EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Going public: writing and speaking outside the ivory tower
Location U6-1F
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Claire Beaudevin (CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research)) email
  • Susann Huschke (Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

In this panel, we invite speakers to reflect on their successful as well as their not-so-successful attempts to engage in public debates and policy processes outside the ivory tower by presenting their experiences and conclusions in a creative way.

Long Abstract

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple." (Jack Kerouac)

We invite speakers to reflect on their successful and their not-so-successful attempts to engage in public debates and policy processes outside the ivory tower. Among the issues that we would like to see addressed:

• Engaging with policy-makers, e.g. how do you explain/publish what you know in an effective way? What if you get criticized because your results challenge the dominant discourse? What if your engagement cuts you off future funding? What if you want to present your research in places where there is little freedom of speech for your audience, your research participants or yourself?

• The problem of making it simple and sexy, e.g. trying to fit the content of your 400-page PhD thesis in a 600-word newspaper op-ed, having your complex thoughts edited down to a juicy newspaper headline, or daring to write a book that might be read (and enjoyed) by non-academics.

• What about my academic career? That is, how to juggle what is good for the CV and what needs to be done/said/written to address the state of the world around us?

In line with the theme of the panel, we also invite you to get creative with your presentations and to NOT read your paper. Instead, you could, for example:

• engage in dialogue with the audience

• use images that are meaningful to your research to stimulate discussion

•'perform' the situations you're telling us about.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


'Speaking out' as a humanitarian anthropologist

Author: Doris Burtscher (Ärzte ohne Grenzen/Medécins sans Frontières)  email

Short Abstract

Anthropologists, doing research with the medical humanitarian organization Médecins sans Frontières, face certain challenges. The peculiarity of their role and the aim of the research has manifold effects on the research setup and conditions, as well as on the possibility to share research findings.

Long Abstract

This paper deals with the challenges and particularities of doing anthropological research with the medical humanitarian organization Médecins sans Frontières (MSF). To speak out is one of MSF's core principles, and the role of anthropologists has been strengthened over the last years. MSF regularly assigns anthropologists to reflect on and improve its operations. To work as a humanitarian anthropologist is applied medical anthropology and political economy in its real sense.

Still, the working conditions, the requirements, the possibilities, and especially the ways how to share the research findings, differ from working in the ivory tower of academia. This paper will cover different aspects, which shape the role of anthropology with and for MSF. It deals with issues such as the target population (often in distress due to war, natural disasters, …) and the work conditions (security regulations, unpredictability) related to it. Other aspects are the aim of the research (applicability of findings for internal operational use), and the predominantly medical target audience. The paper will highlight, that 'speaking out' is often limited under these circumstances, due to three aspects: the sensitive content of the gathered data, the study-set up for internal use, and different perceptions of recognition for qualitative medical anthropological research within MSF. The paper will especially stress the difficulty to fit this kind of research into the framework required by publications in peer-reviewed journals.

The presentation relies on experience over 14 years as a medical anthropologist working with MSF.

Getting into public debate when there is no such thing. Medical anthropology in non-democratic context

Author: Claire Beaudevin (CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research))  email

Short Abstract

This paper offers an account (and many interrogations) about the conduct of long-term medical anthropology research and the relevant dissemination of its finding in non-democratic settings.

Long Abstract

My work deals with medical genetics and genomics, inherited disorders, clinical interactions, public health and national identity. The main relevant arena for me to go public and try to engage in relevant policy processes is the Middle-Eastern country where I work, i.e. a non-democratic one where matters of social science research are under governmental scrutiny.

This paper is the story of a long-lasting uneasiness and manifold arbitrations. This discomfort takes place in a country without political parties and without NGOs, where media and the Internet are controlled. And this very discomfort is due to several tensions: between riskily going public and cautiously staying under the official radars, between being able to continue working and not being issued a visa anymore, between staying an outsider and collaborating with governmental bodies, between advocating for patients and helping them from 'backstage'.

On this backdrop, this paper is also, of course, the story of the usual misunderstandings about so called "qualitative research", of the difficulties to convey a clear idea of our epistemology and its relevancy to non anthropologists, and of another tension: between thick ethnography and drafting 'recommendations'.

