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Desired formality

Labor migration, black markets, and the state in Chile

Sofía Ugarte

Formal work is essential to gain legal residence in Chile and the reason why Latin American and Caribbean migrants purchase fake contracts on the black market. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with migrant Haitian women applying for work visas in Santiago, this article explores the effects of desired formality and its promises of a good life on contemporary statehood in Chile. The analysis shows how Haitian women’s efforts to become formal workers transform their experiences as racialized and gendered migrants in Chile, and impact how state institutions manage and control migration. Desired formality reveals the paradoxical character of state policies that help create a racialized and precarious labor force within its legal frameworks and explain why migrants attach themselves to fragile good-life projects in new countries.

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George Orwell’s Ethnographies of Experience

The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London

Michael Amundsen

George Orwell is most widely known as the teller of dystopian tales of oppression. A closer look at his oeuvre reveals a courageous truth seeker who frequently lived and worked with his literary subjects. In his fieldwork he used the methods of classic ethnography including participant observation, semi-structured interviews and field notes. This article argues that Orwell was an ethnographer in his research methods and that both Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier are ethnographic texts with valuable insights into marginal groups in the early to mid-twentieth century in Europe. The writer’s clear-sighted and humane depiction of ‘otherness’ shows his skill as an ethnographer. His personal investment with his subject matter, reflexivity and attention to broader social and political phenomena in his narratives mark Orwell as an autoethnographer.

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George E. Marcus

This article engages the current challenges that the ecology of designing and implementing ethnographic research today presents to the still powerful culture of method in anthropology, especially as it is manifested in the production of apprentice graduate dissertation research by anthropologists in the making. The Anthropology of Public Policy defines a recent and emerging terrain of anthropological research that challenges the culture of fieldwork/ethnographic method at the core of anthropology's practice and identity. Thus, what might emerge, in the author's view, is not a new or adjusted handbook of method, but a more far-reaching discussion of how the very function of ethnographic research shifts in response to this challenge in terms of collaboration and pedagogy.

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Building Bridges over Troubled Waters

EU Civil Servants and the Transcendence of Distance and Difference

Seamus Montgomery

This Forum contribution presents fragmented accounts of historical narratives collected while conducting ethnographic fieldwork among civil servants in and around the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium. It focuses on the roles that heritage-making practices play in articulating European identity and belonging within these institutional spaces. In the ongoing debates over ‘bridges’ and ‘walls’, Commission officials advocate building the former and tearing down the latter. The European heritage narratives they enact tell the story of a supranational community formed from the expansion of external borders and the elimination of internal ones. Through the transcendence of borders, both physical and cognitive, geographic distances and social differences are made increasingly irrelevant. Their efforts in this regard are nonetheless hindered by futurist temporalities that orient Europeanness in opposition to the past.

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Relations of Trust, Questions about Expectations

Reflections on a Photography Project with Young South Africans

Oliver Pattenden

This article stems from my doctoral research, which considers moral contestation relating to education in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Overall, I outline a case for working with young people: addressing asymmetrical institutional and generational relations of power in order to enrich the knowledge generated by research. My focus is a project entitled My Future, which involved approximately forty learners drawing diagrams and using disposable cameras to produce representations of their moral judgements. Notable distinctions between data gathered during two stages of fieldwork, of differing durations, are analysed with reference to my relations with interlocutors and related institutionalised and public discourses of morality. Using the concept of trust, which is established during exchanges of mutually beneficial sociality, I argue that how we understand others depends upon what they expect from us and what we expect of them.

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Katherine Verdery

Throughout the Cold War, most people in the US saw the communist party-states of the Soviet bloc as all-powerful regimes imposing their will on their populations. The author, a child of the Cold War, began her fieldwork in Romania in the 1970s in this belief. The present essay describes how her experiences in Romania between 1973 and 1989 gradually forced her to see things differently, bringing her to realize that centralization was only one face of a system of rule pervaded by barely controlled anarchy and parasitism on the state. It was not simply that the regime had failed to change people's consciousness; rather, the system's operation was actively producing something quite different. These insights contributed to the author's developing a new model of the workings of socialism.

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Carceral Repair

Methane Extraction in Lake Kivu, Rwanda

Kristin Doughty

Abstract

This article, based on ethnographic fieldwork in 2016–2019, examines methane extraction operations in Lake Kivu on the Rwanda/DRC border as a lens into understanding how energy futures in Africa are imagined and enacted within national projects of post-war reconstruction. In 2005, scientists suggested that the lake's dissolved methane risked oversaturation within the century. This spurred state-backed projects to simultaneously prevent a natural disaster and harness the methane to meet Rwanda's rising electrification needs. Two companies are currently building and operating methane-fuelled power plants. The article suggests that these energy projects, an integral part of the overall architecture of social repair in Rwanda, reproduce and generate forms of captivity and entrapment that are central to understanding the lived politics of ‘carceral repair’, a generation after genocide.

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Jessica Prioletta

Abstract

In this article, I explore how the beliefs of preschool teachers that equality is the norm in their classrooms shape play periods in ways that may work to disadvantage girls. I argue that equality discourses mask the gender power children must negotiate in their play and that this leaves girls with fewer choices when they are accessing the play environment. With research grounded in fieldwork carried out in four public schools in a Canadian metropolis, I illustrate how liberal notions of equality reinforced the traditional gender binary in children’s play. Moreover, drawing on the work of Jane Roland Martin, I show that liberal understandings of equality work to sustain a male-centered education for all students in preschool. To explore ways to attend to such gender inequalities, I turn to Nel Noddings’s concept of an ethics of care and point to the need to challenge the gender binary in early learning.

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The Relocation of Transcendence

Using Schutz to Conceptualize the Nature Experiences of Secular People

David Thurfjell, Cecilie Rubow, Atko Remmel, and Henrik Ohlsson

Denmark, Estonia, and Sweden are, if measured by certain sociological criteria, considered to be three of the world’s most secular countries. Nature—forests, pristine beaches, and the countryside—plays a specific role in the allegedly secular discourse of the mainstream populations of these nations. Not only is it almost without exception deemed as a positive asset worthy of protection, it is also thought of as holding certain existential qualities. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, this article suggests that Alfred Schutz’s conceptualization of transcendence—further developed by Thomas Luckmann—can be used to describe the existential experiences in nature of contemporary secular people. The article results in a suggestion for an operational definition of transcendence.

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Ontological Opportunism

Reanimating the Inanimate in Physics and Science Communication at CERN

Anne Dippel

Understanding inanimate ‘nature-as-such’ is traditionally considered the object of physics in Europe. The discipline acts as exemplary discursive practice of scientific knowledge production. However, as my ethnographic investigation of doing and communicating high energy physics demonstrates, animist conceptions seep into the ontological understanding of physics’ ‘objects’, resonating with contemporary concepts of new materialism, new animism and feminist science and technology studies, signifying an atmospheric shift in the understanding of ‘nature’. Drawing on my fieldwork at CERN, I argue that scientists take an opportunist stance to animate concepts of ‘nature’, depending on whom they’re talking to. I am showing how the inanimate in physics is reanimated especially in scientific outreach activities and how the universalist scientific cosmology overlaps with indigenous cosmologies, as for example the Lakota ones.