Thanks to an invitation by Kiven Strohm, Adolfo Estalella and I will have the pleasure to give a talk at the National University of Singapore‘s Sociology Webinar Series on ethnographic invention (poster and abstract below).
The event will take place on Zoom next October 15, 2020 at 3pm (Singapore time) / 9am (CET).
Ethnographic invention: Caring for the Modes of Inquiry of Anthropology
Adolfo Estalella (Complutense University of Madrid) & Tomás Criado (Humboldt-University of Berlin).
What if rather than conceptualizing it as a ‘method’ ethnography was to be appreciated as an act of anthropological invention? Already decades ago Roy Wagner proposed that more than discovering the cultures they were studying anthropologists ‘invent’ them. In his usage, the anthropological invention happens at a conceptual level: in the process of analysis, when anthropologists are relating their ethnographic experience in textual form. Our fieldwork experiences might allow us to probe into another version of invention: one that happens in the empirical encounter, when anthropologists are engaged in relating with others and devising the conditions for their inquiry to be possible. Ethnography, we would like to advance, is a twofold act of invention that happens when constructing relations: in the field and out of the field.
Any anthropologist undertaking fieldwork must have surely faced the challenging circumstance of having to forge relations with complete strangers. Resorting to forms of sociality already known as well as guides and norms of learnt methods is never enough, since social life tends to overflow its own scripts and anthropologist have always to resort to their own creativity and invention in the field. Rarely though is the figure of invention acknowledged as integral to the ethnographic practice, and fieldwork is never conceptualized in those terms. And yet, alongside the traditional techniques (interview, field diary, observation, etc.) ethnography is always full of grand and minor gestures that make it possible to inquire with others. We thus propose to consider ethnography not as a method but as an act of invention of the very possibility of anthropological inquiries in the field.
This has an important corollary, affecting how we might approach its teaching and learning. Rather than manuals or handbooks of methods––where the invention integral to the field practices of anthropologists tends to be systematically obviated–perhaps ethnography requires a different mode of compiling its inventive condition. This is something that we belief the present moment demands from anthropologists, a situation requiring from us a different care of knowledge: one that looks after the inventiveness of our modes of inquiry because they open the possibility for future inquiries.