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Accepted Paper:

Observing the (un-)observant: positionality and ethics in researching the relationship between the religious and criminal aspects of European Street culture  
Floris Bosscher

Paper short abstract:

My fieldwork explores both the identities supporting and opposing crime. This elicits new methodological opportunities and mitigates concerns around reinforcing criminalisation. Yet, it also complicates positionality and raises questions on the intersection of empathy and legal/moral questions.

Paper long abstract:

Those participating in (Northern) European Street Culture have multiple, sometimes opposing, identities. The most intimate and tense of these is between illicit behaviour and religion, frequently expressed through music. A focus on this tripartite relationship opens the door to new methodologies from religious and music (hip-hop) studies, such as musical elicitation and material/lived religion.

This broadened methodological palette mitigates the risk of ‘othering’ the studied subject by highlighting the different, diverging, and developing identities of those often reduced to ‘criminals’. However, this also raises new ethical questions. For instance, probing the tension and co-existence of said identities can be confrontational, eliciting strong emotions. This asks for careful and continued engagement, which supports instead of exploits the subject.

Navigating this successfully taps into questions of positionality as the attention for multiple identities complicates the in/outsider constellation between researcher, researched and their different identities. Whereas a multidisciplinary background including knowledge of crime and religion is necessary for this approach, striking the right balance is complex. For instance, during preliminary fieldwork, participants have tried to convert me or regarded me as a potential spiritual leader, complicating my role as a researcher.

Lastly, an approach aimed at disturbing the ‘othering’ of those involved in crime could create moral and legal difficulties. An emphatic approach of the inner conflict around criminal behaviour risks affecting the legal and moral obligations of the researcher. Guarding this and navigating the relationship between trust, empathy and (legal) morality remains a primary challenge of this type of research.

Panel OP304
Doing and undoing ethics, methods, and positionality in the anthropology of crime and criminalisation [AnthroCrime Network]
  Session 1