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Accepted Paper:

Anthropologically blonde at the UN: methodological reflections of a conspicuous ethnographer  
Miia Halme-Tuomisaari (Lund University)

Paper short abstract:

My paper explores tactics – including ‘liaisons’, exaggerated ‘transparency and ‘blondness’, negotiation and bargaining – for overcoming an intrinsic paradox of UN human rights bureaucracies: in the ideology of human rights everyone is a ‘somebody’, in practice the ethnographer is a ‘nobody’.

Paper long abstract:

In the ideology of human rights, by definition, 'everybody' is a ‘somebody’. Yet, in the fast-paced world of UN bureaucracy characterized by incessant flows of people and dignitaries the aspiring ethnographer quickly discovers that she is reduced into a ‘nobody’ – a person that no one remembers and few give the time of day to. Overcoming this paradox became a central methodological challenge in my fieldwork commenced in 2013 at the UN Human Rights Committee – the expert body monitoring compliance with the ICCPR and commonly viewed as the most ‘lawlike’ and ‘authoritative’ of all UN human rights treaty bodies.

The solution became a mixture of tactics that intended to transform me into a ‘somebody’ via ‘liaisons’ that created an ‘adhesive surface’ between my informants and myself. I embraced an existent category of UN bureaucracies, the intern, which departed from my actual professional and personal profile, yet allowed me to experiment with the position of an assistant in closed sessions and flirt with NGO advocacy. I accentuated expectations associated with a distinct habitus – blondness - both literally and figuratively, a role-play made explicit to my informants via exaggerated ‘transparency’ over my research. The ‘conspicuous ethnographer’ became a subjectivity that was "aware of itself’ and created a shared reflective space beyond deceit due to my informants’ analytical sophistication and their upper hand in our mutual power relations. Simultaneously this space was subject to negotiation and bargaining, making my liaisons occasionally ‘dangerous’.

Panel P014
Tactics as ethnographic and conceptual objects [Network of Ethnographic Theory]
  Session 1