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Speak07b


Responsibility as critique. Reimagining the political in the ethnographic encounter II 
Convenors:
Ruba Salih (SOAS)
Yael Navaro (University of Cambridge)
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Stream:
Who Speaks and for Whom?
Sessions:
Tuesday 30 March, 11:15-12:45 (UTC+1)

Short Abstract:

Extreme abstraction has become a new norm in the transformation of ‘ethnographic concepts’ into anthropological theory, pushing anthropology back to early assumptions of ‘objectivity’. We invite papers that critically address these turns, and reimagine the political in the ethnographic encounter.

Long Abstract

The project of ‘description’ in anthropology, including that of deriving ‘ethnographic theory’ out of fieldwork, has continued to assume a default neutral positionality vis-a-vis one’s research subjects and context. Relying on an unproblematized subject-position for the anthropologist, some recent advances in the discipline have treated the fieldworker as if an ‘empty vessel’ in the transformation of fieldwork observations into anthropological concepts. The recent professionalization of the discipline in this direction has led to practices of analysis and conceptualization (including of ‘comparison’) which often work through a de-contextualization, de-historicization, and de-politicization of the anthropologist’s interlocutors and findings. Most problematic, is the way that concepts are derived through distance from the political concerns of the subjects of ethnography, while extreme abstraction has become a new norm in the transformation of ‘ethnographic concepts’ into anthropological theory. In such works, a purported detachment from the political context of the field has pushed anthropology back to an early assumption (and promulgation) of ‘objectivity.’ Following Didier Fassin’s call for ‘a time of critique,’ (and against Bruno Latour’s reckless declaration of critique’s ‘running out of steam’), this panel critically addresses anthropology’s recent such forms of professionalization. We invite paper proposals that carve out a space for ethnography as an embodied, affective and political encounter which mobilises critical engagements through contextualized and historicized analyses.

Accepted papers: