EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P053)
The limits of collaboration
Location U7-8
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Chika Watanabe (University of Manchester) email
  • David Rojas (Bucknell University) email
  • Saiba Varma (University of California San Diego) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel explores "circuits of collaboration"--uneven, parallel, and conflicting webs of relations that entangle ethnographers in ways they may not control or ethically condone. We invite papers on the limits of collaboration that take ethnography as a processual form of knowledge production.

Long Abstract

From open data to emergent climate politics, a growing number of responses to global crises hinge on "collaboration": methods whereby people combine diverse abilities and learning practices to face uncertain futures. Anthropological critiques calling for greater responsiveness to local needs have prompted collaborative movements such as participatory development and community psychiatry. Further, in response to changing conditions of fieldwork and institutional demands, anthropologists themselves increasingly rely on collaborations with interlocutors, other disciplines, and the public at large.

Despite the valorization of collaboration globally, and although collaborative methods offer anthropologists new opportunities for ethnographic engagement, we propose to take stock of the limits of collaboration. We are particularly interested in moments when the ethical, emotional, or political costs of collaboration become too high or when collaboration may conflict with other ethical and political positions.

This panel will enact and self-reflect on collaboration by pre-circulating papers and brainstorming possible collaborative futures in anthropology. We invite papers that examine anthropology in existing 'circuits of collaboration' when uneven, parallel, and conflicting webs of relations entangle ethnographers in alliances that they may not control or condone. We are particularly interested in exploring collaborative 'short circuits' wherein collaboration makes certain relations, moments, and narratives legible while rendering others illegible. What anthropological futures can emerge or be hindered from collaborations that intend to have "impact" and be "relevant"? What can we learn from the affective intensities of collaborations gone awry? What structural conditions are required for 'successful' collaborations to occur between ethnographers and their interlocutors?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The "courage of knowing" through Amazonian chains of collaboration

Author: David Rojas (Bucknell University)  email

Short Abstract

I examine the claim of an Amazonian farmer that, if I wanted to know the basin, I would need “courage” to collaborate with landholders. For him, “knowing” required learning to help deploy machines and agro-chemicals that were destroying ecologies inhabited by a wide range of humans and non-humans.

Long Abstract

"You have to be courageous" the farmer insisted during a conversation in which he invited me to study unfolding Amazonian transformations from the perspective of people like him. In what became a familiar part of most conversations I had with mid-size landholders in Southern Amazonia, the farmer suggested a collaborative partnership: He would help me grasp the difficulties of transforming native ecologies into ranches and farms. Meanwhile, my sympathetic depictions of these transformations would help Amazonian landholders like him counter environmental critiques that made it hard for them to expand their economic operations in the basin. In this paper, I examine the relationship between "courage" and "knowledge" that the aforementioned landholder established while proposing a partnership that would generate new knowledge and novel Amazonian ecologies. I explain that, from my interlocutor's perspective, I needed "courage" insofar as "knowing" Amazonia was not synonymous with crafting truthful representations of the basin. Rather, in order to know, the researcher had to be open to join chains of collaboration: associations wherein partnerships with one party linked the newcomer to a wide range of persons and entities with whom that party was already connected. His proposal to collaborate entailed talking to and learning from other landholders, interacting with the landscapes they shaped, and contributing to world-changing deployments of machines, agro-chemicals, and genetically modified seeds. He suggested I needed courage also to reconcile myself to extending chains of collaboration that we both knew could destroy ecologies inhabited by a wide range of humans and non-humans.

Surviving collaboration, or collaborating to survive: a view from Kashmir

Author: Saiba Varma (University of California San Diego)  email

Short Abstract

In places of long-term occupation, such as Indian-controlled Kashmir, collaboration represents the betrayal of ethical and political commitments for independence. This paper explores the psychic, social, and political costs of collaboration for Kashmiris and ethnographers.