How do we change the world (or bits of it)? Lessons learned from research on sex work in Northern Ireland

Author: Susann Huschke (Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa)  email

Short Abstract

This paper offers a critical reflection on a mixed methods study on the Northern Irish sex industry conducted in 2014. It addresses the question how we can conduct and present research and affect policy in a hostile, morally charged political climate.

Long Abstract

This paper offers a critical reflection on a mixed methods study on the Northern Irish sex industry conducted in 2014. The study was funded by the NI Department of Justice to inform the policy process regarding the criminalization of paying for sex (the so-called 'Swedish model'). The key findings directly contradicted the dominant policy narrative that further criminalization would lead to less sex work and less sex trafficking and would assist in 'rescuing' those who sell sex. It was found that the majority of sex workers oppose the 'Swedish model' and that the majority of clients are likely to continue paying for sex in any case. By refusing to present all sex workers as helpless victims and all clients as misogynist monsters, the study profoundly challenged the conservative moral views prevalent in Northern Ireland's policy landscape. It is thus not surprising, perhaps, that the results of the research were widely misrepresented or ignored. In this paper, I reflect on how the study was conducted and how and to whom we presented our findings. The aim here is to explain why our findings were dismissed, and what lessons can be learned from this experience. How can we conduct and present research and affect policy in a hostile, morally charged political climate?

Making it (not too) sexy and critically catchy: anthropology and sex education for teenagers

Author: Nicoletta Landi (University of Bologna)  email

Short Abstract

From my experience as anthropologist and sex educator during the development and trial of a sex education project for teenagers within an Italian public youth counselling centre, I will show anthropology’s chances to engage and impact educative practices defining and handling teenage sexual health.

Long Abstract

I want to focus on the theme of going public as anthropologist starting from a specific study I have been leading for my PhD: an action-research carried out within a youth counselling centre (named Spazio Giovani and located in Bologna, northern Italy) aimed to investigate how public national and international policies define teenage sexual health and become educative practices inside the Italian Public Health System.

I have been part of an inter-subjective process involving the stakeholders (international and local policy makers, Spazio Giovani's workers such as psychologists and gynaecologists; teachers and headmasters from local Junior High schools; teenagers and their families; myself) involved in the development and trial of an experimental sex education project (W l'amore) addressed to 13-years-old teenagers to be lead in school settings in cooperation among teachers and social and health workers.

Through the exposition of some episodes taken from the fieldwork and through the presentation of some extracts (images and texts) of the material we co-developed I will underline how difficult and, at the same time, fundamental is to engage as anthropologists in public debates and specific educative and health practices, in particular for what concerns sexual health promotion for teenagers.

How to easily explain to the stakeholders what queer, heterosexism and culturalism are and why is so hard to say clit or anus in front of a teens' class, especially for teachers? Anthropology can be both a deconstructive and constructive tool, in this case to highlight sex education critical aspects and potentialities.

Daring to be simple and sexy: satisfactions and predicaments when challenging the scholar endogamy

Author: Patricia Junge (Heidelberg University)  email

Short Abstract

By commenting examples from my experience practicing anthropology outside the scholar community I will offer a discussion on the opportunities and challenges of engaging with non-academic discussions and spaces.

Long Abstract

I will present examples from my experience practicing anthropology outside the scholar community. Examples will refer to my experience as "native anthropologist" in Chile, were being a social anthropologist is both a scholar degree and a profession, and entail mixed motivations, questions and strategies to engage with the community were we live, work and mostly conduct research.

First, making it sexy. I write short articles for a Chilean political-ecology blog (verdeseo.cl), were I use references to my research to critically discuss environmental, healthcare and political controversies. How to write sexy and serious at the same time? What has been the impact of such articles?

Second, making it simple. Working outside the academia, among the civil society and as government officer, I learned to translate anthropology in order to move from unsuccessful to successful communication strategies. What are the opportunities and limits of such quest? How to make it simple to be effective without betraying a critical standpoint?

Third, daring to brake the scholar's endogamy. Publishing in a non-academic fashion and being creative about the disciplinary pursuits has enriched my standpoint, for sure, but has also expose me to misinterpretations about my aims and commitments and has challenged me to define were to drop anchor. How to engage with the world outside without becoming an outsider, or even worse, a stateless?

My aim is to share these experiences and questions, addressing how they appear in a non-European context and how to handle with them under such circumstances.

