What is before our eyes: the passions of ethnography
Veena Das (Johns Hopkins University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper describes ethnography as disclosing that which is not noticed because it lies before our eyes. Instead of privileging the moment of rational explanation it looks at care as an ethics of life i against the “letting die” of the biopolitical state.
Paper long abstract:
I propose that the passion of ethnography lies not so much in disclosing what is invisible but that rather showing that which is before your eyes - not noticed because so unremarkable. I want to explore how a particular picture of ethics that privileges the moment when a person stands out of the flux of life to offer explanations that can be framed as rational deliberations on a particular choice obscures the ordinary forms of the ethics of care through which one acknowledges and responds to the concrete other. I argue that the very ordinariness of care and attentiveness within the scene of habit might lead us to assume a dangerous givenness to the labor of caring. Corresponding to this understanding of what it is to ethnographically render the everyday as not only a scene of habit and routine but to also see in this very habit and routine an affirmation of life that contests the "letting die" that happens within families, communities, and the logic of the biopolitical state - I argue. lies the parallel life that anthropologists and their respondents create for each other.
Reason and passion: the parallel worlds of ethnography and biography