EASA, 2008: EASA08: Experiencing diversity and mutuality
Ljubljana, 26/08/2008 – 29/08/2008
Local encounters with the global: diversity of anthropological fieldwork approaches in globalization studies
Date and Start Time 29 Aug, 2008 at 09:00
The local is no more the place of anthropological fieldwork. How to place then the anthropological investigations in our global world and in the field of globalization studies? The panel is addressing the conceptual and methodological issues of this main problem of present anthropology.
The local is no more the very place of anthropological fieldwork as it used to be at the time of Malinowski and his followers. Anthropological concepts of "the local" have been fundamentally affected by "the global", perceived as "a planetary network of connected points". And, following James Ferguson, this local is affected even more - and in a more sophisticated way - by the "mondial" as world system of differences and inequalities and "place-in-the-world" of each "local" entity. The global and the mondial are in-forming each local space and social existence. The shadow of the mondial is thus present even in the most peripheral local community. Some even conclude that, in a way, the local does not exist any more.
In fact, there seems to be a need for reconsidering, if not for overcoming, the spatially bounded concepts traditionally associated with ethnographical fieldwork. At the same time, however, it also seems that the specific focus on "the local" in anthropology is an important and diverse contribution to the interdisciplinary field of globalization studies. To recapture the local in new terms, then, may well lead to a genuinely anthropological approach towards studying and theorizing the global.
The panel is addressing the conceptual and methodological issues of this main problem of present anthropology by pinpointing the diversity of anthropological fieldwork approaches in present globalization studies.
A 'nested' and 'perspectivistic' way of understanding the global - local nexus
This paper is mainly concerned with the methodological and theoretical problems involved in imagining and studying ethno-religious minorities in Central and Eastern Europe through an 'anthropology of globalization'. I use some of Appadurai's and Comaroff&Comaroff's insights into the study of non-isomorphic global cultural flows and local autochtony movements in order to sketch a 'perspectivist' and 'nested' way of making sense of the dialectics of 'global' and 'local'. The 'autochtonous' ethno-religious identity can be seen, thus, not only as perspectivistic but also as 'nested', in the sense that the global, national and regional are actually internal relations constituting the imagined 'autochtony' of the local. The 'perspectivist' way of understanding globalization and autochtony implies the existence of an imaginary/global character of these cultural flows, strongly modulated by the political, historical and linguistic position of various social agents: nation states, multinational corporations, diaspora communities, movements, ethnic and religious groups, villages, families etc.
The new configuration of the anthropological field of investigation, even if it radically questions the relevance of classical, spatially bounded, analytical tools, at the same time reinforces the methodological importance of the 'local'. The new 'local' is, nevertheless, de-centered and multiplied, as the anthropological fieldwork becomes multi-sited, in a network of 'local' sites that are, at the same time, externally articulated with the global and internally formed by it. This transformed 'local' fieldwork needs a reworking of conceptual frameworks for theorizing the global.
Crossing boundaries: conversion to and within Islam in a local Belgian and globalizing context
The increase of Secular/Christian Belgians converting to Islam and other conversions within Islam, characterized by reinterpretations of Islam by going back to early Islamic history, present the succes of (orthodox) Islam in the current globlized world. Globalization can be considered as the concept that allows defining this changed conversion environment at the start of the twenty-first century. It accounts for the growing tension between the Western and the Islamic world.
Firstly, we will examine whether the growing success of Islam in the Global Age, is related to the ability of Islam to bridge the global/local divide, by offering the emotional bond of a local community rooted in an internally homogenizing but externally differentiating socio-cultural practice, which links the distinct local Islamic communities dispersed throughout the world to a worldwide "imagined community", the global Ummah.
The second part of the paper will examine how secular/Christian belgians converting to Islam and converts within Islam in a globalized context use the internet as a communication instrument in order to improve their knowledge of Islam. We will also explore how the internet functions regarding the edification of the moral and religious values. The works of Sheikh Albani and Ibn Baaz will be analyzed in the light of Manuel Castells' work such as The Internet Galaxy (2001) and The Network Society (2004).
Ethnography matters: multisited research, cultural hierarchies and their ethnographic methods
The presentation will tackle with two aspects of capital importance in anthropological research: the formation, and the position of the ethnographic subject within the discipline of anthropology. I chose the following working definition of discipline: "methods which made possible the meticulous control of the operations of the body, which assured a constant subjection of its forces and imposed upon them a relation of docility-utility" (Foucault 1979:137)
The ethnographic subject (the argument has it) is informed by global dynamics although it appears to be an independent emergence within the field of anthropology. In its construction, the subject reveals thinly veiled cultural hierarchies that underscore the structure of the discipline itself. The choice of the subject and the possibility of following it are pre-inscribed in power relations from which national origins and institutional positions are not strange.
The ethnographer him/herself is produced within this field of forces, with the unmediated contribution of the ethnographic tools and methods. The encounter between the ethnographer and her/his interlocuteurs (interlocked in the ethnographic relation) is mediated by the under-researched objects of ethnography (from the writing pen to the passport). The objects constructs the ethnographer as such, and the ethnographic relation.
