighting for democracy.

Devils and deities: ethnography, science and the humanity of otherness

Author: Nicola Frost  email
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Long Abstract

Anthropological forays into the political sphere have tended to concentrate on an advocacy role, whereby anthropologists 'speak out' in defence of the beleaguered marginal populations with which they work. Such activity entails creating anthropological knowledge that will demonstrate the practical and moral superiority of the relatively powerless, faced with domination, exploitation or persecution. As such, it frequently involves the selective shaping of micro-level ethnographic experience into morally one-dimensional categories. In particular, it is expected that the professional ethnographer is an indiscriminate champion of his or her 'informants', and that such deification is an indicator of engagement.

This process reflects the tensions inherent in an ethnographic ideal that advocates a denial of self in the name of scientific method. Köpping invites us to reconsider ethnographic practice as a means of understanding anthropological knowledge production in dialectical terms. His conception of ethnographic research as a dynamic, transgressive location, wherein frames of social practice are continually shattered and remade, and theoretical concepts moulded and adapted, points not to a deconstructivist reflexivity, but to a manifesto for an ironic self-awareness. Such a project recognises the need for disapproval, difference, even disgust, in ethnographic encounters with otherness that crucially acknowledge a common humanity as the basis for authentic anthropological knowledge.

This paper considers Köpping's ideas with reference to fieldwork with Indonesian organisations in Sydney in 2003 and 2004. It describes situations in which anthropological knowledge production rubs shoulders with 'native' understandings. What is the nature of interaction when informants are also colleagues? How can academic writing reflect ethnographic experience without being construed as betrayal? What do these problems teach us about the potential for activist anthropology, as opposed to an anthropology of activism?

Illegalised migrants as transgressive beings? Notes on researching migrant 'illegality' in Israel

Author: Claudia Liebelt (Bayreuth University)  email
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Long Abstract

‚Illegal' migrants are transgressive beings qua socio-political definition. Wether they crossed state borders 'illegally' or became 'illegal' in the migration process, migrants' transgressions of legal space and borders of the nation state are produced in a historical process of state definition on who belongs and who does not. This illegalisation process entails fundamental consequences for the daily territorial, emotional, social, economic, legal, and bodily practices of migrants.

How can the notion of transgression here help to perceive, analyse and grasp the meaning of humans' lives? Rather than celebrating illegalised migrants' 'transgressiveness', I intend to i) analyse their space and practices of transgression and, ii) discuss what implications the research on migrant 'illegality' bears for the anthropological process of 'fieldwork'.

In my talk I will draw from extensive research on Filipina transmigrants in the urban space of Tel Aviv, migrant illegality, and the Israeli migration regime. In Israel, the entry and import of a large number of labor migrants from Asia, Latin America, and West Africa went hand in hand with a restrictive migration regime based on the temporalisation and illegalisation of migrants. As my research shows, recent changes in the legal, economic and political structuring of migration in Israel had a decisive impact on how migrants feel, talk and act upon the spaces of 'here', 'there' and 'elsewhere'. Since the de jure state of 'illegality' in Israel has become a de facto state of deportability for those migrants, who had become 'illegals' by transgressing the limits of the migration regime, knowledge on and techniques of outfoxing its officials became of utmost importance. In this situation of crisis, full of distrust, misery and fear, anthropological 'fieldwork' often took the form of a collaborative enterprise. Since 'illegals' often perceived research not only as a hassle but as threatening, I had to prove my personal commitment, thus frequently transgressing the boundaries between activist and anthropologist.

Soiled work and the artefact

Author: Howard Potter (London Metropolitan University)  email
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Long Abstract

The Sachsenhausen Memorial Museum deploys authentic artefacts to bring prisoners from the former concentration camp into the present, and from behind their secure glass vitrines, these material remnants appear to `speak`. To investigate this commemorative and museological approach, to hear its effects, an artefact was created from the very material of Sachsenhausen. This paper will explore the affects of this questionable mimetic process on the ethnographer by bringing the field of Sachsenhausen literally into the present, and in so doing, provoke the historians and political scientists who recreate the history of this most transgressive site to words.

The fractured gaze: art works as feed back loops

Author: Judith Elisabeth Weiss  email
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Long Abstract

In art history and social anthropology "primitivism" is focussed as colonial product, as ideological practice, as copy or artistic search for elementary power. In this sense artistic experience is interpreted as imitation of the primitive or return to an original status, as creation of a collective myth or even as bringing up a global ethos. Other positions understand primitivism as document of exhaustion of European artistic creativity.

