xcol, an ethnographic inventory > Call for Inventions 1.0: Field Devices

How can our modes of ethnographic inquiry respond to the challenges of the day? Amidst rampant planetary and health crisis revealing our worlds’ constitutive vulnerability, it has become more urgent than ever to open up speculative spaces to make emerge the possible. We think that this invocation needs to go hand in hand with a speculation of the many possible forms of ethnographic practice. A challenge that, in our opinion, needs to acknowledge and animate the intrinsic inventive condition of ethnography.

This is our point of departure: Ethnography is an act of invention. By that we mean that anthropologists invent the relations allowing them to inquire with others. Sadly, these forms of inventiveness that is part and parcel of ethnographic inquiries are rarely accounted for and shared. xcol, an ethnographic inventory invites ethnographers to join this inventorying endeavour.

The inventiveness that permeates the modes of anthropological inquiry takes expression in very different socio-material techniques: ranging from digital infrastructures used in fieldwork to novel modes of documenting through drawing or very diverse forms of relationality. We call these field devices for they devise the socio-spatial and material conditions of fieldwork.

Any anthropologist has faced in their fieldwork the challenging circumstance of forging out of nothing relations with complete strangers in an unknown situation. Ethnographers draw on the forms of relationality they already know and the guides and norms of the ethnographic method they have learnt. But this knowledge is never enough. As any experienced ethnographer very well knows from their own field experience, there is no script for social life and no sufficient method to guide the construction of relations in the field. Hence, anthropological inquiries always demand inventing the modes of relationality allowing anthropologists to investigate with others (whoever they are).

The starting point of the inventory assumes that besides, or rather beyond, the conventional conceptualization of ethnography as a ‘method’ we may conceive it as an act of invention. The language of creativity, improvisation and invention is seldom, if ever, present in the anthropological accounts of ethnography. Our proposal goes against this state of affairs, positing a different conception that signals out the always creative and improvisational nature of ethnography.

The xcol ethnographic inventory is a curated open-source digital archive seeking to document and display this endless invention integral to any ethnographic inquiry. In our first Call for Inventions (CfI) we are particularly aiming to inventory accounts of ‘field devices: to insist, the inventive social and material arrangements undertaken, created, made or repurposed in the course of doing fieldwork with others.

What we have in mind are texts of at least 2000 words accounting for these field devices in at least two senses: (1) fleshing out the context as well as the social and material arrangements of particular ‘field devices’ as they are put into practice in empirical situations; and (2) hinting at the particular modes of ethnographic inquiry they enable or make emerge.

We particularly welcome texts experimenting with genres in between recipes or instruction manuals and ethnographic descriptive accounts.

As an inspiration, you might check this existing invention in our platform: How to ‘device’ an ethnographic infrastructure

But also, please consult our how to guide on the writing of field devices.


For this first call we would like to receive fully-fledged proposals for these pieces by February 18, 2022.

To know more about the platform

Care review

In the spirit of what we call ‘care review’ xcol, an ethnographic inventory commits to publishing all proposals we would receive, whenever they might be ready to be shared: hence taking care to bring them to fruition and working together with interested xcolars in their writing in subsequent months.

Contact info

If you wanted to submit or discuss an individual contribution, but also, if you thought about organising with us a workshop on inventions (an inventathon) around some of these topics, please do not hesitate to contact us here: inventory@xcol.org


You can download a PDF version of this call here

Infraestructuras de la invención etnográfica > 2º Seminario Internacional Arquitectura y Etnografía

Gracias a la intermediación de Ricardo Greene, Adolfo Estalella y yo, presentaremos en el 2º Seminario Internacional Arquitectura y Etnografía, que tendrá lugar los días 6, 7 y 8 de octubre de 2021.

Más información del seminario

El Seminario Internacional Arquitectura y Etnografía es un espacio de intersección y encuentro para quienes estudiamos el espacio y el sentido. Entre la arquitectura, la antropología, la geografía, el urbanismo y la sociología nos sentamos junto al fuego para pensar nuevas formas de abordar los fenómenos territoriales. ¿Cuáles son las relaciones entre etnografía y arquitectura? ¿cuáles los alcances y desafíos de las nuevas tecnologías y métodos de investigación espacial? ¿de qué formas distintas disciplinas pueden encontrarse ante un mismo objeto de estudio? ¿cuál es el rol de los sentidos en la epistemología de lo socio-espacial? En ese terreno acampamos.

