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Ethnography of, with, and as speculation: recomposing anthropology and the empirical 
Chakad Ojani (Uppsala University)
Kathrin Eitel (University of Zurich)
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Friday 26 July, -, -
Time zone: Europe/Madrid
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Short Abstract:

Practices of speculation have been described both as destructive and as capable of engendering more desirable futures. At the same time, speculation has also been adopted as an aspect of ethnographic practice. This panel explores the tension between speculation as method and object of inquiry.

Long Abstract:

Practices of speculation have been approached ethnographically both with suspicion and awe. For instance, speculative finance is often described as an ill whereby desirable worlds are tragically unmade (Bear 2020). In contrast, speculative art, design, or engineering hint at sounder futures already in the process of taking shape (Watts 2019). The latter approach to speculation treats the empirical as a realm that “bubble[s] with unrealized possibilities” (Tsing 2015: 255). Framings of anthropology as inventive (Wagner 1975) situate ethnographic practice firmly within that very same pluriverse-in-the-making. Here, traffic between the conceptual and the empirical runs in multiple directions, at times undoing the duality altogether (Gad & Jensen 2016).

While humbling, this recursivity also has an empowering effect: It makes it increasingly difficult to adopt an “ethics of estrangement” (Savransky 2016: 15) that treats the empirical with suspicion. Yet, at the same time, ethnography is rendered experimental (Ballestero & Winthereik 2021) and thus analogous to the speculative practices it has sought to merely describe. Indeed, anthropologists have recently turned to speculative fiction for “thinking across worlds” (Jensen and Kemiksiz 2019) and, by the same token, for “remaking our presence in this world” (Anderson et al. 2018). As a speculative practice in its own right, ethnography becomes a means to do the contemporary otherwise.

We invite papers that seek potency in the tension between speculation as method and object of inquiry. How might an ethnography of, with, and as speculation help us rethink the relation between anthropology and the empirical?

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Friday 26 July, 2024, -
Session 2 Friday 26 July, 2024, -