Since a fairly long time art works are shown in blockbuster exhibition (like the Venice Biennal or the Documenta Kassel), which are critical, ironical and humorous comments on European primitivism: they seem like replies of the Other who once was the culture medium of European modernity. These artists, who mostly are wanderers between the worlds, provoke the audience with their works by reflecting ethnographic museums and the obsession of European artists for non-occidental artefacts. In my contribution I would like to cross the field of arts with the tool of the anthropological methodology of "participant observation". By viewing these artworks one can show how the gaze upon the Other becomes an ever more fractured gaze, moving in multivalent directions of feed-back loops between distancing and reflexivity, between local emancipation and the demands of a diversity of globally developing aesthetics.

Participation, imagination, and mimesis: Jean Rouch's transgression of anthropological scholarship through his practice of visualised fieldwork

Author: Jens Kreinath (Wichita State University)  email
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Long Abstract

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to address transgression as a dynamic and reflexive process of crossing the boundaries of aesthetical and ethical taboos. In this regard, I take participation, imagination and mimesis as those notions related to the process of transgression that can elucidate the actual practice of boundary crossing. I will argue that one has to conceive boundary crossing as a paradoxical process of entering inside, which formerly was an outside. I will contend that this can be done by bringing participation, imagination and mimesis as different forms of practice into view. My aim here is to address the paradoxes that are involved in the temporal dynamics of these forms of transgression and by way of doing so to propose the view that transgression has first and foremost to be conceived as a form of practice that generates the paradox of boundaries and creates its own internal dynamic. Moreover, the argument will be made that transgression not only crosses particular boundaries but also establishes them reflexively through the very act of transgression. Within this conceptual framework, I will address transgression and its related issues by focusing upon the anthropological fieldwork as practiced by Jean Rouch. I will take his two films 'Au pays des mages noir' (1947) and 'Le maître fous' (1954) and focus upon the presented visual material and their discursive context. My aim is to show how Rouch's practice of visualized fieldwork transgressed aesthetical and ethical boundaries of anthropological scholarship in terms of the techniques of participatory, imaginative and mimetic practice as his virtual device.

The return of the Rabelaisian body: grotesque transgressions as cultural critique in the cinematographic imaginations of Imamura, Miike and Lauzon

Author: Klaus-Peter Köpping (University of Heidelberg)  email
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Long Abstract

The carnevalesque has since Bakhtin been theorized as a topos of the communal or societal body expressing itself collectively in imaginary and performative acts of subversion of the normal order or of the transgression of the boundaries and taboos of rule-governed life. The paradigm of Bakhtin considered in particular the orifices and lower parts of the body as central for the expression and representation of societal inversions and subversions, invoked in temporal interstices by the suppressed or subaltern groups of society. For Bakhtin the orifices, and the correlations between the "higher" and the "lower" parts of the body, were considered universally the most appropriate (or "natural") features, as the body is in these places not only opening the inside to the environment (and letting the latter invade the surface of the body), but also because these places are the ideal merging points for the meeting of opposites, for the mixing of fertility and decay (or in Bataille's terminology the mixing of the sacred, the erotic and the filthy).

The essay is taking some recent film-productions by world-renown directors such as Imamura, Miike and Lauzon as examples for the ongoing use of body-images of decay as well as excessive violence and the breaking of the taboos of incest, cannibalism and eroticism. While all of the projected images seem to fit the carnevalesque modality of the grotesqueness in the use of juxtapositions of eroticism with filth, violence and degradation, the register or tonality of each director seems to fashion each a particular universe of inversion: while Imamura opts for a mythicization of sexuality as life-enhancing force of vitality, Miike seems to manipulate an imagined social reality through grotesque exaggeration. Lauzon in turn creates the reality of a fecal universe as a rite de passage for the discovery of a world of utopian and ideal love. The essay will discuss to what degree the three directors insinuate through their grotesque visions a criticism of concrete social reality. The presentation will finally address through a discussion of the cinematic examples the problem raised by Adorno whether all art has to be considered as an "uncommitted crime" or whether such "rituals of rebellion" could be interpreted as commentaries on existing societal conditions and therefore also as a critical practice.