EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution
Ethnography as collaboration/experiment
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00
Anthropologists studying artistic, scientific or urban sites have refunctioned ethnography through modes of engagement that could be termed experimental and/or collaborative. Could these collaborative experiments in the field offer new conditions for the production of anthropological knowledge?
In the past decades, anthropology has shifted from its traditional naturalistic mode with the 'been-there-done-that' rhetoric of immersive fieldwork to new modes of ethnographic engagement that have transformed the anthropological project. We would like to focus on a cluster of modes of field engagement that we call 'collaboration/experiment.' The articulation of such a mode could be traced back to para-ethnographies carried out in contemporary expert settings where anthropologists find themselves obliged to reconsider the scope of their epistemic practices, the outcomes and types of representation and the kind of relationships they might establish in the field. In those settings, the subjects involved can no longer be treated as 'informants' but as 'collaborators' in a gesture that surely 'refunctions ethnography' (Holmes and Marcus 2005).
Drawing on these insights, we want to invite ethnographic projects developed in artistic, scientific, urban and experimental sites that could describe their ethnographic mode of engagement in experimental and/or collaborative terms (Marcus 2013). We aim to explore what does it mean for an ethnography to be experimental and collaborative? What might the methodological, epistemic and relational transformations of such collaboration/experiments be? How are relations in the field articulated in these collaborative/experimental ethnographies? And finally, how could collaborative experiments in the field make us think of more experimental forms of fieldwork collaboration? We believe that paying attention to the contemporary contours of ethnography as 'collaboration/experiment' might offer us the possibility of exploring new conditions for the production of anthropological knowledge.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Collaboration as an anthropological endeavour and in vivo practice
My ethnographic research explores the relations of 'collaboration' in an inter-disciplinary scientific team. Using my experience as a co-collaborator I examine the translation of knowledge as both an anthropological endeavour and in vivo practice.
In this paper I explore the relations of 'collaboration' in a scientific team called 'Weather, Health and Air Pollution'(WHAP). I use my fieldwork experience, understood here as a relation of collaboration, to consider ethnographic spaces where the ethnographer's informants are engaged in similar knowledge practices to the ethnographer themselves. Conducting interdisciplinary research on air pollution is a reflexive process. Scientists on WHAP discuss, materialise and implement a number of different ways of ensuring they effectively translate their knowledge (data, methods and technologies) on air pollution between different scientific disciplines. This process of translation and exchange between epistemic communities seems to be what it means 'to collaborate' on WHAP, a process which implies an act of comparison and a transformation of information. I engage in this process of translation as an ethnographer on WHAP. I am also complicit in the field site in that I share a common object of curiosity, air pollution. During my field work I observed a shift in ways of practicing 'collaboration' that compare and account for these different perspectives of air pollution. Thus, I examine translation as both an anthropological endeavour and in vivo practice through my own collaborative experiment. I suggest that members of the WHAP project offer insight into how to "take seriously" scientific beliefs that are not our own, rather than assuming the divisive lines of epistemological commitment.
Collaboration and reflexivity in state organisations: the method of 'research traineeship'
This paper analyses the roles and relations developed as an ethnographer in a field, which for long was a no-go area for most anthropologists: that of state organisations. Drawing on my experiences with the method of 'research traineeship', it identifies criteria for collaborating with officials.
The ethnographic methodology has a long-standing tradition in the discipline of anthropology and it has been adopted by a number of adjacent social science disciplines, such as organisation studies. In order to gain an understanding of contemporary organisations, the methodology of ethnography was useful for many organisation scholars. However, to date little was said about what we can learn from studies of organisations for conducting ethnographies in the contemporary world. How is the role of researcher and researched defined in ethnographies of organisations? How are their relationships configured? Conducting ethnographies in contemporary organisations allows us to re-think what we mean by reflexivity and engage with new opportunities of collaboration.
Drawing on my experiences of conducting fieldwork in municipal organisations in Amsterdam, Antwerp and Leeds and using some of my own fieldwork notes, I argue that the role of the researcher and his/her relationships with research subjects is taking new forms in ethnographies of contemporary organisations. Yet, this has not changed the fundamental issues of dealing with emotions and power in the fieldwork situation.
