Being Anthropologists in the Time of Disruption: Power and Representation.
October 10-11, 2018, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
In response to current social, political, and ecological ruptures, there is an urgency for anthropologists to reflect upon their positionality and how they could engage with the society as well as acknowledge the role of interlocutors. As democratic formations, environmental sustainability, and socio-political security enter different phases of disruption, anthropologists are increasingly seeking ways to make research accessible and in some cases a public good, especially for the informants with whom they deal in the field. Although approaches of engaged, applied, and action anthropology date back to the early 20th century, against the background of current dramatic global tensions, engaged anthropology, participatory or collaborative research, and transdisciplinary approaches need to be revisited (Laidlaw 2014; Low and Merry 2010). These approaches bear the desire to de-colonize academic knowledge, to emphasize the role of interlocutors at the fore, to uphold social responsibility, and to gain insights into diverse epistemological and ontological worlds. Additionally, encounters and cooperations with interlocutors ought to be strengthened in the pursuit of transformative knowledge and to deal with ‘real-world’ problems. This workshop therefore marks an attempt to further understand positionings between anthropologists and interlocutors through the dimensions of power and representation, encompassing all aspects of the research process.
Power and Representation
Engaged, applied, and action anthropology intend to expand the impact of research and connect with broader audiences in order to actively engage in contemporary social issues. At the same time, proponents of action anthropology, development anthropology, and collaborative research seek to enhance the devolution of power to communities often in combination with the promotion of rights (Rylko-Bauer et al. 2006). These approaches share an intensive exchange between academic and non-academic participants, the acknowledgement of different forms of practices, epistemologies, and ontologies, and the utilization of critical dialogue, mutual reflection, and “epistemic partnerships” (Marcus and Deeb 2011: 51). Engaged approaches also encompass all participants’ socio-political motivation and joint commitment to common concerns, which could be channelled in political action. Power differences and inequalities between researchers and interlocutors or local partners shape their exchange, acknowledgement, dialogue, mutuality and partnership and manifest themselves in negotiations of control, access, and dissemination of knowledge and information as well as mutual expectations. Reflections on power are not only relevant in terms of the individual relationship between anthropologists and interlocutors, but also regarding the interaction of researchers with oppressed as well as oppressive groups such as local elites.
Interpretive anthropology has provided the possibility for researchers to approach the veracity of practices through the lens of the actors’ perspective. Such intention is not merely an approach to present detailed practices, structures and dimensions of human interactions but also influential in creating the path on how these interactions are narrated (Barth et.al. 2005). Complications can arise as anthropologists are caught in ethical and spatio-temporal entanglements at least on two levels: keeping a distance from personal involvement and as capable actors that could have the agency to shape the historical path of those in the field (Laidlaw 2014, Caplan 2003). Thus, anthropologists often face a phenomenological dilemma of representation behind the scene of writing as they could no longer speak for the interlocutors but with the interlocutor, and, at the same time, have to represent the genuine complexity of the field to acquire the most even-handed tone of a work. Such challenges become more obvious when the field research requires participant observations or membership, and where the anthropologist needs to encounter public engagement (see Pink and Abram 2015, Rappaport 1993). Explicit engagement in visual anthropology (Favero 2015), for example, has become a certain access point where the initial participation would establish the feedback received from the interlocutor and, therefore, how the anthropologist could continue his/her research narrative.
To address questions about how anthropologists can position themselves between power and representation in times of disruption, the following points could serve to structure the discussion:
- What challenges, opportunities and new pathways are emerging for anthropology and engagement?
- How are power differences and inequalities (re)produced in engaged research?
- How should different expectations about research be negotiated?
- Which unintended consequences could arise?
- What positions, roles and responsibilities should be taken up by researchers and their interlocutors?
- Which ethical entanglements come up in participatory approaches?
- How can interlocutors and communities be represented in scientific work?
To discuss these and other emerging questions, we invite anthropologists and scholars working in any regional settings on current issues regarding, but not limited to: the Anthropocene, socio-ecological change, state power, violence, extremism, religiosity, identity
,social categorization, medicine and digital humanities.
Accepted participants of the workshop are expected to present their papers. Selected paper will be invited for submission as part of a planned special issue in a peer reviewed journal. There will be limited funding available to support selected participant based on applications. Important deadlines are as follow:
May 15, 2018 : Announcement of acceptance
September 28, 2018 : Paper Submission
October 10-11, 2018 : Workshop
Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany.
Dr. Ario Seto, Collaborative Research Center 1095, Goethe University Frankfurt
Dr. Kristina Großmann, University of Passau
Dr. Dominik Müller, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle
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