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Accepted Paper:

Methodological adaptation and relational reflexivity: doing ethnography in overbearing conditions  


Samar Kanafani (Ethnography and Knowledge Collective)
Zina Sawaf (Lebanese American University)

Paper short abstract:

Attention to the fieldwork experience enables an intimate reckoning with the overbearing circumstances that affect informants and researchers alike, unlocking valuable forms of critical knowledge of the field, and inviting a "relational" reflexivity in ethnography.

Paper long abstract:

From its initial absence, to its rise in popularity in the 1980s, and its eventual routinization in academia, amid its growing absence in popular culture and rejection within reactionary politics, this paper first reexamines reflexivity's displacement by a narrow understanding of positionality, which considers the researcher's own identity categories as the primary analytical lens. Through examples of ethnographic work from various contexts of the Arab region, it then discusses the interplay between methodology and knowing the field, passing through the ethnographer's critical self-awareness about method and prevailing field conditions, identified as crisis-ridden and overbearing. The paper reveals how attention to the ethnographic experience enables an intimate reckoning with the circumstances that come to bear on informants and researchers alike, in significant and sometimes unavoidable ways, and in so doing contributes to a critical understanding of the field. It argues that conditions of the field that imprint themselves on the ethnographer's emotional, sensorial and sometimes unconscious experiences during fieldwork, translate into particular methodological adaptations and strategies to grapple with impasses or anxieties, thereby unlocking particular forms of knowledge on the spatial, material, discursive/rhetorical and emotive registers. Recognizing a growing preoccupation and a binding solidarity with the overbearing conditions of our fieldsites, the paper invites a conversation about ways of elaborating a "relational reflexivity" born of a collective rather than atomized self-awareness, and its implications for the evolution of our methodology.

Panel P068
Anthropological method(ologies) 30 years on: challenges and prospects in the age of 'safety' and 'big data' [organised with the Arab Council for Social Sciences]