EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

Making knowledge mobile: knowledge production and transfer in/to/across/between anthropology's actors, locations, and performances
Date and Start Time [TBD] at [TBD]
Sessions 2


  • Hande A. Birkalan-Gedik (Goethe Universität, Institut für Kulturanthropologie und Europäische Ethnologie) email
  • Patrícia Ferraz de Matos (Universidade de Lisboa) email
  • Thomas Reinhardt (LMU Munich) email
  • Blanka Koffer (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) email

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Chair TBA
Discussant Andrés Barrera-Gonzales (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), TBA

Short abstract

Translation and transfer of local knowledge(s) have always been a decisive feature of the anthropological enterprise. The panel analyzes different forms of "knowledge mobility" in anthropological theory and practice, from individual fieldwork to wider disciplinary and public contexts.

Long abstract

Anthropologists have been active producers of anthropological knowledge—especially when working as "interpreters" of culture in the field and when textualizing "local knowledge" (Geertz 1983), thus making it available to audiences elsewhere. "Knowledge mobility" taken in its widest sense as a fundamental tool to understand situations, contexts, receptions and/or rejections of multiple forms of knowledge, allows us to discuss its entanglements with space and time and to analyze the role of scientific practices in the shaping of its form and content. Informed by the frameworks of Barth's "Anthropology of Knowledge" (2002) and Said's "Traveling Theory" (1983, 2001), we invite scholars to examine knowledge mobility in anthropological theory and practice and to look at the roles of translators, travelers (Clifford 1997)—and more—in the creation of anthropological "facts." We welcome original case studies as well as papers which critically examine ethnographic data in the light of larger theoretical developments.

Possible topics:

• Knowledge transfers between disciplines; from a discipline to a larger public, or government--and back; motivations for using anthropological knowledge for non-academic purposes

• The ways in which persons and institutions "mobilize" knowledge (e.g. lectures, conferences at inter/national scientific societies etc.

• Political concepts and contexts of knowledge mobility

• Mediality and changing formats and traditions of disseminating knowledge (e.g. monographs, encyclopedias, expositions, etc.)

• Roles and functions of anthropologists as cultural engineers, military consultants, more than as interpreters, translators, and travelers.

• Biology, evolutionism, and human development.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.



Author: Pascale Hancart Petitet (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement ) email
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Short abstract

Our ongoing research program conducted in Laos experiments innovative forms of knowledge mobility across social/cultural boundaries. This is a creative space negotiated in an authoritarian environment born from a plurality of social ties and the social production of an enacted reflexive approach

Long abstract

An ongoing research in Laos interrogates the links between mobilities, intimacies and infectious vulnerabilities (MIGRLAO-IRD/CRF/EF). It documents the biographical journeys of women and men who have joined peri-urban areas of industrial production in order to work in textile factories, construction sites or restaurants both in Laos and in neighboring countries.

This is a multidisciplinary community-based research program that experiments various innovative forms of knowledge mobility. It involves the participation of stakeholders (donors, developers and practitioners), community actors, activists, researchers and students at each step of its implementation: project and research protocol design, data production, results restitution and transfer of knowledge. Each is invited to turn one's gaze on a specific issue, to plan his/her field investigations in an already familiar space and where his/her own social network can be mobilized.

The paper retraces this experience by paying particular attention to the specific conditions of knowledge mobility across social and cultural boundaries and to the encounters between development and scientific research domains. This is a creative space negotiated in an authoritarian environment. This space is born from a plurality of social ties and the social production of an enacted reflexive approach imposed by the anthropological practice itself and inspired by the professional and personal trajectory of the author.

The Wisdom of Patients, Clients and Users: Making and Re-making Knowledge and Expertise in Emerging Ecologies of Care

Authors: Jamie Saris (Maynooth University) email
Vanessa Carter (hcsmSA) email
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Short abstract

This paper charts how patients have emerged as both expert and advocate in medicine. We trace both the kinds of "body knowledge" that can (and cannot) be understood as advice in medicine to how individual experience(s) of care failures are scaled up to broader critiques of care ecologies.

Long abstract

Modern medicine confronts competing forms of knowledge and ways of knowing. The revolution in genomics to the continuing reworking of healthcare through the use of big data has remade the object that medicine manipulates. At the same time, the actual delivery of care is being reworked according to a logic, that is, of patient/person centred care (PCC), where the object of care is constituted as, in the first instance, an active subject and, increasingly, as a source of expertise in her own right. Thus, the patient as the silent bearer of inscrutable signs only decodable by a medical expert as excavated in Foucault's Birth of the Clinic, has given way to the receiver of care as an active participant in the clinical encounter and potentially an expert in shaping the strategic directions of care.

