EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010


Public anthropology for a world in crisis

Location John Hume Lecture Theatre 7
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30


Sarah Pink (Monash University ) email
Simone Abram (Durham University) email
Halvard Vike (University of Oslo) email
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Long Abstract

The idea that anthropologists can and should play a role as public intellectuals and activists has long-since been (and been debated as) part of the history of the discipline. Recently attention has been applied to this area of anthropological practice in a growing literature on the topic (as is also happening in a parallel way for Sociology). In this panel we explore how a contemporary public anthropology might be imagined, is already emerging, and is capable of making interventions outside academic contexts. We are interested in theoretically and methodologically informed case studies, position papers, critical and historical considerations. Contributions to this panel should examine questions of: how a public anthropology (or anthropologies) can operate in contemporary political, policy, cultural, social, (new) media and mobile contexts; and the implications of this.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.


The perils of public anthropology? Debating the Muhammad cartoon issue in neo-nationalist Scandinavia

Author: Peter Hervik (Aalborg University)  email
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Long Abstract

Sanday has noted that anthropologists are remarkable good at description and theory, but remarkably absent in working for change. This has been the case with the non-public-engagement of Nordic anthropologists in the Muhammad cartoon issue and also seen through collegial advice not to use "upsetting" concepts such as neo-nationalism and neo-racism. Such examples are used to enter what should be an ongoing discussion of anthropology's engagement in public issues and its contribution to society even if it is at the risk of what Borofsky called "subverting the narrow niched conversations of specialization."

In this paper I will discuss a number of perils of public anthropology as they have come out in research engagement with the lopsided and simplified representation of ethnic and religious minorities in the Danish news media and discourses of neo-nationalism, neo-racism, populism, and Islamophia. These discourses are growing out of the intimate relationship between the Danish field of journalism and the field of politics, which again fosters and frames popular consciousness. I will also argue that public anthropology is an obligation not to be confused with publicity of research findings but to engage seriously as individuals and departments through research projects and investing expertise in public issues, for instance, to combat discrimination, deprivation, intolerance, political manipulation, inequalities and by using the special strengths and creativities of anthropology that may serve to enlarge the public sphere.

Artists, politicians, academics and a local newspaper in competition for definitions

Author: Ina Dietzsch (University of Basel)  email
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Long Abstract

Informed by reflexive anthropology, STS and theoretical reflections on ethnodrama the paper will develop an approach to publics arising in participatory action research. As example serves a collaboratory project in a shrinking city in East Germany which appeared as a public battlefield of several interest groups competing for intellectual authority. The prominent agents all draw on distinct kinds of expertise which are constrained by the logic of knowledge production inherent to their particular institutional background; they aim at exercising power over others and are meant to be utilised in other (artistic, academic, political) contexts. The paper will discuss how in this setting anthropology still can ‚involve the non-professionals' and ‚humanise the academic expert' (Boyer). The preliminary answer is to take into account an always changing anthropological object, not to expect a bidirectional dialogue between consensual partners and to perform research within a complex and unstable network of different public agencements.

For an AnthroPoArt: about audio-visual experimentation as a form of political engagement

Author: Paolo S. H. Favero (University of Antwerp)  email
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Long Abstract

Based upon reflections on the experimentation with audio-visuals as instruments for communicating a politically sensible anthropological knowledge to wider audiences (what I label as AnthroPoArt), this paper explores anthropology's changing notions of engagement.

Starting with the assumption that anthropologists should aim at crossing the various gaps that separate them from wider audiences (hence being able to communicate their knowledge back into their wider social habitats) and often from their interlocutors in the field too, this paper will attempt at questioning what role such attempts may have epistemologically, i.e. in terms of our own understanding of the knowledge we produce about our fields and about anthropology at large, as well as ethically/politically.

What different entries to anthropological knowledge can we get by explicitly generating projects aimed at engaging with wider audiences? In what way can we envision this as a constitutive part of our careers? Can we get our interlocutors closer with such products?

And also, can images and sounds really open up the field to sensorial and evocative spaces able to better include wider audiences? What consequences may such kind of work have on our relation to our interlocutors in the field? Do such experiments contribute in subverting anthropology's colonial heritage?

Performative formations: engendering art and anthropology in a Delhi gallery

Author: Anna Laine (Swedish National Heritage Board)  email
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Long Abstract

This presentation reflects on an exhibition, staged in Delhi during March 2009. The exhibition was situated in the overlap between art and anthropology. Using various materials such as text and video, it investigated how the use of visual/practice based methods and presentations affect the production of anthropological knowledge. The project involved two artists and myself (in the role of both artist and anthropologist). The initiative grew from our shared interest in making the patterns in the context of the kolam practices in South India. The two year process leading up to the exhibition raised a number of differences in terms of anthropological/artistic understanding, which were explored and discussed in relation to the common ground otherwise established between us. In the gallery, the completed art works presented these explorations through out three diverse but deliberately coordinated and site-specific ways of aesthetic expression.

