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• ‘Ethnography on/from the Sidelines’ a blog project on institutional situatedness of knowledge production

Posted by Frank van der Most on July 6, 2012

Within the ‘Savage minds’ blog, Deepa S. Reddy and a number of other anthropologists inside and outside of academia launched a blog-project on the relation between the conceptualization of ethnographic projects and the institutional and real-research-life conditions in which they are shaped. In particular, how does that work for the ‘temps’, adjuncts and others in precarious positions in anthropology. The most interesting question the project tries to answer is

“is it possible that academic precarity or marginality of one sort or other generates new intellectual possibilities precisely because there is pressing need to make virtue out of necessity?  What sorts of virtues are made of these necessities, and what happens to “ethnography” (as method and as analytical approach) as a result?”

Instead of complaining about the ‘precarity’, the blog project wants to find out how intellectual gain can be made from institutional conditions that usually are considered unfavorable to science.

Although the blog project is situated in the field of anthropology, the stories and insights are not that different in other fields. Having done my first interview runs to the UK and Germany for the ACUMEN project, I recognize a lot from the posts in the interviews. I asked  academics from four disciplines (astronomy/astrophysics, public health, environmental engineering and philosophy) about the role of evaluations in their careers. For those who work in temporary positions, the role of evaluations seems bigger than for those who are in permanent positions. More importantly and depending on the actual situation, those in permanent positions are also finding out that their working conditions have become more precarious.

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One Response to “• ‘Ethnography on/from the Sidelines’ a blog project on institutional situatedness of knowledge production”

  1. Aalok said

    Nice to see the discussion being picked up elsewhere. Yes, you are right, of course: that institutional situatedness of the anthropology is not that much different form some of the other fields that you identify in your work, and some of the discussions of labor conditions will resonate quite strongly. And yet, I would hope — at least part of what gets emphasized in our discussion is that the margins are animated by multiple kinds of experiences, trajectories, and aspirations. The role of evaluations for some of us, for example, is indeed greater — for others it doesn’t matter nearly as much. Take Deepa’s initial post, for instance — she talks about a radical freedom resulting because there are literally no expectations of productivity from her. She continues to be a very productive scholar, but mostly because she loves the work and not because that is what she needs to do in order to further her career. And there are others, like Nathan Fisk’s recent post on “Selling Out” — where his move to turning into something of a corporate ethnographer shifts the very frame of what being a scholar means. I don’t want to take away from the discussion of temporary work contracts, of course — but seems to me that the multiplicities that characterize the figure of the “temporary worker” needs to be acknowledged too.

    And in any case, this is really not meant to be a discussion about short-term positions per se–as you rightly pick up here also. It really is thinking about the implications of working in these kinds of “sidelines” for ethnographic theory and method. Which is where the discussion will pick up following these series of introductory posts that set up the institutional context for each of us.

    That said, I am now very interested in reading further about the ACUMEN project also (I see the link above and look forward to checking it out in more detail).

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