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Author:Chakad Ojani (University of Manchester)
Paper short abstract:
In Lima, fog catchers become speculative devices that render conceivable a series of relations to residents in the urban periphery. I draw on two different encounters with the limits of fog capture to propose an ethnographic approach that attends to limitations heuristically and experimentally.
Paper long abstract:
Often a disappointing micro-alternative to large-scale water infrastructure supply, fog catchers have nonetheless served as experimental devices that elicit a series of relations to residents in the urban periphery in Lima. In this paper, I draw on two different encounters with the limits of fog capture to suggest an ethnographic approach that attends to limitations heuristically. My first case recounts how what my interlocutors described as a failed fog capture project foregrounded connections between ground touching clouds and airborne pollution, which ultimately helped envisaging the reconfiguration of relations between the city’s margin and the Peruvian state. A second example shows how a similar initiative instead exceeded expectations about the volumes of water suspended in the air. As such, it instigated a science fictional impulse to trace connections between the atmospheric, vegetation, and the underground, thus rendering conceivable a set of relations that together constituted the landscape as an interconnected ecosystem. In both instances, fog catchers turned into speculative devices for imagining different urban political ecologies. Analogous to framings of the fieldsite as a device to redirect the ethnographer’s questions, aims, and intentions, fog capture effected a lure that brought something unexpected into view and changed the course of events. Against the background of these examples, the approach proposed in this paper not only acknowledges the many exclusions inherent in anthropological inquiry, but taps into limitation as that which might allow for the field to symmetrically or laterally bear upon ethnographic creativity and experimentation.
Symmetrical and experimental ethnographies: the dialectics of the observer and the observed.