Inscribing collaboration in the digital archive of ethnographic field data
In my presentation I would like to show how answering experimentally the challenges of making open archive of field interviews collected in a scientific expert environment, the Obninsk project team elaborated digital form reflecting analytically the process of collaborative production of each transcript.
Web-based digital archives, (inter)active and open-ended, offer a form of ethnographic writing best suited to the present condition of producing qualitative field research and consuming knowledge (Marcus 2013).
The Obninsk digital project (dir. Dr. Andrey Zorin/Dr. Galina Orlova) implemented by the multidisciplinary team is aimed to analytical medialization of various data collected during the ethnographic fieldwork in the town of Obninsk (Russia), 2012-2013. The analytical focus is on the culture of the late Soviet period scientific community built around the nuclear programs conducted in the town. The archive is supposed to perform multileveled analytics representing raw data interconnected with general codes along with microanalytic visualizations and conventional descriptive and interpretative papers, and therefore to serve as analytical tool and experimental site provoking reflections on how knowledge is produced from qualitative data in interdisciplinary space of qualitative research.
Our interlocutors are scientists and engineers, often prominent experts in their areas and public persons. The archive form allows respectfully presenting their social and historical statements along with our analysis. Considering their expectations from the archive and their conventions of public writing becomes crucial when it comes to open publishing their biographical interviews, and makes us revise norms of the standard ethnographic research model. Standard procedure of authorization turns into a complicated and rich dialogue; every authorized transcript becomes the result of collaboration and compromise. Digital tools enable us to inscribe these negotiations in the form of the archive itself, articulating the impacts of both sides and still complying with conventional ethics.
Achieving temporal and local multidimensionality: experiments in cross-generational research collaboration
Given the dilemma of temporality in ethnographic research this article - based on a research project in Berlin-Neukölln - discusses how collaboration across different generations of researchers can enable an inherent acceleration, consolidation and amplification of ethnographic research processes.
Ethnographic fields are inherently complex, perhaps today more than ever. By increasingly turning toward the study of the "here and now", as Paul Rabinow emphasizes, temporalizing becomes a key problem for ethnography (Rabinow et al., 2008). The different paces of social dynamics in the field and ethnographic research, characterized by its slowness, complicate the spatial mapping of the field and the contextualization of the temporal frame (Marcus, 2010). In the face of this complexity, it is necessary to consider the use of new approaches in research. In this sense, the significance of collaboration for research design becomes important as "the result would be a back-and-forth, a recursive shaping of each other" (Rabinow et al., 2008, p.85). The tendency for collaboration in research serves a deepening and widening of the field, while revealing its open-ended character (Marcus, 2013).
Following Rabinow and Marcus, we applied a research strategy in our urban anthropological project in Berlin-Neukölln that places collaboration at its core. Differently from Rabinow and Marcus, we understood collaboration as a form of cooperation and knowledge production that involves different researcher personalities and generations. These various modes of collaboration across different researcher generations - Bachelor, Master, and PhD students alongside post-docs and professors - being engaged in the field of Neukölln at different stages of the study will be discussed. This experience will serve as a stage to depict the experimental qualities and intricate relationships developed when researchers of different generations work together in ethnographic research processes.
Emerging knowledge in a scientific project about Lassa Fever (LAROCS)
This paper describes novel modes of anthropological engagement into the variable intersections between people, animals and environments that create the conditions for transmission of Lassa Fever in West Africa.
Lassa, a Viral Haemorragic Fever spread by the commensal rat, Mastomys natalensis, effects western African differentiated areas: Mango river belt: Sierra Leona, Guinea and Liberia; and Nigeria. While less virulent than the higher profile VHFs Marburg or Ebola, because it is endemic in populations, Lassa Fever has the highest morality rate of 5-10.000 cases per year.
Drawing upon my ongoing involvement in an interdisciplinary project on Lassa fever (LAROCS) which aims to intervene to reduce the spread of this virus from rats to humans, this proposal elaborates the methodological and theoretical potential of different forms of collaboration that are involved in this project; epidemiology, rodent ecology, virology and anthropology.
The paper will focus upon distinct dimensions of that engagement: between the natural and social scientists involved in the project; between scientists, other fieldworkers and participants; and exploring the theoretical potentials of anthropology, in particular, the study of material cultures and multispecies relations, mediating those interchanges.
