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Accepted Paper:

Ethnography as transgression. Perspectives, dilemmas, and limits of anthropological research through the case study of evictions in Milan (Italy)  


Giacomo Pozzi (University IULM)

Paper short abstract:

Michel Foucault sustained that transgression is an act that "involves the limit". In anthropology, the limits are defined by the policy of fieldwork and by the rules shared by the scientific community. Nevertheless, anthropology negotiates its margins, moved by its restless epistemological statute.

Paper long abstract:

The verb to transgress comes from the Latin transgredior and means literally “to go through”. According to Michel Foucault, transgression is an action that “involves the limit, that narrow zone of a line where it displays the flash of its passage, but perhaps also its entire trajectory, even its origin; it is likely that transgression has its entire space in the line it crosses” (1977, pp 33-34). In anthropology, the limits of its practice and research seems to be defined, on one side, by the “policy of fieldwork” (Olivier de Sardan 2015) and, on the other, by the rules shared by the scientific community.

Nevertheless, thanks to the ethnographic practice, anthropology seems to constantly negotiate these margins, moved by the restlessness of its epistemological statute. In this sense, ethnography is a continuous act of transgression. But, as Foucault suggested, transgression has its space of action in the limits it crosses; likewise, ethnography has its space of action in the limits it crosses.

Drawing on a fieldwork conducted between October 2015 and February 2017 in Milan (Italy), where I explored the social and political value of eviction processes, I sustain that the possibility to investigate this sensitive arena was based on the capacity to stand on the “thresholds” of the field, crossing the boundaries – imposed by the interlocutors – between different “cliques”, redefining the moral economy of my positioning, reorienting the theoretical approaches adopted. In summary, transgressing the margins of the effervescent arena I studied in Milan.

Panel Know02a
Research at the margins - transgressing rules in sensitive fields? I