These two aspects of ethnography and their material expression are the focus of this presentation.
From "flows" back to actors: why "the local" is no longer a place for anthropology
More and more, social science is delineating the world into three distinct spheres: "the local", "the national" and "the global". It often treats each of these spheres as if it factually existed and as if it had fixed boundaries. It thus territorializes the world even at a time when a great deal of its publications deal with "transnational flows" (Appadurai, Hannerz). In attempting to analyze these "flows", anthropologists have so far either concentrated on how "locals" are resisting, appropriating or reinterpreting "the global" - usually portrayed as a homogenizing force coming from "above" or "outside". The anthropology of globalization is increasingly less about people's lives and more about such "flows" as 'a classic fetishized image of capital acting on its own accord, metaphorically treated as a natural phenomenon' (Graeber 2002: 1224).
I hold that "the local" is no longer a place for anthropology. Not because "things" have become "global" nowadays, but because "the local" does not exist. Neither does "the national", nor "the global". The above mentioned terminology does not help us to foster an understanding of their (and our) constantly shifting frames of references and activities, but instead introduces an unnecessary layer of abstraction. By using ethnographic material stemming from fieldwork in Kyrgyzstan, and following Bruno Latour, Marilyn Strathern, Marc Augé and John Law in their theoretical approaches, I offer an exploratory alternative view on how we can conceive of the connectedness of actors and institutions without having to take recourse to "the local", "the national" and "the global".
Mediatized local: media reshaping the local and the local response to media impact
Ethnographical approach to media and its influence on local worlds is new though very inspiring subfield of anthropology. It is generally described that individuals in contemporary world are involved in enlarging global flow of information on witch postindustrial, non-static "new capitalism" is established. People are believed to move in constant flow, both geographically and intellectually. In such circumstances the classical conception of local and fieldwork method's seem not to be exactly appropriate.
In fact however, local community, and specific anthropological approach to it are the best of all offered by social science methods to catch the global changes under "local microscope". Researching local and interpreting local contexts and noticing how they reshape information transferred by media seem to give the best image of media impact. There is no local that does not seem to be mediatized. And when some individuals prefer to follow cultural traits offered by popular media, the others turn to what they believe to be traditional local, but use media in this movement as well. Consequently in both cases the new, mediatized local is created. Hence definition and research methods of local ask for new approach. The classical techniques like participant observation or stationary research, however, still seem to be useful.
In my paper I'm going to (1) discuss the theories of media impact on local, (2) give two examples from my fieldwork experience in south-east Poland showing how media broadcast is reinterpreted and mediatized in local context and (3) discuss methodological implication of mediatization of local.
Researching fakes, practicing anthropology out of the corner of the eye
Re-production, a global phenomenon, and re-productions, an ubiquitous category of objects in which fake branded goods nowadays predominate, are morally and legally combated and culturally and socially derided. A researcher interested in fake branding as a material practice and fake brands as a material presence is challenged in various ways. In a nutshell, the ubiquitous becomes elusive, and the anthropologist is suspected of sharing these mainstream attitudes and secretly laughing at and/or condeming people, practices and objects.
This paper will present the style of anthropological inquiry forged through attempts at grasping the elusive presence, all the while fighting against the image of the scoffing observer. In frantic attempts to save my active self, I tried various, mainly unassuming, methods to overcome this status. Instead of immersing into social worlds, I found myself hanging around, being there and there, in Istanbul (the main regional producer), in the "Europa" market on the outskirts of Bucharest (considered the main source of counterfeited goods on the Romanian market) and a provincial Romanian town (chosen for its typical clothing-scape, in which "Europa" clothing predominates).
Anthropological mode of knowing is conceived as relational and performative, that is, gained by way of social relationship and of living our part in a social world. However, there are cases in which being allotted a role is less probable, and, I argue, practicing anthropology out of the corner of the eye is a valid strategy for doing research.
«Liquid truth»: How the story of a demolished Bedouin village in Israel travels around the world
In the Israeli Negev desert, home demolitions in «unrecognized» (that is, not authorized by the government) Bedouin villages are a «hot» issue. This study tries to follow the flow of discourses, funds, and people around the very specific event of home demolition in Al-Twail. Informed by Anna L.-Tsings "ethnography of global connections" and by Complex System Theory, this study moves forth and back between a specific place and its global connections. The village of Al-Twail has been demolished seven times during my Ph.D. fieldwork last year, but has been always reconstructed. A wide range of Human Rights activities has been taken place; international journalists and politicians came to visit the place, blogs and newsletters talked about the demolions at global scale.
This is a «travelling story» about global solidarity based on systematic misunderstandings: the very place of demolitions and reconstructions is subject to different interests, desires, and realities; multiple and contradictionary «truths» are negotiated. For example, in contrast to some news reports, it has never been really inhabitated.
From a methodological perspective, this approach has been possible by shifting classical assumptions about what is a «comunity» and what is the «field» in order to recupture the local in new terms. Consequently, the way how we understand the production of social reality is framed in different terms: the «truth» about that very place itself seems to become liquid.