Si en su primera versión el seminario se centró en el dibujo como herramienta que posibilita estos cruces disciplinarios y metodológicos, el segundo encuentro amplia su mirada hacia otros mecanismos y sensibilidades, incluidos sonidos, imágenes y biografías situadas, con invitados internacionales diversos, y de trayectorias innovadoras y rigurosas.


Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Construcción, UDLA
José Abásolo, jabasolo [arroba] udla.cl
Ricardo Greene, rgreene [arroba] udla.cl


Núcleo Lenguaje y Creación UDLA
Revista Bifurcaciones

Link de inscripción (gratuito)


Programa (horario chileno, GMT-3)

miércoles 6 / 16h
Homo Urbanus. For a wandering cinema.

jueves 7 / 10h
Transnational Architecture of Care.

jueves 7 / 12h
Ruinas del futuro. Reflexiones en torno a la película documental Pampa.

jueves 7 / 15h
Diagramas, mapas y cartografías. Aproximación a la arquitectura y ciudad actual.

viernes 8 / 10h
Infraestructuras de la invención etnográfica

viernes 8 / 12h
Arquitectura y experiencia urbana. La etnografía como portal a las ausencias.

viernes 8 / 15h
La experiencia de M7red.

viernes 8 / 17h
Geografías domésticas de la pandemia. La casa como universo socioacústico.

Towards a multimodal urban anthropology (DGSKA 2021, workshop)

Together with Ignacio Farías we are convening the workshop Towards a multimodal urban anthropology for the upcoming biannual conference of the German Association of Social and Cultural Anthropology (DGSKA-Tagung 2021, “Worlds, Zones, Atmospheres. Seismographies of the Anthropocene”) that will take place (online) September 27-30, 2021 at the University of Bremen.

Our session is scheduled to take place 28.9.2021, 13:30–15:00 (CET) through the online platform of the conference | see programme here.

Flying City CC BY Maasaak 2014

Frame of the workshop

More-than-human approaches in urban anthropology have convincingly contributed to rethinking the plurality of modes of knowledge, the assemblages and the kinds of actors that constitute our cities. But what do these conceptual interventions do to our ethnographic modes of inquiry? This workshop starts from the assumption that beyond a change in conceptual repertoires, decentering the all-too-human object of urban anthropology might require a multimodal transformation of our ethnographic practices, in at least two ways: Firstly, since the ‘observation’ of more-than-human entanglements requires more than taking part in social situations, what are the conditions in which we could appreciate and learn to be affected, attuned and concerned with a wide variety of phenomena and processes, ranging from atmospheric and ecological to multi-species and/or socio-technical? How would our practices of note-taking and field-working be affected? In contexts where fieldwork becomes an active co-production of situations, we invite contributions reflecting on multimodal transformations of fieldnotes, practices of rapport / friendship / interlocution and correspondence. Secondly, to the extent that these often-experimental collaborations involve more-than-textual devices for ethnographic description and conceptualization, we would like to explore the anthropological potentials of current displacements of the media and modalities of ethnographic accounts. In a context where collaborations with art and design are becoming a common practice, we particularly welcome contributions that reflect on the intervention these devices entail for the project of urban anthropology.

Participants & abstracts

  • Graphic Ethnography and Experiments in Urban Anthropology (Andrew Gilbert, University of Toronto Mississauga; Larisa Kurtovic, Univ. of Ottawa)

In this presentation, we draw upon our graphic ethnography project to explore the affordances of sequential art for urban anthropology. Our research investigates an unprecedented victory by industrial workers in the northern Bosnian city of Tuzla, who occupied and preserved their privatized and bankrupted factory and were able to restart production. We propose that the graphic medium offers unique ethnographic potential for capturing and communicating the openly experimental and collaborative nature of the workers struggle, offering important insights for an urban anthropology “understood as operating within an open system, as an open system, and as the study and production of open systems” (Fortun 2003). In particular, we explore graphic ethnography’s capacity to materialize and render tangible a broad urban sensorium, to evoke how the social multiplicities of cities can be turned into a political resource, and to harness the imagination and participation of readers in ways that keeps ethnography as inventive and open-ended as the urban worlds that it evokes.