At this early stage, we are exploring, the theoretical potential of these diverse collaborations for anthropology, in a number of ways; for example to return to the classical anthropological interest in the domestic and public, and the division between the 'domestic' and 'wild' in a society of hunters, and to push forward more recent debates around multiple ontologies and multispecies ethnography.
The field station as stage: ethnographic re-enactment, memory and affect in African science
Amani, a once-famous scientific laboratory in Tanzania, dwells today in a state of suspension. Experimenting with ethnographic re-enactment with a group of ageing former scientific workers, we probe entanglements of science memory and affect, and between anthropologists and their historical Object.
Drawing on ethnography from Amani Research Station, Tanzania, we develop methodological and theoretical potentials of reenactment to probe relationships between science and place, material traces and memories, aesthetics and affect.
Through its 120-year history, Amani has been a site of bioscientific endeavours, providing expertise for imperial expansion, colonial welfare, national progress and international development. The station's heyday was between 1950s and 70s - a period of global visions of disease eradication, and of decolonisation. Science-making, then, was inseparable from civic applications and global extensions, enhancing lives and improving welfare, and unsettling relations of race, class and gender. Changes and aspirations for change registered in the station's mundane routines and collective scientific labours, where shifting mores and codes of conduct were worked out and held, albeit briefly, in tension.
Today, the station lies in a state of suspended motion, a quiet site of sedimented routines and material traces. Buildings and vegetation are minimally maintained, some staff report for duty, but no research is done. To recuperate the aesthetic and affective vitality of past collaborative explorations, and to experiment with our own projections of their political significance - we assembled retired African and European scientific workers around the station. Re-enactments - of naturalist collection, control experiments and laboratory procedures - rendered available habitual movements and rhythms, unspoken pleasures and exhaustions, longings and disappointments of scientific work. As collaborative performance, these stagings also entangled their memories with our own desires, rethinking the present by disrupting straightforward narratives about the promises and shortfalls of scientific and societal progress.
Let's get equipped! Objections as ethnographic devices
The authors have encountered 'objections' from natives while studying up surgeons, professors, and scientists. Based on their fieldwork experiments, this study suggests that objections are useful ‘devices’ for ethnographers who aim to collaborate with natives and create anthropological knowledge in new ways.
This study deals with natives' 'objections' which the three authors commonly encountered while they 'studied up' a plastic surgery clinic and the mad-cow diseases debates in South Korea, and disaster prevention research centers in Japan, respectively. Our natives - surgeons, university professors, and scientists - reviewed, questioned, criticized, and, sometimes, made suggestions on our own researches. On the one hand, our research affected the natives and exposed their new voices, which, on the other hand, also transformed researchers and their studies. Authors produced differences in and reflected with natives on their own research in terms of its contents, methods, and values through natives' objections. Based on three authors' experiences, this paper proposes that natives' objections are opportunities to reach for new kinds of anthropological knowledge and collaboration, rather than something to be disregarded as native resistance and rejections against our ethnography. This paper is an attempt to appreciate and formalize objections as 'ethnographic devices' so that any anthropologists can be equipped with them in their fields as scientists work with experimental devices in their laboratories. This study suggests that objections are useful devices for ethnographers who aim to collaborate with natives and create anthropological knowledge in new ways.
Film-making in the field: 'artistic' research as an open-ended anthropological praxis
Based on recent ethnographic research on youth violence in Cape Verde non-fictional video is discussed as an "in-between" representational and relational form of experimental scientific and artistic practice.
Based on recent ethnographic research that employed participatory and non-participatory filmmaking as a method for fieldwork and knowledge production, non-fictional video is discussed as an "in-between" representational and relational form of experimental scientific and artistic practice. In the present case, the author's fieldwork on urban gangs and youth violence in Cape Verde, carried out in two of the country's central prisons, has been accompanied by an open-ended filmmaking process with a couple of youths in a marginalized low-income neighbourhood in the crime-ridden city of Praia, Santiago Island. The non-directional videotaping of the "clique's" daily routine in an improvised shack at the margins of a middle class district was conceptualized as an experimental and decidedly "incomplete" artistic practice that would - eventually - bring along anthropological insights into the dynamics of youth culture, violence and society from an inside/outside (prison) perspective. Film-making within the context of social sciences is thus discussed as an inextricably "artistic", "scientific" and "relational" praxis for the constitution and representation of knowledge.