This paper charts how some patients have emerged as both a kind of expert and a new sort of advocate. Patient expertise has become ever more valued, and it is now a near-certainty that in the very near future even basic clinical sciences will have a statutory requirement of patients being at the decision-making table for the strategic directions as well as the scope of the ethics of basic research. We trace both the kinds of "body knowledge" that can (and cannot) be understood as advice in medicine to how individual experience(s) of care failures are scaled up to broader critiques of care ecologies, concluding with some informed speculation on what "co-design" might look like.

Managing Distance in Commissioned Knowledge Production

Author: Johan Nilsson (Stockholm University) email
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Short abstract

Movement of knowledge has been studied focusing on the social outcomes of such distribution. Drawing on ethnographic study of market researchers and 'commissioned knowledge production', this paper inquires into how to understand the role of mutually shaping knowledge and relationships in tandem.

Long abstract

Anthropologists write and seek to spread material across both epistemic and geographical distances. Mobility of knowledge over networks and relationships has been studied under the assumption that the phenomenon (or its absence) is socially transformative: distribution of knowledge or secrets produces social categories by means of asymmetrical understanding and access. However, translation between disciplines and settings is not merely the transfer or dissemination of material. The knowledge itself is also shaped by the social relationships through which it is made and spread.

This paper discusses how to understand the moving and making of knowledge through attention to local knowledge. Drawing on the anthropology of knowledge and secrecy, as well as the study of public understanding of science, it explores how knowledge interacts with epistemic distances in the making, staying and moving of descriptions, texts and reports. As such it inquires into the shaping knowledge and relationships in tandem.

By discussing settings of 'commissioned knowledge production' (e.g. analysis, consultancy and marketing research), including ethnographic material about a Swedish market research firm, I will discuss the particularities of knowledge production as the mutual shaping of relationships and knowledge in managing epistemic distance. Comparisons between the interplay of local knowledges of commissioned knowledge production, public understanding of science and technology and the challenges of knowledge in anthropology are all drawn on to inform problems of how to make knowledge while maintaining connections.

Knowledge Puzzles and Paradoxes: How Anthropological Knowledges on Climate Change (Don't) Move

Authors: Elizabeth Hall (University of Toronto) email
Todd Sanders (University of Toronto) email
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Short abstract

In recent years, anthropologists have redoubled efforts to produce policy-relevant knowledge on global climate change. This paper explores some of the features of the climate change knowledge ecology that invite, enable and disable particular forms of anthropological knowledge.

Long abstract

In recent years, anthropologists have redoubled efforts to produce policy-relevant knowledge on global climate change. Their efforts dovetail with others from across the human sciences. They are also encouraged by research funders, academies of science, geophysical scientists and governments, who increasingly insist that climate change is a human problem, whose policy solutions demand the human sciences. To engage this grand challenge, everyone must be included. Yet while some anthropological knowledges gain traction and move with relative ease through this vast research-for-policy ecology, many others do not and routinely struggle.

This paper explores some of the features of the climate change knowledge ecology that invite, enable and disable particular forms of anthropological knowledge. In particular, it considers prevailing pretheoretical commitments to what disciplines are, and how their ostensibly distinct knowledges fit together. These commitments are routinely evinced through jigsaw-puzzle metaphors: all disciplines must be included; each must contribute its unique knowledge; disciplinary knowledges, when combined, enable an understanding of 'the whole.' Yet in practice this mode of inclusivity produces paradoxical effects on anthropology and other human sciences. On the one hand, it invites and mobilizes certain anthropologies and their knowledges; on the other, it disinvites and immobilizes others that cannot readily slot into the climate change puzzle currently on offer. The paper ultimately suggests that understanding the (im)mobility of anthropological knowledges on climate change requires sustained anthropological attention to the climate change knowledge ecology in which we work.

Evolutionism in German Volkskunde in the 20th century: Escaping the Predicament of "Volkskultur"

Author: Elisabeth Timm (University of Münster (Germany)) email
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Short abstract

In the discipline's history, German "Volkskunde" until the 1960's usually is characterised as a nationally confined endeavour. A new analysis of the papers of ethnographer Bruno Schier (1902-1984) will critically resituate his work as a late contribution to international evolutionist anthropology.

Long abstract

The rise of anthropologies that seek to identify a vernacular culture which has not been touched by theological or scholarly knowledge since ancient times is a well-known concurrent of the emergence of the modern nation state since the late 18th century. How did these nationally confined schools interact? One central expedient shared by them has been a vitalist notion of culture. Since the late 19th century, the ideal of an autochthonous epistemic object became amalgamated with evolutionist theory. One of the advocates of this concept was Bruno Schier. He began as a Sudeten German ethnographer after the First World War, made his academic career as a proponent of Volkskunde within the interdisciplinary, völkisch direction of Ostforschung in the interwar years and during the Nazi era, and continued to teach evolutionism at the University of Münster until 1970. The basis of his ideas was an extremely dynamic, even militant notion of culture. On the one hand, this enabled him (and others) to denounce and depreciate comparative, universalistic anthropological approaches that came up around 1900 CE as "international sociology" (in their view: a derogative label). On the other hand, cultural forms that have been said to be autochthonous phenomena thus could be integrated into a joint temporal frame. This paradoxical idea of a not historical but natural type of change served to overcome the deadlock of "Volkskunde" as a domestic type of knowledge and, unanimously, to mobilise "Volkskultur" as an endemic object of investigation without giving up the claim to racial superiority.

