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The University of Southampton
Centre for Political Ethnography

Why do we need Ethnography? Ethnography, Interdisciplinarity and Policy Event

10:00 - 16:00
24 March 2020
Avenue Campus 65/1173

Event details

As the core practice of Anthropology Ethnography has become established as one of the most popular research tools used by academics from across the humanities, social sciences and other disciplines. For anthropologists, ethnography still remains strongly connected with a sense of professional identity and is deeply rooted in cultural and social anthropological theories. Outside this intellectual endeavour, it is understood and applied in a wide variety of ways, sometimes challenging what anthropologists recognise as its core elements. However, what adepts of ethnography mostly have in common is an interest in putting people back at the centre of the study of social life. Moreover, the methodological promise to produce a ‘bottom-up’ people-based, context-sensitive understanding of society, culture and politics has made ethnography attractive within recent trends in research that are ‘problem-driven’, ‘impact-generating’ or ‘policy-driven’. These have produced a new flowering of both interdisciplinarity and methodological pluralism, often associated with the view that analysing ‘real world problems’ needs more than the tools of one discipline. Ironically, however, as the appeal of ethnography has grown, funding and employment pressures most university-based researchers face constrain their opportunities for actually doing ethnographic work. Particularly its conventional association with long-term exploratory fieldwork conflicts with prevailing demands in the corporate university. This seminar aims to examine this state of affairs and to ask questions about the meaning and value of ethnography in the current research environment. By bringing together a group of scholars who practice ethnography from different disciplinary vantage points we want to explore the multiple approaches they bring to the field. Participants are invited to share some reflections on the following questions: is ethnography simply a ‘method’ or do you associate specific methodological, theoretical, ethical or political values and commitments with ethnography? Does ethnography enable new interdisciplinary possibilities? Does ethnography change your discipline or is your discipline changing ethnography? What is the place of a slow immersive method in the fast-paced ‘policy impact’- driven world that is deeply re-shaping the academic habitus? How does ethnographic work get done in highly pressurised university work environments? Can ethnographic approaches be central to a critical social and policy analysis? (Why) do you need ethnography? Workshop Format: The focus of the workshop is on discussion and exchange. Speakers will be asked to give brief reflection papers addressing the workshop’s core questions above (15 min max.) from the vantage point of their research and approach to ethnography. They will circulate a short abstract (maximum 400 words) in advance. The workshop will offer a space for PhD students to engage with experienced scholars and think through their methods framework and the internal coherence and implications of their research projects.

Provisional Programme

23 March:

19.00-21.00 Welcome pub meal and drinks

24 March:

10-12.30 Session 1
12.30- 13.15 Lunch
13.15- 16.00 Session 2
16.00-16.15 Resume

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