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Accepted Paper:

Utopia and tragedy in ethnographic collaboration: a case study of fieldwork  
Lia Haro (Australian Catholic University)

Paper short abstract:

A critical autoethnographic reflection on collaborative ethnographic fieldwork that simultaneously succeeded as a living process of cultivating grassroots, public power and agency and failed in many devastating ways. The implication of utopian aspirations in both outcomes is interrogated.

Paper long abstract:

For anthropologists committed to social justice and the decolonization of ethnographic research, the allure of collaborative research is powerful. Yet, good intentions and the utopian desires that underpin them carry us into complex, often fraught relationships in which we must grapple with the residues of power that cling stubbornly to us, persistently undermining horizontal relationships. In this paper, I reflect auto-ethnographically on my research efforts in a village in Western Kenya. I interrogate my own utopian desires as they shaped research endeavors that involved over 300 people in collaborative action-research teams with a stated goal of producing a co-authored book or documentary film (which never came to fruition). Our project was intended to counter global-scale representations of the community as a high-profile model UN Millennium Village, a site designated by international developers to demonstrate the feasibility of the UN Millennium Development Goals. While international media depicted them as exemplars of the "End of Poverty," many community members felt excluded and silenced by the program. Three years of collaborative writing, filming and public discussion engendered a powerful democratic ethos and grassroots power manifest in myriad reflective public events, dialogues and organizing that intervened generatively in development practices. While compelling as a process to those involved, the outcomes fell far short of our aspirations. We confronted numerous unanticipated challenges both externally and internally that led to disarray and defeat. The paper offers a case study from which to learn as we stumble toward the elusive promise of truly collaborative and democratic research.

Panel P053
The limits of collaboration
  Session 1