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After dispossession

Ethnographic approaches to neoliberalization

Oscar Salemink and Mattias Borg Rasmussen

Since the 1980s globalization has taken on increasingly neoliberalizing forms in the form of commoditization of objects, resources, or even human bodies, their reduction to financial values, and their enclosure or other forms of dispossession. “After dispossession” provides ethnographic accounts of the diverse ways to deal with dispossessions by attempts at repossessing values in connection to what has been lost in neoliberal assemblages of people and resources and thus how material loss might be compensated for in terms of subjective experiences of restoring value beyond the financial. The analytical challenge we pursue is one of bridging between a political economy concerned with the uneven distribution of wealth and resources, and the profound changes in identity politics and subject formation that are connected to these. We therefore argue that any dispossession may trigger acts of repossession of values beyond the financial realm, and consequently that suffering, too, entails forms of agency predicated on altered subjectivities. This move beyond the suffering subject reconnects the study of subjectivities with the analysis of alienation, disempowerment, and impoverishment through dispossession and attempts at recapturing value in altered circumstances.

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Reflections on Fieldwork in Yemen

The Genealogy of a Diary in Response to Rabinow's Reflections of Fieldwork in Morocco

Daniel Martin Varisco

In preparation for writing an ethnographic monograph on fieldwork in Yemen, I compare and contrast my field diary, written in 1978–9, with Paul Rabinow’s Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco (1977). The underlying question is what post-fieldwork reflections reflect meaningfully about the immediacy of ethnographic fieldwork? I criticise the reflexivist trope of privileging ‘writing culture’ over the significance of ‘being there’ in the field. Point by point, I examine the implications of graduate training in anthropology, culture shock, health problems, language skills, the unreflective male voice, visual ethnography and the rhetoric of narrative writing.

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Introduction

The Ethnographic Praxis of the Theory of Practice

T. M. S. Evens and Don Handelman

The ethnographic extended-case method, also known as situational analysis, was a diagnostic of the Manchester School of Social Anthropology—and today it remains an ethnographic practice of remarkable relevance and promise. Originated by Max Gluckman, the method was intended to use case material in a highly original way. Instead of citing examples from ethnography in apt illustration of general ethnographic and analytical statements, as was common in the discipline, Gluckman proposed to turn this relationship between case and statement on its head: the idea was to arrive at the general through the dynamic particularity of the case. Rather than a prop, the case became in effect the first step of ethnographic analysis. Underlying this methodological reversal, though, was a theoretical pursuit pertaining to an enveloping, indeed a suffocating, problem endemic to structural functionalism and implicating a social ontology radically different from this dominant paradigm.

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Misunderstood, misrepresented, contested?

Anthropological knowledge production in question

David Mosse

This article draws out some of the implications of the fact that what anthropologists claim to know, or want to say, is unavoidably and in complicated ways bound by the ethics of involvement, detachment, and institutional location. I will first consider the increasingly common practice of circulating the output of anthropological research within the social context of its fieldwork, among the various research participants and interlocutors. Second, I will try to account for the sometimes negative reception of ethnographic accounts, especially where the research has focused on organizations (e.g., NGOs), activists, or others professionally concerned with public representations of their work. Third, I will reconsider the notion of “speaking truth to power” by pointing to the unacknowledged power of ethnographic description. Finally, I will suggest that ethical concerns are generated as much by the theoretical framing of research as by fieldwork practice, and that these are matters of choice rather than inherent in the ethnographic method.

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Cognitive Disability

Towards an Ethics of Possibility

Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp

This afterword to this special issue of The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, entitled ‘For an Anthropology of Cognitive Disability’, explores the intersections of disability studies and ethnographic research on cognitive difference. We offer a brief scholarly genealogy, discuss how these articles provide recognition for ‘the disarticulate’, and consider how anthropologists working on this subject might contribute to an ethics of possibility.

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Introduction

An Overview of the Contemporary Ethnography of Afghanistan

Zuzanna Olszewska

This special issue represents the first collection of ethnographic articles specifically about post-2001 Afghanistan, opening a new chapter in the history of the country’s ethnography. Long and multifaceted, that history deserves a thorough compilation and bibliography beyond what can be undertaken in this brief editorial. The promising current of anthropological research in Afghanistan in the 1960s and 1970s was diverted by over 30 years of political turmoil, invasion, resistance and civil war, during which many anthropologists either continued or began their work in the refugee communities of Pakistan and Iran or in Afghan diasporic populations around the world.

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Intimate Uncertainties

Ethnographic Explorations of Moral Economies across Europe

Sabine Strasser and Luisa Piart

For this special issue we are bringing together six ethnographic cases of intimate uncertainties that are situated within different regimes of reproduction, healthcare and borders in and beyond Europe. These ethnographic inquiries exemplify unprecedented settings of moral ir/responsibility shaping the intimate on different scales and in various sites of power (agencies, clinics, borderlands). These uncertainties in times of major transitions from old to new moral orders, from industrial to postindustrial, from welfare to austerity spark off a renewed debate on moral economy. The authors of these contributions all focus the theoretical lens of moral economy squarely onto the intimate.

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Scheduling tribes

A view from inside India's ethnographic state

Townsend Middleton

Venturing into an ethnography of government anthropologists themselves, this article interrogates the bureaucratic inner workings and actual agents of today's “ethnographic state." By engaging with the civil servants who verify India's Scheduled Tribes, I explore the politics of “tribal“ recognition from the inside out. This perspective lends timely insight into the logistical, political, and epistemological difficulties integral to the functioning-and current crisis-of India's affirmative action system. Weighing the demands of “tribal“ recognition through those that arguably know them best-government anthropologists themselves- this study examines the human dimension (and dilemmas) of the Indian state and its affirmative action system for Scheduled Tribes.

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Hunting in Itelmen

Filming a Past Practice in a Disappearing Language

David Koester and Liivo Niglas

This article presents a narrative and analytical account of an ethnographic filmmaking project that could be described as “salvage anthropology.“ In 2008 anthropologist David Koester and ethnographic filmmaker Liivo Niglas worked with indigenous Itelmen hunters Georgii Zaporotskii and Pavel Khaloimov to record accounts of hunting practices in the Itelmen language and the formerly practiced tradition of hunting sable with a net. The article describes the project and what went into the making of the first film to result, Itelmen Stories. It provides details of the ethnohistorical record of sable hunting that could not be included in the film. The article emphasizes the collaborative and serendipitous nature of “salvage anthropology“ in the twenty-first century, and discusses the problem of “museification“ and the value of filming technique that emphasized equally observation of practices and attending to narratives. The article gives an account of the filming in context and in turn a more general context for understanding of Itelmen life today.

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Jeffrey A. Sluka

The ethnography of state terror is “high risk” research and there are real personal dangers for anyone who conducts fieldwork on this issue. Managing such dangers has particularly become an issue for those conducting primary research with perpetrators of state terror—the “rank and file” who apply the electric cattle prods and pull the triggers—and all of the researchers I know who have taken this path have been threatened in one form or another. Th is article reviews the core literature and latest developments in managing the physical dangers inherent in the ethnography of political violence and state terror, particularly fieldwork or primary research with the actual perpetrators themselves, makes practical recommendations for managing such dangers, and presents some ideas for developing risk management plans or protocols for researcher survival in perilous field sites.