Accepted Papers:

Public engagement and theoretical paradigms: a focus on methods  

Author:

Caroline Gatt (University of Aberdeen)

Paper Short Abstract:

Here I review the argument that certain theoretical paradigms prejudice anthropologists' engagement with public matters, I explore why alternatives (eg. ecological phenomenology) have not been widely adopted in anthropological research projects and propose 'serial closure' as a strategic way out.

Paper long abstract:

Some have argued that post-modernism and changes brought on by the post-colonial period have eroded anthropologists' confidence to engage in public debate and alienated anthropology from policy-making processes (Eriksen, MacClancy, Latour). Adverse public perceptions of the discipline have led many anthropologists to be wary of addressing 'large canvas' issues in public debate, and have silenced their claims to provide contributions of relevance to policy-making or project development.

Yet there are alternative paradigms in anthropology, feminism and Science and Technology Studies (STS) that do not generate the same paralysis as post-modernism. Examples are Ingold's ecological phenomenology, Haraway's situated knowledge paradigm and Latour's elaboration of the progressively constituted common world.

Alternatives such as these could hypothetically restore confidence both in anthropology and of anthropologists. However, the research methods through which such alternatives could be operationalised in practice are still being developed.

In this paper I review the argument that certain theoretical paradigms prejudice anthropologists' engagement with public matters. One possible reason why existing alternative paradigms have not been widely adopted in anthropological research projects, I suggest, is that there is continuing uncertainty about the methods they entail.

Drawing on experience of doctoral research with Friends of the Earth and a previous applied anthropology project, I explore a possible strategy derived from alternative theoretical paradigms. Consonant with these, and taking into account specific publics as opposed to a mass public, I propose 'serial closure' as a possible strategy to re-store anthropological confidence without prejudice to the complexity or novelty of its matters of concern.

panel P11
Engaging anthropology and archaeology: theory, practice and publics