Long Abstract

While collaboration is widely celebrated in academia, in places of long-term occupation, such as Indian-controlled Kashmir, it represents the betrayal of ethical and political commitments for independence. In Kashmir, approximately 150,000 'informers' or 'collaborators' have been recruited by Indian and Pakistani security agencies in Kashmir, resulting in interpersonal relations based on suspicion, fear and mistrust. Collaborators must lead shadowy existences; being revealed comes with devastating social and psychic consequences, including death, receiving intense social anger, and opening oneself to psychic distress. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with a former collaborator with the Kashmir police diagnosed with schizophrenia, as well as reading a recent Kashmiri novel entitled The Collaborator, this paper explores the psychic, social, and political costs of collaboration in Kashmir. It asks: in a context of long-term political upheaval and suspicion, what does collaboration do to a person's subjectivity? Who can collaborate and under what circumstances? This paper raises questions about the relation between survival (or 'life') and acts of collaboration, including anthropological collaborations. Specifically, it reveals how ethnographic collaborations are nested within, and shaped by, larger milieus of mistrust and suspicion in Kashmir. In so doing, it explores collaboration as a strategy for survival for both anthropologists and Kashmiris.

Blurred objects

Author: Chika Watanabe (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

Looking at a Japanese sustainable development NGO across Japan, Myanmar and New York, I consider how ‘trees’ worked as objects that enabled collaborations but by blurring the details of association. I examine how collaborations might, counter-intuitively, depend on disconnects between communities.

Long Abstract

In one scene, Burmese children plant trees in their schoolyard as part of an environmental activity with a Japanese NGO. In another setting, Japanese supporters for the NGO discuss reforestation activities with a United Nations official in New York. In yet another vignette, a member of a Shinto-based new religion speaks about the NGO's reforestation projects in terms of the spiritual cry of trees in the desert. How are these disparate moments connected to each other? In this paper, drawing on the case of a Japanese NGO derived from a Shinto-based new religion, I explore how the collaborations among aid workers, supporters, UN officials, and religious actors that made the NGO's environmental and sustainable development activities possible were enabled through what I call 'blurred objects'. If, according to the panel abstract, collaboration is about methods whereby people combine diverse abilities and learning practices to face uncertain futures, the collaborations toward a sustainable future here depended on the parallel and separate existence of different worlds. I focus on 'trees' as the figure that allowed people to specify and yet blur the details of their association with others. While the concept of boundary objects shows how different interpretive communities come together, trees as blurred objects made collaborations for a sustainable future possible by enabling different worlds to exist side by side, at a distance. I examine how collaborations to face an ecologically uncertain future might sometimes depend on a disconnect between communities rather than their engagement.

The use of uselessness: towards an ethnography beyond tools

Author: Daena Funahashi (Aarhus University)  email

Short Abstract

Ethnographic inquiry questions the conditions for knowledge. But recently, clinicians have called upon ethnographers as “useful” collaborators. Here, based on my work with psychologists, I ask if ethnography can serve this function while retaining its critical edge?

Long Abstract

Collaborations between individuals with different training and intellectual genealogies often build upon expectations of what the other can offer. This paper is based on one such collaborative experience with rehabilitative experts in Helsinki, Finland, who at first welcomed my participation as a trained ethnographer who could, they proposed, uncover and analyze for them how their patients "really felt" about their program for burnout. But later, what I provided for these clinical and rehabilitative experts was to prove a disappointment. "It's useless," they said of an article I had published based on my fieldwork at their center. What they had expected was a text that either verified or critiqued the effectiveness of the rehabilitative program that they had developed. Instead, the analysis I had produced as well as the ethnographic detail I had emphasized neither supported nor suggested what they could do to do better. Disappointment on my part came when the crisis of knowledge and of knowing I had hoped would emerge to spur discussion about the premises of the rehabilitative treatment failed to occur amongst my clinical collaborators. What, then, is collaborative work when the co-laboring fails to produce a vantage point from which each member finds "use"? And while being found useless is indeed the limit of collaboration, what potential can we find in ethnography that refuses to corroborate with the telos of clinical imperatives? What use can we find in uselessness? What kind of a "tool" is ethnography when found useless?