"To see is to know?: The circulation of knowledge through photography in the Portuguese colonial context"

Author: Patrícia Ferraz de Matos (Universidade de Lisboa) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores the role played by photography as an item used for documenting anthropological works and as an ancillary tool in anthropological practices in the first half of the 20th century. It also analyses the way photography depicted individuals under Portuguese colonial administration.

Long abstract

I will explore the role played by photography as an item used for documenting anthropological works and, sometimes, as an ancillary tool in anthropological practices during the first half of the 20th century. Based on the work by Mendes Correia, anthropologist and archaeologist, with a degree in Medicine, I will analyse the way photography was used in scientific papers on the empire and how they depicted some individuals under Portuguese colonial administration. I will demonstrate how photography was always requested within the scope of his research and its presence in the several working contexts he was involved in: in SPAE's (Portuguese Society of Anthropology and Ethnology) sessions; in the Anthropology practical courses at FCUP (Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto); in the context of criminal anthropology studies; at the CEEP (Centre for Peninsular Ethnology Studies); in anthropological missions and in two of his main works - Timor Português (1944) and Raças do Império (1943). As we will see, the photographs related to the work of Mendes Correia were assumed to be relevant from the start, since they would surely depict "reality", which was frequently considered to be disappearing. The photographs would capture "reality" and record it for future reference. This procedure, based on the principle that "to see is to know", will however expose the limitations of some anthropological practices and, on the other hand, uncover the imprecisions and difficulties that emerged in the context of the Portuguese colonialism.

The "retourn" of traditional knowledge. Dialogues triggered by the repatriation of ethnographic registers among the Náayeri

Author: Margarita Valdovinos (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México - UNAM) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores the mobility generated by anthropologists when they bring back to the community of origin part of the traditional knowledge gathered by previous explorers. For this purpose, I will analyze the mobility of the wax cylinder recordings made in Mexico by K. Th. Preuss (1906).

Long abstract

Anthropologists participate in the mobility of knowledge as soon as they register facts of a particular culture, transform this evidence into scientific observations, and present them to an academic audience. Here, I want to explore the mobility of knowledge generated in a later stage: the process through which an anthropologist goes back to the field and conveys to a community cultural information gathered there by a previous explorer.

In this paper I will analyze the dialogue triggered by the encounter of two events of this particular situation. On one hand, the process followed by the people of the community in order to (re)contextualize this "new" knowledge and make sense of it. On the other hand, the confrontation of the anthropologist with the (meta)knowledge produced by the arrival of that "new" knowledge.

My observations will be based on a concrete ethnographic experience: the return to the field of the Wax cylinder recordings made by Konrad Theodor Preuss among the Náayeri of Western Mexico in 1906.

Knowledge circulation and gender: rethinking the role of paradigm shifts and resistance to feminist knowledges

Author: Celine Camus (IMF - CSIC ) email
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Short abstract

The paper discusses the transfer of gender knowledges within the hunter-gatherers' studies, a multidisciplinary field of research composed of feminists, anthropologists, ethnographers, historians, and archaeologists.

Long abstract

The present paper explores the transfer of gender knowledges within the hunter-gatherers' studies, a multidisciplinary field of research composed of feminists, anthropologists, ethnographers, historians, and archaeologists. A brief history of the HG field of research shows that the studies on foragers are a fundamental part of the narratives we (scholars) have been constructing of humanity (Sterling 2014), but which has also long been ignoring women´s contribution and portraying them as passive players (Watson and Kennedy 1991, Bell 1994). For this reason including a feminist approach has been (and remains) essential, especially since the gender studies are rapidly growing in relation to the development of the post-colonial/subaltern/queer studies, and the feminist movements. Drawing on an exhaustive corpus of scientific articles on HG and gender-related issues, we first question the necessity to delimit the HG field of knowledge. As a Kuhnian approach would formulate it, how can we define a field of research without ignoring its paradigm shifts? Is a strict delimitation meaningful? Second, the present paper investigates how women, sex, and gender have been concretely integrated into hunter-gatherers studies. How has the notion of gender been defined and precisely employed? We argue that understanding the impact of the gender studies cannot be achieved without addressing the multiple forms of resistance to the integration of feminist critical knowledges today (Salminen-Karlsson 2011, van den Brink 2015, Thaler and Dahmen 2017).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.