EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(Plenary C)
Early Career Scholars Forum: anthropology in interdisciplinary settings
Location Aula Magna
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 0


  • Hana Cervinkova (University of Lower Silesia) email
  • Paolo S. H. Favero (University of Antwerp) email
  • Matteo Carlo Alcano (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca) email
  • Antonio De Lauri (Chr. Michelsen Institute) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Ulf Hannerz (Stockholm University), Paolo Viazzo (Università di Torino), Alessandro Monsutti (Graduate Institute of Int'l & Development Studies), Shalini Randeria (IWM & Graduate Institute of Int'l & Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva)

Short Abstract

The goal of this forum is to bring emerging anthropologists to explore the meaning of anthropological legacies in the context of contemporary interdisciplinary and professional exchanges.

Long Abstract

The goal of this forum is to bring emerging anthropologists together in order to explore the meaning of anthropological legacies in the context of contemporary interdisciplinary and professional exchanges. Today, the context of work for many anthropologists at the start of their career is increasingly defined by interactions across disciplinary and sectorial boundaries. They are also increasingly faced by the need to start up and/or establish a career in environments that are different from classical anthropological departments (which still remain a point of reference in much anthropological discourse). This situation calls for our attention. We need to explore the various ways in which emerging anthropologists engaged in a variety of academic and non-academic professional areas approach and deal with anthropological legacies.

- How do scholars manage to maintain epistemological links with anthropology in multidisciplinary departments?

- And how do anthropologists who do not work in academic settings keep their relationships with the academy?

- How does anthropological theory reshape in multidisciplinary and multi-sectorial settings?

- To what extent do anthropologists manage to integrate their own expertise in specific areas with the broader issue of engaging with the anthropological legacy and its interdisciplinary dimensions/possibilities?

- Can the anthropological legacy be considered as grounded interdisciplinary knowledge?

- What potentialities and risks does the use of anthropology imply outside of academia?

The forum hosted the incorporation of live ethnographic drawing or "Relatogramas" by Carla Boserman (University of Barcelona Design Center) describing the presented papers. These can be seen on the conference homepage.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Re-engaging interdisciplinary ethnography and the anthropological legacy: the implication of changes in higher education on ethnographic knowledge and practice

Author: Alessia Costa (School of Oriental and African Studies)  email

Short Abstract

The paper draws on my experience as a recent PhD graduate working in interdisciplinary projects in UK universities. In it, I want to draw attention to how changes in higher education are reconfiguring the ways in which early carer anthropologists can engage with and contribute to the discipline.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists have examined the epistemological and ethical implications of interdisciplinary work, particularly in fields in which the encounter with other disciplines has a well-established tradition, such as public health, international development and policy-making. Not enough attention, however, has been paid to the broader conditions under which anthropologists participate in interdisciplinary projects in the academia.

In the UK, cuts to higher education and the pressure on universities to compete under the Research Excellent Framework mean that research is increasingly carried out in the context of externally funded, multidisciplinary projects. Such projects have emerged as a fast-expanding area of employment for early career anthropologists, whose ethnographic skills are in high demand. For a growing number of us who remain in academia, our career no longer starts with traditional (and increasingly competitive) fellowships in anthropology departments, but on interdisciplinary research teams.

In such contexts, it can be a struggle to have our anthropological expertise recognised. We are skilled 'qualitative researchers', working outside anthropology departments -which struggle to secure large funding for cooperative projects- and under principal investigators from different backgrounds. These organisational conditions tend to limit our space to integrate anthropological epistemological insights into the process of data collection and analysis, which is made to fit into agenda-driven and impact-oriented research. Furthermore, they also mean that our work rarely finds its way to prestigious anthropological journals and anthropology departmental seminars, widening the gap between the traditional centres of anthropological knowledge and an outside world where the legacy of our discipline is rarely recognised.

