The mandate of Small Places, Large Issues raises a complex set of epistemological and methodological problems that remain at the heart of the history of anthropology as a discipline and mode of inquiry. We invite contributors to address these conundrums in relationship to their own research.
In his introduction to anthropology, Thomas Hylland Eriksen (2010:2) characterizes anthropology as a discipline that asks large questions while drawing its most important insights from small places. Eriksen goes on to illustrate the complex entailments of this seemingly simple depiction, in terms of the debates that have, over time, challenged and transformed anthropological concepts and practices. What does 'place' mean within the context of the enormous range of settings in which anthropologists currently conduct research? Is attention to 'small places' always a worthwhile research strategy, or may some 'large issues' require alternative approaches? Is the tension between the universal and particular still a productive stimulus for contemporary anthropological interrogations? Is anthropology still fundamentally comparative? What are the epistemological challenges entailed in comparison? In an age of para, multi-sited and mediated forms of ethnography or ontological turns, is anthropology still a discipline grounded in long term empirical fieldwork? From what other sources of data might or should anthropologists draw? If 'our job' 'must be to make the world more complex rather than simplifying it' (Eriksen, 2010: 329), how do we make anthropology accessible to a larger public?
In short, the mandate of 'small places, large issues', through which many students are first introduced to anthropology, raises a complex set of epistemological and methodological problems that remain at the heart of the history of anthropology as a discipline and mode of inquiry. In this session, we invite contributors to address aspects of these conundrums in relationship to their own research.