Antropolis: divulging anthropology and promoting interdisciplinarity

Author: Francesco Bravin (Cultural Association Antropolis)  email

Short Abstract

In 2012 some anthropology graduated students gave life to the cultural association Antropolis in Milan, whose aim was to divulge anthropology out of the academic Ivory Tower and promote interdisciplinarity.

Long Abstract

Anthropology is often seen as an academic discipline far from people and from the world of work. In 2012 some anthropology graduated students gave life to the cultural association Antropolis in Milan, whose aim was to divulge anthropology out of the academic Ivory Tower and promote interdisciplinarity. The challenge while divulging anthropology is making it accessible to common people without trivializing it and showing how fruitful an anthropological point of view can be also outside the academy. We started several projects, as film projections, roundtables, small conferences and anthropology lessons for schools: let's see together what worked and what could have worked better and why.

Anthropology+Art+Aesthetics: engaging the society in anthropological conversations

Author: Cristina Balma-Tivola  email

Short Abstract

My contribution will engage the audience in a conversation about anthropological work when this is aimed to open up and promote – within the broader society – a collective reflection on cultural issues by recurring to art strategies (performance, visual arts, storytelling etc.).

Long Abstract

Anthropology is a discipline that can impact those who embrace it so deeply in their vision of the world and attitude towards life that many times person and anthropologist can't be distinguished anymore. Still, when the same academic world is analysed under anthropological lens, it can't but reveal its ethnocentrism. This was the reason of my unease with it, and the reinforcement of my long-standing interest in working beyond the ivory tower in the broader human society. Here work is truly engaged with people lives - both when with direct consequences on their living conditions and when in intellectual production where they are interlocutors.

Besides being involved in migrant professional education and in urban community project, art practice is the one I devote myself spending my competences as an anthropologist. In fact, while I see anthropological methods as the most accurate to reflect upon cultures, I also perceive this professional as a mediator in the communication between human beings. Furthermore, I think this 'shaman' role to be more effective when insights are shared in aesthetic (="moving the senses") modes.

I then became an artist myself, sharing my findings on crucial issues of our times by photography and video, writing on magazines under a charming retro style fictional character, poetry reading, and composing books in narrative playful storytelling forms.

My contribution will then engage the audience in a conversation about anthropological work when aimed to broaden collective reflection by art strategies - performance, visual arts, storytelling etc.

Coming together in refugee work in Berlin: notes on an engaged experiment in collaborative ethnography

Authors: Johanna Goncalves Martin (University of Cambridge)  email
Nasima Selim (Freie Universität Berlin)  email
Seth Holmes (University of California Berkeley)  email
Maria Ibiß (Free University Berlin)  email
Mustafa Abdalla (Free University Berlin)  email
Gabriela Jaschke (Flüchtlingsrat Brandenburg)  email

Short Abstract

We reflect on how an ethnographic collaboration may be an ideal configuration for engaging in the current debate on a ‘double crisis’ of refugees and right wing extremism in Germany.

(Note that authors are listed in alphabetical order, representing non-hierarchical collaboration.)

Long Abstract

Refugee crisis. Refugee work. Willkomenskultur. One of our aims in this article is to destabilise these terms with a recent experiment in collaborative ethnography. In 2015 Germany was in the middle of a 'refugee crisis'. The Willkommenskultur (Welcoming Culture) trope gained political prominence with a proliferation of local volunteer initiatives supporting the refugees on one hand. On the other hand there was a parallel rise of the conservative and right wing protests/attacks against the refugees and their supporters. Berlin, the city where most of us lived at that time, found its administrative structures challenged by the large number of refugees arriving each day. Amidst hundreds of other volunteer initiatives worth mentioning, in this article we focus on one particular event that took place in autumn 2015. We brought together sufi musicians, anthropologists, refugees, friends and a variety of people from 'the public' for a small concert. The results of that experiment will illustrate several points. Instead of 'refugee crisis' we will show how a 'double crisis' is in place. How 'refugee work' is not exclusively about humanitarian aid directed to alleviate suffering but involves multiple facets of life that includes joy, pleasure and well-being. How the Willkommenskultur of a city begins with welcoming the newcomers by the host society members but moves beyond emergency state and collective interventions, in coming together. In a dialogic presentation between two of the authors, we will reflect on the possibilities afforded by a collaborative (and inherently partial) ethnography in engaging in public debates.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.