Utopia and tragedy in ethnographic collaboration: a case study of fieldwork

Author: Lia Haro (Australian Catholic University)  email

Short Abstract

A critical autoethnographic reflection on collaborative ethnographic fieldwork that simultaneously succeeded as a living process of cultivating grassroots, public power and agency and failed in many devastating ways. The implication of utopian aspirations in both outcomes is interrogated.

Long Abstract

For anthropologists committed to social justice and the decolonization of ethnographic research, the allure of collaborative research is powerful. Yet, good intentions and the utopian desires that underpin them carry us into complex, often fraught relationships in which we must grapple with the residues of power that cling stubbornly to us, persistently undermining horizontal relationships. In this paper, I reflect auto-ethnographically on my research efforts in a village in Western Kenya. I interrogate my own utopian desires as they shaped research endeavors that involved over 300 people in collaborative action-research teams with a stated goal of producing a co-authored book or documentary film (which never came to fruition). Our project was intended to counter global-scale representations of the community as a high-profile model UN Millennium Village, a site designated by international developers to demonstrate the feasibility of the UN Millennium Development Goals. While international media depicted them as exemplars of the "End of Poverty," many community members felt excluded and silenced by the program. Three years of collaborative writing, filming and public discussion engendered a powerful democratic ethos and grassroots power manifest in myriad reflective public events, dialogues and organizing that intervened generatively in development practices. While compelling as a process to those involved, the outcomes fell far short of our aspirations. We confronted numerous unanticipated challenges both externally and internally that led to disarray and defeat. The paper offers a case study from which to learn as we stumble toward the elusive promise of truly collaborative and democratic research.

Fighting for climate justice: the strengths and limitations of collaborative anthropology

Author: Noah Walker-Crawford (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

Based on shared ethnographic moral understandings, collaborative research provides a useful framework for capturing the situated perspectives of social activists. Drawing on a collaborative study of legal claims for climate justice, I argue that the tensions this produces provide novel insights.

Long Abstract

As a part of my research on Andean engagements with climate change, I am assisting a Peruvian farmer in a legal claim for climate justice against RWE, a major German electricity company. Ethnographic encounters can lead to shared moral understandings which may provide the basis for a collaborative study of struggles for social change. While such an approach highlights the relational nature of knowledge production, it is limited in that it provides a situated perspective on an issue. Also, active political commitments can lead to conflicts of multiple loyalties if we are forced to choose in particular situations between supporting the cause or the academy. Drawing on my collaborative research on legal activism, I argue that such conflicts are in themselves valuable sites for investigating the tensions involved in contemporary anthropology where the people we study increasingly make demands on us to apply our anthropological knowledge to their benefit.

Feeling vulnerable in the field: collaborative filmmaking in the Niger Delta and the contestation of ethnographic ideals

Author: Julia Binter (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the potentials and limits of collaborative filmmaking in the context of the political economy of oil in Nigeria. It looks at shifting power relations in violence-ridden field sites and its impact on ethnographic ideals like the co-creation of knowledge.

Long Abstract

The Niger Delta is a highly politicized field scarred by interethnic rivalry and the unpredictable violence of youth militias. In order to conduct fieldwork on precolonial trade, cultural exchange and related forms of memory in the delta, I collaborated with a coastal community, the Itsekiri, on a film project about their history and cultural heritage. This paper discusses the potential and limits of our film project against the backdrop of the political economy of oil in Nigeria. It looks at the impact of power shifts and of divergent notions of historiography on ethnographic ideals like the polyphonic co-creation of knowledge. It shows that my embeddedness in the film team allowed me mobility and unique access to heritage sites in this highly volatile setting. However, my dependency on the Itsekiri film team and on the goodwill of my powerful hosts restricted the strata of people I was able to get in contact with. Moreover, my aim of speaking "alongside" or "nearby" my research partners was subverted by the interests of my film team. They envisioned me to be the protagonist of the film who "went on a journey to discover the Itsekiri" and showed her findings to the world. Hence, they wished to co-create exactly the "grand", "modern" narrative that I sought to avoid. This paper argues that my vulnerability as female researcher, my dependency on local hosts as well as differing notions of historiography severely tested the limits of collaborative fieldwork and the co-creation of knowledge.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.