W097
New vocabularies of method: experts, ethics and the mutuality of ethnographic fieldwork

Convenors:
Peter Pels (Leiden University)
Joao Pina-Cabral (University of Kent)
Chair:
Joao de Pina-Cabral
Discussant:
Joao de PIna-Cabral
Format:
Workshops
Location:
119
Start time:
27 August, 2008 at 9:00
Session slots:
3

Short abstract:

Many anthropologists agree that the discipline lacks an accepted vocabulary of method. This may be the effect of a wider social scientific environment that suspects the mutual recognition that is basic to ethnographic fieldwork. This workshop aims to help develop this "method of mutuality".

Long abstract:

The lack of an elaborate language for discussing the methodology of ethnographic fieldwork, especially of its changes after the "literary" and "global" turns of the 1980s and 1990s, puts anthropologists at a disadvantage in competitions for research funding and in maintaining the discipline at its current academic level. Our vocabularies of method are still held hostage by the desire to either put the process of research under the full control of the researcher (producing the "expert"), or turn the researcher into a fully transparent conduit of knowledge (resulting in "objectivity"). Ethnography, however, relies on the "mutualities" of interlocution and collaboration. We have not sufficiently invested in what one could call a "methodology of mutuality", often leaving this work to qualitative sociologists, but, more often, subjecting ourselves to the scorn of those disciplines whose claim to expertise can fall back on the "distinction" of more obviously quantitative methods. This workshop should help develop the following aspects of that vocabulary: (a) an articulation of anthropology's focus on validity and mutual value recognition, that (b) shows our method is therefore a (neglected) model for ethics, that (c) indicates we work against the mutual recognition of values when we claim expertise as "independent" and asocial authority on knowledge, and finally that (d) shows which redefinitions of method, ethics and expertise are required that will fit ethnographic fieldwork. This should transform our curricula, the "methodology" sections of the average grant application, our relationship to people researched and our position vis-รก-vis so-called "applied" research.