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Tag: ethnography

Crazy people on the other side of the world: challenges of ethnography and positionality in Iran

BY YOUNES SARAMIFAR I recall vividly that I was pleased with my progress in the field on 14th March 2019. I smiled at the list of confirmed appointments for interviews, walks, dinners and lunches while…

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Negligent NGO with happy parents: Voluntourism and the voice of the local beneficiaries

The NGO is located in little town in the peripheries of Arequipa

Pauline van der Valk        I have always had a keen interest in the local beneficiaries’ perspective on development projects. It was only when I started my Masters in Anthropology that I learned more about the phenomenon of voluntourism. Scholars agree voluntourism is part of the tourism sector, but also acknowledge voluntourists combine leisure activities with development practices. For this reason I found this niche market in the tourism sector highly intriguing and I decided to focus my thesis on voluntourism rather than on development. During my preparatory work I had read up on voluntourism, and the first discovery I made was that opinions on voluntourism differ greatly. There is a myriad of works concerning this topic, and I read it all – from moderately positive scholars claiming voluntourism increases mutual cultural understanding, to plain depressing works from scholars arguing voluntourism reinforces underlying global North – global South power relations. My main interest was in gaining the perspectives of those on the receiving end of the voluntourism chain. For this reason I focused my research on the experiences of the local parents and their children involved in voluntourism: the local beneficiaries. I choose this particular topic because during the preparation for my fieldwork I was rather surprised to find that the perspective of the local beneficiaries was often overlooked or under highlighted.

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Rereading Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Ethnographer”

By Matthias Teeuwen        I have read “The Ethnographer” and “Dr. Brodie’s Report” without thinking much of it. Sure, I had found it curious that Borges, who ranks among my favourite authors, would devote some of his writings to ethnography, but I haven’t thought much of it. Or, to be precise, I had planned to do my thinking on it at a later time. So when I came across an article in HAU Journal (2016, Volume 6, nr. 2) by Edgardo Krebs who argues that the anthropologist Alfred Métraux was Jorge Luis Borges’ inspiration to write the two stories, my curiosity was piqued. By reading the article by Krebs and re-reading “The Ethnographer” I have come to see the story as a challenge to the ethnographic endeavour of anthropology.

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Every 12 seconds

12secondsDuring the 8th Annual Symposium on Current Developments in Ethnographic Research held this year at the VU (28-30 August) keynote speaker and political scientist Timothy Pachirat talked about his undercover, ethnographic research at an industrialized slaughter house on the kill floor. Timothy, who is Assistant Professor of Politics at The New School for Social Research, wrote a book about his research, ‘Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight’, in which he explores how industrialized violence at an American slaughterhouse is organized, disciplined, and reproduced. At the slaughterhouse, 2,500 cattle are killed per day – one every 12 seconds. With his consent, we share below parts of an interview he held this year with  correspondent Avi Solomon from about his research and  book.

Avi: Why did you choose to go undercover in a slaughterhouse?

Timothy: I wanted to understand how massive processes of violence become normalized in modern society, and I wanted to do so from the perspective of those who work in the slaughterhouse. My hunch was that close attention to how the work of industrialized killing is performed might illuminate not only how the realities of industrialized animal slaughter are made tolerable, but also the way distance and concealment operate in analogous social processes: war executed by volunteer armies; the subcontracting of organized terror to mercenaries; and the violence underlying the manufacturing of thousands of items and components we make contact with in our everyday lives. Like its more self-evidently political analogues–the prison, the hospital, the nursing home, the psychiatric ward, the refugee camp, the detention center, the interrogation room, and the execution chamber–the modern industrialized slaughterhouse is ‘zone of confinement,’ a ‘segregated and isolated territory,’ in the words of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, ‘Invisible,’ and ‘on the whole inaccessible to ordinary members of society.’ I worked as an entry level worker on the kill floor of an industrialized slaughterhouse in order to understand, from the perspective of those who participate directly in them, how these zones of confinement operate.

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Workshop Multisited Ethnography

netmapBy Leonore van den Ende I recently took part in a workshop on ‘Multisited Ethnography’ at the VU given by Professor Nina Glick Schiller, a prominent anthropologist in the branch of migrant studies. I took part in this workshop because for the past two years I have been uncertain about the ‘ethnographicness’ of my PhD research. My research, in organizational anthropology, is about the practice and meaning of transition rituals in project-based organizations. Specifically, I studied six momentous transition rituals in three different projects in the Netherlands, where I have ‘zoomed in’ on each ritual followed by a process of ‘zooming out’ to relate the ritual observations back to each project and its unique history, prospect and context. Though I engaged in participant-observation during each transition ritual, I could not do so to the same extent at each project as they are large-scale, multi-sited organizational constructs. I had to accept that I could not be everywhere at once and therefore had to make conscious decisions concerning my research sites and sources of data.

The rest of my research entailed conducting interviews with a wide variety of ritual organizers, actors and attendees, and obtaining sufficient information about each project via a desk study and by visiting information centers, open days and project excursions. In other words, I have not conducted ethnographic research in the traditional sense as my research was temporally and spatially diverse and interspersed. This raised questions and doubts concerning the legitimacy of my ethnographic method. Some might call it ‘hit-and-run ethnography’ whereas others claim this form of multisited research is a development of ethnography that better suites our contemporary, globalizing societies and more complex research sites. This led me to question; what is it that makes a research ‘ethnographic’ as such?

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The things Dutch windows tell

By Lorraine Nencel I clearly remember moving here in 1978 and one of my evening pass times was walking through my neighborhood on garbage night scavenging along with the professional scavangers for useable goodies – proletariat recycling. But for this New Yorker who grew up with small windows blinded by venetians, Dutch windows were a delight to my eyes. Big and open, if it would not have been so obvious I could have stayed for hours in front of the window watching people enjoy their 8 o’clock coffee, sitting around the television, in each home generally positioned in the same corner, with Father sitting on the arm chair while mother and children are sitting on the couch.