Accepted Paper:

Reflexive scepticism and familiar ethnographic objects: finding something to say in the network  

Author:

David Leitner (Cañada College)

Paper short abstract:

At stake in a sceptical anthropology might be the degrees to which scepticism is either oppositional or reflexive. When anthropologists study people occupying cognate social spaces in the societies from which anthropologists emerge, can they simultaneously apply methodological ‘disbelief’ to anthropologist’s and informant’s explanations and still claim to ‘know’ something?

Paper long abstract:

At stake in a sceptical anthropology might be the degrees to which scepticism can be either an oppositional stance or a reflexive practice. Does the sceptical anthropologist only apply methodological 'disbelief' to informant's/other's statements, explanations, and terms of analysis, or can she hold her own terms and explanations to the same fire and still claim to 'know' something? The question gains sharper relief when anthropologists study 'familiar' informants, ones who occupy cognate social spaces to anthropologists in the societies from which anthropologists emerge.

In this paper I reflect on my experiences studying the ways inhabitants of the Cambridge biocluster use 'networks' and 'networking' as explanations for social, economic and creative phenomena. I reflect on how a seemingly uniform metaphor of 'network' is deployed in fluid and manifold ways, the implications of the direct and indirect anthropological roots (among others) of this metaphor, and the problems posed when informants (who are equally capable of treating the anthropologist sceptically) present seemingly familiar social explanations.

Can the anthropologist be reflexively sceptical without resorting to either broad psychologism or oppositionalism on the one hand, or, on the other, a nihilistic reflexivity in which nothing can be known? This is more than a call for 'reflexive' anthropology or a question of whether anthropology at 'home' is possible. Rather, it is a call for repositioning the anthropologist as always being 'in between' fields and recognizing that 'empathy', as a goal in any site, is not the same as 'agreeing' or 'believing'.

Panel W023
For a sceptical anthropology?