Accepted Paper:

Re-engaging interdisciplinary ethnography and the anthropological legacy: the implication of changes in higher education on ethnographic knowledge and practice  


Alessia Costa (Wellcome Sanger Institute, Connecting Science)

Paper short abstract:

The paper draws on my experience as a recent PhD graduate working in interdisciplinary projects in UK universities. In it, I want to draw attention to how changes in higher education are reconfiguring the ways in which early carer anthropologists can engage with and contribute to the discipline.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropologists have examined the epistemological and ethical implications of interdisciplinary work, particularly in fields in which the encounter with other disciplines has a well-established tradition, such as public health, international development and policy-making. Not enough attention, however, has been paid to the broader conditions under which anthropologists participate in interdisciplinary projects in the academia.

In the UK, cuts to higher education and the pressure on universities to compete under the Research Excellent Framework mean that research is increasingly carried out in the context of externally funded, multidisciplinary projects. Such projects have emerged as a fast-expanding area of employment for early career anthropologists, whose ethnographic skills are in high demand. For a growing number of us who remain in academia, our career no longer starts with traditional (and increasingly competitive) fellowships in anthropology departments, but on interdisciplinary research teams.

In such contexts, it can be a struggle to have our anthropological expertise recognised. We are skilled 'qualitative researchers', working outside anthropology departments -which struggle to secure large funding for cooperative projects- and under principal investigators from different backgrounds. These organisational conditions tend to limit our space to integrate anthropological epistemological insights into the process of data collection and analysis, which is made to fit into agenda-driven and impact-oriented research. Furthermore, they also mean that our work rarely finds its way to prestigious anthropological journals and anthropology departmental seminars, widening the gap between the traditional centres of anthropological knowledge and an outside world where the legacy of our discipline is rarely recognised.

Panel Plenary C
Early Career Scholars Forum: anthropology in interdisciplinary settings