Accepted Paper:

Excerpt from the diary of a circumstantial activist: engagements and predicaments in studying global migration  


Karsten Paerregaard (University of Gothenburg)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses the predicaments I faced studying a conflict among Peruvian migrants working as sheep herders in the US and argues that as a circumstantial activist in a globalized world the anthropologist must take not one but several often divergent positions in the field.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropology has conventionally been associated with engagement and activism in favor of marginalized people. However, in so far as processes of globalization connect the people we study with the rest of the world the conditions of such a position have altered and today social and political advocacy often change meaning and scope as social tensions and cultural strives evolve from local to regional, national or global issues. As Marcus suggests, in a globalized world the field worker often becomes a circumstantial activist which implies not one but many and sometimes divergent engagements and therefore places the anthropologists in ambivalent roles in relation to the people they study. This paper explores this predicament in my own study of Peruvians who work as sheepherders in the United States. It examines a conflict between two groups of herders: one that struggle to improve their rights as transnational migrants and another that stay loyal to their US employers. Moreover, the paper discusses how this conflict over time became a national and international issue that involved Peru's consul in Los Angeles and migrant communities in the United States and, eventually, the Peruvian government. Most important, the paper scrutinizes the difficulties I faced as a field worker when asked to take position in the escalating conflict. It concludes that as a circumstantial activist the anthropologist must consider the global complexity of the local issue they study and recognize that this implies to take not one but several often divergent positions in the field.

Panel W044
Anthropology and engagement