DIY Anthropology: Disciplinary knowledge in crisis

Adolfo Estalella and I take part in a thematic section of the ANUAC. Journal of the Italian Society of Cultural Anthropology, titled Changing margins and relations within European anthropology. In it we shift from a discussion around the geo-political identity of anthropology to its status as a scholarly discipline.

Ours is a situated account of how a particular setting and moment in time affected our anthropological practice: The beginning of the 2010s was a period of political unrest in Spain. Like many other countries, it suffered the harsh effects of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. However, despite the crisis (or maybe because of it) cities experienced a moment of political creativity and urban inventiveness: People occupied empty buildings and unused plots of vacant land to create all kind of projects, refurnishing the city with an impulse to reanimate collective forms of life. All kind of knowledges blossomed in these initiatives. Our several-years-long ethnographic investigations were carried out in this period in Spain’s main two cities (Madrid and Barcelona)

Thrown into an urban landscape left behind by a policy of financial austerity, we worked intimately with architects, activist designers, and bodily diverse people. Singularly and unexpectedly for us, we found in them the companions we lacked in our local institutional academic contexts. They turned into epistemic partners: companions in the shared endeavour of producing anthropological problematisations. Under these circumstances, the knowledge we produced at the time emerged out of a moment of crisis: knowledge in crisis

We do not intend to argue on the European condition of our anthropological practice, neither we are interested in tracing geo-political frontiers of disciplinary imaginations. Instead, drawing on our ethnographic experience – and the collaborations we established with our epistemic partners in the field – we feel urged to problematize the disciplinary boundaries anthropology conventionally tends to assume

Hence, in the article we offer an account of the interstitial spaces that we both inhabited “in the vacuum of tradition” in the recent Spanish crisis, and how that enabled us to articulate singular relations with variegated epistemic partners with whom we set up distinct ambiances of care. In our ethnographic description we pay attention to the blurring of institutional and scholarly infrastructures and modes of togetherness. In describing the particular transformations – or “intraventions” – that these joint spaces enacted, we would like to intimate a different figuration anthropology took in our practice: Not a disciplinary field but a field of experimental collaborations.

As we show, treating our ethnographic counterparts as epistemic partners has the potential to retrofit our institutionalized settings and disciplinary practices. The anthropology we describe, hence, is one assembled from scratch, caring for the mundane issues that very often are forgotten and rendered invisible: an anthropology done with others, a DIY anthropology?

El Campo de Cebada CC BY 2014 Manuel Domínguez Fernández

Abstract

This is an account of the transformations in our anthropological practice derived from working in the many interstitial spaces that opened up in the wake of the recent Spanish economic crisis. Ambulating in void spaces of Madrid and Barcelona, our anthropological practice was there re-built in ways that blurred our disciplinary boundaries. What there emerged was anthropology not as a disciplinary field, but as a field of experimental collaborations. A practice that re-learnt its ways treating counterparts as true epistemic partners, and setting up distinct ambiances of care with them: not only to care for one another in situations of great difficulty, but mostly to care for our different forms of inquiry, addressing the very situations we were under. An anthropology done together with others, assembling from scratch a conceptual body, caring for the mundane issues that are very often forgotten and rendered invisible by disciplinary fields: A DIY anthropology?

Published in Anuac. Journal of the Italian Society of Cultural Anthropology, 8(2): 143-165 (co-written with Adolfo Estalella) | PDF

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