Finding one's rhythm: a mobile ethnography on the road with a touring band
Drawing from my PhD research on mobility of touring musicians, this paper explores the process and quest of a fieldwork between getting used to a mobile lifestyle myself whilst observing the strategies of the actors in finding stability within movement.
In early summer of 2013, I conducted fieldwork with a touring band for my PhD-thesis concerning daily labour mobility. The methodology of participant observation meant not only an intimate engagement with the lifeworld of the subjects, but a transformation of my own daily rhythm from a sedentary to a mobile lifestyle.
This paper explores the notions of this double-engagement and the experimental value of a fieldwork "on the move". While the actors of the research have developed (and constantly are developing) skills and strategies to enable a feeling of "place" within their constant movement, their expertise is linked to specific but at the same time indeterminable rituals and regularities. The indescribability of automatisms and developed strategies challenges the researcher towards creative fieldwork methods, while the difficulty of communicating in a collaborative sense becomes an issue of group dynamics. Furthermore, the regularities are usually related to the daily work and the forthcoming of the tour, for which they are not necessarily accessible for the researcher accompanying the band.
In this paper, I would like to show some of the aspects relating to the mobility of the subjects of my research and the finding of my own rhythm within the infrastructures of their tour.
Meetings - performances - ethnographic situations: doing art and acting in the field considered as ethnographic practices
In this paper I will focus on ethnographic practice understood as a kind of social-artistic action. I will argue that this perspective can make us possible to step beyond fiction of the ‘natural’ intimacy of fieldwork and to reveal implicit creative work present on both sides of the project.
In this paper I will focus on ethnographic practice understood as a kind of social and artistic action. The main purpose of this paper is to answer the question: how to introduce elements of art to ethnography conducted in peripheral, poor regions without establishing relations of (symbolic and cultural) domination/inequality. In order to do this I reconstruct projects Prologue and Ethnography/Animation/Art conducted in the years 2011-2013; both projects were led by a team of ethnographers, animators, and contemporary artists in the vicinity of Szydłowiec in central Poland, in areas of unprofitable, small-scale agriculture and affected by local unemployment. This experience brings about quasi-experimental research situations, in which ethnographic reality becomes particularly dynamic, 'thick' but also emergent and unpredictable. I will show how ethnography combined with artistic actions reveals an implicit dimension of creative work and spontaneous self-organization on both sides of the project. In this perspective on both sides (ethnographers&artists /local community) we can find phenomena of emergence of meaning, and a kind of lived 'social performance'. I will argue that this perspectives can make us possible to step beyond the fiction of 'natural' intimacy and engagement while doing fieldwork. It is a new methodological perspective which comes about: its aim is not so much to induce 'mechanical' social change but to construct common, creative event with unpredictable and emergent effects. My consideration will be mainly set within theoretical claims by Victor Turner, Erika Fisher -Lichte, and George Marcus.
Exploring (idiotic) engagements between ethnography and design
My paper explores how the encounter between design and ethnography can provide an opportunity for ethnography to revise its own 'cultural' assumptions regarding anthropological practices of creativity.
Two contrasting ways of conceiving design-anthropology engagements can be considered: 1, as a collaboration where designers remain designers and ethnographers remain ethnographers (Suchman 2011, Yaneva 2009): in this relationship, designers design while ethnographers observe, analyse and have a critical role - but relational resources are not fully explored; and 2) a more relational, open and unpredictable kind of collaboration where ethnographers and designers may become 'idiots' to each other (Michael 2012, Rabinow & Marcus 2008). It is the latter possibility that my paper explores.
Based on my fieldwork in a design studio of Milan, I will present situations that refer to my encounter with a different way of conceiving creativity and performing 'the new'. Design and ethnography perform relationality and therefore creativity in very different ways. While in ethnography it is what comes from the outside (which is obviously also processed inside, through interpretation) that is considered generative, in design it is rather what is processed inside (through authorial creativity) that is performed as generative. While involved in the process of learning what being creative in design terms requires I was also exposed to its transformative effects. Thus, my ethnography went far beyond the description about these different ways of bringing the new into being - it ended up exploring also the engagements between ethnography and design. My paper will present situations concerned with "engagement events" and the "disruptive character of the idiot" (Michael 2012) - situations where the relationships generated ended up being disruptively creative for both parts.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.