  • Learning from outside: grasping and representing multiplicities. The case of pedestrianized Times Square (Santiago Orrego, HU Berlin)

This talk is divided into two parts. The first one presents the highlights of a multi-situated and multimodal ethnography of Times Square in New York City and its processes of pedestrianization from 2009 to 2017. But more than just telling the story of how that location was assembled, the idea was to try to translate the particularities of a multiple spatiality, as well as the resources and situations involved in its production, somehow, into epistemological devices and multimodal artifacts that could enrich the way we make ethnography of public spaces. The intention of experimenting with multimodal methods was to design strategies, as well as artifacts, for better capturing and representing the convulse and the effervescent world outside. The second part of the talk will focus on some of those epistemological devices and multimodal artifacts by discussing how they were constructed, the rationality behind them, their uses, and scopes. The way for enacting all those matters will be presenting the methodological strategy carried out along this whole ethnographic work, and that can be described as a process of “learning from” a specific location, pedestrianized Times Square.

  • Archival entanglements: Multimodal research, teaching, learning in urban anthropology (Aylin Tschoepe, University of Basel)

As a site of selective public or private memory, a collection of evidence in material and immaterial form shaped by various power dynamics, and a metaphor for holding data, the archive is central to the mediated production and understanding of archival bodies as agents and mnemonic devices. Archives offer a lens to grapple with questions of temporality, materiality, technological possibilities, and accessibility to different ways of knowing. I understand bodies and spaces as archives, not least through cultural practices of memorizing and forgetting, categorization, valuation and visibility. I am drawn to the archive in its complexity of objecthood and agency and focus on four main aspects: first, the archive as artefact holds particular knowledges and memories in the context of power and valuation, and can consist of various media and formats from material to digital. Second, the archive can be inscribed onto human and non-human actors. Third, as storages of data, archives may be part of a network with archival instruments that inscribe experiences and practices such as those of a cultural, social, performative, sensory, or aesthetic kind. Fourth, the archive is an actor itself, and it can contain further archival bodies that are also “quasi-objects” (Latour 2005). As actors, archives are also witnesses, equipped with transformative powers toward shaping the future of larger temporal and spatial networks in which archives operate and are entangled.

  • Doing urban anthropology with a dog. Reflections upon ethnography and knowledge production in context of a more-than-human research entanglement (Elisabeth Luggauer, University Graz/University Würzburg)

This paper reflects upon multimodal ethnographic modes of being in a field of urban contact zones (Haraway 2008) or urban assemblages (Farias 2011) between humans and street dogs in Podgorica (Montenegro) as a multispecies research entanglement of a human and the dog Ferdinand. It points out how through the grounding ethnographic technique of jointly claiming urban space as a „humandog collective“ (Hodgetts 2018) 1. the presence of the mixed-breed dog reveals urban discourses and politics about street dogs and owned dogs as well as about cleanliness and dirt, 2. Ferdinand’s spatial practices make contact zones/assemblages between humans and street dogs recognizable for the human researcher and therefore open up concrete research settings for deeper investigation, and 3. our presence as a multispecies research team has also turned this project into a contact zone between different knowledges and discourses on human-nonhuman order policies in urban spaces embedded in different cultural and political contexts.

  • Discussant: Indrawan Prabaharyaka (HU Berlin)

Questions for our joint exploration

The question we would like to approach collectively in our workshop is how do particular multimedia/multimodal devices enable or hinder particular descriptions, conceptual understandings or ways of remaking what the urban is or could be. This not only means what features of the urban they enable or make more difficult to do research upon, but also whether our understandings of the urban remain the same after inquiring multimodally. Put differently, what kind of an urban anthropology emerges out of these multimodal engagements? That is, what would a multimodal urban anthropology be?