Front-line ethnography: Provisional notes, partial practices

Author: Proshant Chakraborty (KU Leuven, Belgium )  email

Short Abstract

This paper engages with the practice of, and challenges to, ethnographic research in non-governmental spaces of intervention and advocacy work in the bastis (informal communities) of Dharavi in Mumbai, India.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists and ethnographers have increasingly been working in contexts and spaces outside the "traditional" domains of research on indigeneity, culture and otherness. This includes working professionally with non-governmental, governmental, and local and international organizations. Such collaborations involve creating new spaces and topics of engagement for anthropologists, but also challenge certain practical and epistemological groundings of the discipline. This essay draws from such engagements with social organizations, what I call "front-line" spaces, and engages with questions relevant to the professional practice of anthropology. My ethnographic research focuses on the everyday workings of women front-line workers in the bastis (informal communities) in Dharavi, Mumbai. I explore their relationship with the NGO, their communities, and the state. While I am concerned with certain "classical" questions of epistemology and power in anthropology (e.g., representation, Otherness), I also underscore and present new questions regarding the role and relevance of anthropology among other social sciences and the communities we work with. Particularly, this essay aims to tease out the nuances of collaborative work in spaces that are increasingly configured by neoliberal policies of NGO work. I seek to ask (and address) the question of how anthropology can contribute to grassroots social action, and yet remain critical of the contexts and modalities in, and through which, such action takes place.

Culture trouble

Author: Alice Elliot (Goldsmiths, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

Tracing how archetypical anthropological notions such as “culture” and “ethnography” play key roles in contemporary discussions about “Islamic State,” I reflect on what happens when “the public” hijacks anthropology’s conceptual tools.

Long Abstract

How can anthropologists engage with the public when a "public event" such as "Islamic State" explodes on the scene? What happens when concepts considered anthropology's speciality (e.g., culture) and methodologies imagined as the discipline's trademark (e.g., ethnography of everyday life) suddenly become of public domain - debated and implemented by and through unexpected parties, institutions, agendas? In this paper I trace how archetypical anthropological keywords such as "culture" and "ethnography" are playing a key role in mainstream discussions about "Islamic State," and reflect on the theoretical and political "immobilising shock" resulting from a sense of having one's conceptual tools hijacked by "the public." Drawing comparatively on now classic anthropological discussions of post-9/11 "culture talk" (Mamdani), as well as discussions of the "public afterlife" (Fassin) of anthropological research, I attend to how (what anthropologists consider) anthropological concepts and methods are increasingly mobilised by terrorism experts and heads of state, political journalists and non-academic actors. In particular, I trace the peculiar inverse trajectories of "the public" and "anthropology" when a composite event like "Islamic State" emerges, with the former progressively moving toward "culture" as explanatory framework, just as the latter carefully moves away from it. Reflecting on what this disciplinary impasse reveals about the anthropological project, I draw on my research on North African migrations and trace how my interlocutors themselves discuss such troubled times often in terms other than "culture" and "religion," effectively opening alternative ways of imagining the very trajectory of anthropological (public) thinking.

Studying far right in a historical institute

Author: Agnieszka Pasieka (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

In my paper, I aim to share my experience of conducting an archival-ethnographic project in a historical institute. I would like to engage with methodological challenges of my project and with a question on what is the role of anthropologists and anthropology in different disciplinary settings.

Long Abstract

In October 2015, I began working as a research fellow in a historical institute, conducting a project on the far right in interwar and contemporary Central Eastern Europe. The project entails a combination of archival and ethnographic methods. In my paper, I present two aspects of this work, engaging with theoretical and methodological challenges that my new project brings as well as with a question on what is the - potential and actual -- role of anthropology and anthropologists in different disciplinary settings.

As to the first, I tackle the importance of "history and anthropology" approach, meaning not only a study aimed to integrate archival research with anthropological sensitivity to the complexities of cross-cultural relationships but a "joint" exploration of past and present developments. What I suggest is a reflection on the ways in which we can make a better sense of past and present phenomena and developments by studying them side by side and how they may provoke questions to/for each other.

As to the second, I consider anthropologists' interactions with other scholars. While the benefits of interdisciplinary dialog are taken for granted, I would like us to reflect to what extent such a dialogue may also lead to simplifications and detrimental compromises. In a way, it is question to what extent an anthropologist manages to sustain and promote anthropological expertise and to what extent what he/she does means performing a role "assigned" to anthropologists, according to often stereotypical views on what anthropologists purportedly know and do.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.