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Accepted Paper:

Selfies and self-fictions: calibrating co-presence in and of 'the field'  


Liana Chua (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper reflexively explores the fictions through which anthropological co-presence is created and sustained during fieldwork. It asks how new modes of connectivity accentuate the basic question of where to locate the boundaries and openings of the anthropological self.

Paper long abstract:

Through what fictions do anthropologists sustain our co-presence (Chua 2015) in 'the field'? And what happens when 'the field' becomes co-present in anthropologists' lives? In this paper, I reflexively contrast two experiences of fieldwork connectivity at different points in my research career. First, I consider how my relations and interactions with Bidayuh villagers in rural Borneo have evolved since 2003, when the area had no phone lines or mobile reception, to the present, when everyone is on WhatsApp and Facebook. I then compare this to my more recent ethnographic engagements with the social media-scape of orangutan conservation, which generates relations, interactions and events that only exist online—and that risk being destabilized when face-to-face contact does occur. Both examples bring to light methodological and ethical questions about the self-fictions through which anthropologists create our presence—as well as the ways in which those fields can assert their presence beyond our formal research projects. I suggest that recent technological developments underscore the fundamental question of how to calibrate fieldwork relations and where to locate the boundaries and openings of the anthropological self—a process that has never been solely within the control of the anthropologist.

Panel P097
Staying Tuned - Connections Beyond 'The Field'