Issues of power were foregrounded by bringing together a self-taught South Indian artist defined as a maker of craft and excluded from her local art scene; a Swedish artist trained and acknowledged in the Western institutionalized art scene; and a Swedish anthropologist-artist straddling the borders between social and artistic research. Additionally, we were all women and by some expected to belong to a shared category of female identity. Delhi was chosen for the exhibition as it was an unfamiliar place to all of the participants. We attempted to engender a contact zone, a third space, in the gallery, where preconceived categories could be de- and re-constructed on equal terms.

From account to narrative: Quranic school in Damascus as a case study for visual inter-actions in public anthropology

Author: Massimiliano Fusari (University of Exeter)  email
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Long Abstract

Following on Gilles Peress' work, my research, as both professional photographer and academic researcher, aims at debating what public anthropology might be, as well as how the versatility of photojournalism could be implemented.

The starting point sits on Eisenstein's legacy on montage as a process not limited to cinema, but to all narrative techniques regardless of the medium used. Relying on my professional background, I will re-assess Eisenstein's concepts of vertical and horizontal editing in photography, and then re-articulate keywords such as anthropology, audience, medium and meanings codification, analysis and interpretation accordingly.

I intend to foster my perspective on PA as a field of inter-actions where re-negotiations of hybrid theoretically and methodologically informed perspectives occur together with new ways of looking at closed disciplines. Can we compare audiences of visual narratives by anthropologists to those by visual artists? Hence, the call for a public anthropology with reference to narrative techniques.

Applied anthropology: a viable career path?

Author: Roger Ballard (Centre for Applied South Asian Studies)  email
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Long Abstract

As an anthropologically trained analyst of developments within UK South Asian ethnic colonies during the forty years, on the basis of which I have regularly sought to comment on the challenges to social policy precipitated by the introduction of new dimensions of plurality into the established social order, my career as an 'applied anthropologist' has been distinctly chequered.

Never having held an appointment in a Department of Anthropology, I took early retirement from my post in a Department of Religions and Theology in 2002. Since then I have reinvented myself as a Consultant Anthropologist, earning my living by preparing expert reports for use in legal proceedings involving South Asian litigants. In that role I receive a constant flow of ethnographic data in the form of briefs from solicitors; yet more insights arise as my reports are reduced as grist to the mill in the adversarial (and deeply insular) processes of English Law. Business is booming - as is my capacity to produce academic commentaries on plurality and its consequences.

But does this mean that there is a prospect of neophytes following in my footsteps? I doubt it. Now that community cohesion and anti-terrorism have become the touchstones of social policy, public policy identifies ethnic plurality as a problem to be eliminated, rather than as a de facto reality. Even more seriously, there is still no viable means by means whereby neophytes can access the ethnographic database, or the theoretical and conceptual perspectives which are a prerequisite for effective professional practice.

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Volunteers and poor: community health workers in informal settlements in Nairobi

Author: Monica Bonaccorso (Goldsmiths College, University of London)  email
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Long Abstract

"65% of the Kenyan population lives in informal settlements, like rats, scrounging for food" The Daily Nation

This paper presents work in progress from 'With The Public in Mind', a research project funded by the Wellcome Trust (2007-2011). The paper focuses on the work of community health workers (CHWs) who are conceptualised by international governmental and non-governmental organisations as highly motivated 'volunteers'. As volunteers, they are unemployed, poor, suffer ill health and live in unsanitary conditions, yet they (knowingly and unknowingly) end up delivering major programmes on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. Their work is crucial for the communities that under enormous constraints, and often fortuitous circumstances, receive some help. Their work is even more crucial for the governmental and non-governmental organisations engaging them. In order to hold on to their voluntary posts, CHWs must produce data which in turn account for the success of the programme itself. In other words CHWs play a pivotal role: they secure the well-paid jobs of those sitting in the offices by contributing to building the data that regenerates multi-million dollars grants. What is the role of public anthropology when faced with an example of rights that apply to one set of people only and exclude the other?

Working for change from within: applied anthropology in the Basque Country

Author: Margaret Bullen (University of the Basque Country, Donostia-San Sebastián)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper proposes to examine the experience of applied anthropology in the Basque Country, a region frought with social and political crisis, but at the same time a forward looking, fast moving society which invests in innovation and change. In the Basque context, anthropology has enjoyed a public profile through the figures of ethnographers, archeologists and only latterly social anthropologists, which has meant that anthropology has been associated with caves and skulls in the past and led to a distortion of the potential contribution of social anthropologists in the public eye. At the same time, the concern with culture at the core of the disputed Basque identity has meant that the anthropological community has not been invisible, but openly consulted by the media on sociocultural issues. Finally, the "entrepreneurial spirit" encouraged by modern Basque society and manifest in different initatives promoted by public insitituions as well as the academy, has enabled the emergence of an applied anthropolgy in the Basque public spehere. Through case studies of projects undertaken by the spin-off spplied anthropology consultancy, Farapi, this paper proposes an examination of the interchange of cultural and political discourses in the name of public interest, the margin for manouevre in working for the adminstration and the possibilities or limitations of contributing to social change.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.