With these questions in mind, when creating the sequence of presentations for the session we have paid special attention to the particular ‘devices’ (be they field devices, representational devices, or both) there are stake, with the intention to discuss the multimedia layers that have paved the way for a question around the multimodal in anthropology. Hence, there is a transition from the visual/graphic to the digital, then to more material aspects like the archive and the multi-sensory as well as the collaborative (perhaps a genealogy in which the problem of multimodality presented itself in recent anthropological scholarly work?). But whereas the first two (Gilbert & Kurtovic + Orrego) emphasise visual means of representation (comic/graphic novel and exhibition artefacts), the last two (Tschoepe + Luggauer) discuss multimodal strategies of research in the field (through archives, and in the company of dogs). Perhaps this might enable a discussion on when and where multimodality happens, and how this affects the research process.

xcol – an ethnographic inventory > Lanzamiento de la nueva plataforma en el LAAV del MUSAC

El próximo 18 de noviembre a las 6pm (CET) Adolfo Estalella y yo presentaremos la nueva versión de #xcol en el Laboratorio de Antropología Audiovisual Experimental del MUSAC. La financiación de nuestro proyecto en la convocatoria Open LAAV_ nos ha permitido convertir el sitio web en un inventario etnográfico, esto es, una plataforma digital para cuidar de la inventiva del trabajo de campo.

Aquí adjunto el texto de presentación del seminario donde desvelaremos la nueva versión de la web:

“La etnografía es un acto de invención. Los antropólogos (y las antropólogas también) inventan siempre la manera de investigar con otras. La creatividad e inventiva que es integral a la actividad empírica de la antropología (y de manera amplia de la etnográfica), ha sido raramente reconocida por esta disciplina. Inventiva y creatividad parecen estar prescritas, muy al contrario de lo que ocurre en el mundo del arte, donde la creatividad es una de sus señas de identidad. Este encuentro online introduce un proyecto dedicado a documentar e inventariar la invención etnográfica: “xcol. An Ethnographic Inventory“. Una plataforma digital, abierta a la participación de cualquier interesada, que tiene como objetivo animar la inventiva que demanda la investigación etnográfica de nuestros mundos contemporáneos. El encuentro introducirá brevemente el argumento teórico sobre la inventiva etnográfica y presentará el inventario xcol

Actividad gratuita previa inscripción en este enlace

¿Qué queréis decir exactamente con un inventario?

Pues, literalmente, hemos transformado #xcol en un modesto archivo digital colaborativo para inventariar la inventiva etnográfica. Durante la presentación mostraremos las diferentes secciones de la página: no sólo un inventario de inventos etnográficos, sino también ‘xpositions‘ (ensayos temáticos), colecciones de inventos, un glosario y un directorio de ‘xcolars‘ entre otras cosas.

Estamos dando las últimas pinceladas, pero tendrá una pinta parecida a esto:

¿Es una cosa sólo para antropólogxs?

Quienes lo hemos instigado somos antropólogxs, pero no, el inventario no es sólo para antropólogxs: Apelamos a etnógrafxs de todas las ramas a documentar e inventariar sus inventos etnográficos. De hecho, las formas de inventiva en los márgenes (inter-/trans-/a-) disciplinares han sido siempre cruciales para la etnografía.

Es más, la inspiración del diseño, la arquitectura y el arte son nuclear a la plataforma: queremos inventariar ‘inventos’ (en un sentido literal) etnográficos como ‘dispositivos de campo’, ‘formatos abiertos’ de encuentro, ‘prototipos’ o ‘intravenciones’ de una práctica a otra.

El argumento que da sentido a la plataforma es que el trabajo de campo siempre ha sido y será inventivo, pero los relatos metodológicos o disciplinares sobre qué es la etnografía tienden a aplanar o dejar fuera esas formas de invención: de ahí la razón de documentar colaborativamente esos gestos, para ¿quizá aprender de esa otra etnografía ya existente?

Una plataforma abierta de uso libre

Los contenidos serán de uso libre CC BY SA y la plataforma es de código libre y permitirá forks a quien quiera. La hemos desarrollado junto con Montera34, inspirados por la inventiva documental y archivística de Inteligencias Colectivas