Literary ethnographic writing as sympathetic experiment
Anne Line Dalsgård (Aarhus University)
Paper short abstract:
Subjectivity—the enjoying of a first-person access to one’s own experiential life—is a basic condition of human life and, consequently, in anthropology. Whether we as anthropologists focus upon it or not, take it into account or not, subjectivity is our means of research and also our object (though perhaps only implicitly). Yet we have no direct access to the subjective world of others and can only inhabit their point of view by way of imagination. Writing literary-ethnographic texts is one way, I will argue, of experimenting with such sympathetic imagination. By putting together observed utterances, acts and also hesitations in an overtly fictive experiential whole (fictive because I can only guess it), I not only experiment with qualified guesses on what takes place in another person, I also make my own assumptions about the existence of such a whole explicit to the reader and myself and hence material for further reflection. I do not propose a radical turn towards literary writing in anthropology. Rather, I suggest that we include the ‘courage of imagination’ that is inherent to literature, also the accompanying doubt, into our existing endeavours, if not for anything else, then for the sake of a more human relationship with our ‘informants’.
Paper long abstract:
Moral sentiments: finding again anthropology's moral voice and vision