Accepted paper:

Decluttering: a professional ethnographic encounter


Zemirah Moffat (Insightful Moves)

Paper short abstract:

Marilyn Strathern (1988) argued for the anthropologist being like 'an elbow' within the ethnographic encounter, a joint that looks both ways. Visual anthropologist Jean Rouch (1974) advocated a 'shared anthropology', where the ethnographer humbles himself, asking his collaborators, what they think of their representation. Since completing my PhD in shared anthropology I have been working within and outwith of academia, and I now see myself as growing into an elbow that articulates both worlds to and for each other.

Paper long abstract:

My work outside of universities is as a professional declutterer. I go into people's homes and help them release their objects through a combination of listening, creativity and pragmatism. Drawing upon my ethnographic training I open my senses to the myriad personal, cultural and historical stories that weave their objects through their homes. Drawing upon my filmmaking training I help them ‘edit’ their homes of their objects, helping them keep what is most important to their senses of self. Sarah Pink's (2007), 'Walking with Video' has also been influential as I will oft record their objects and homes, helping them let go of the materiality yet keep hold of (and share) the stories that are so important. The difference between doing this ethnographic work outside of academia, rather than from within, is that my clients pay me. And this shifts the power dynamic in a good way, for they are in charge, they are in control, and this is very empowering. The most effective way to get a sense of this is to listen to one of my client testimonial. Here Helen explains the decluttering process in her own words and what it means to her: Helen's Testimonial In this presentation I propose to speak a little of the theory that led me into my work, and then give the platform over to my clients in video form, for as Ruth Holliday (2000) argued, it is the visual that opens up meanings, where words pin them down. I shall end by asking questions about what it is to be an ethnographer working outside of academia, what challenges it poses and joys it gives.

panel P33
Facing outwards: anthropology beyond academia (a panel convened by the ASA's Apply Network)