Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Ethics
Secondary Theme: Teaching
This panel explores, from different perspectives, the limits of ethnography. We seriously consider the idea that there may be limits to what ethnography can and should do, and reflect upon moments, topics or places that test our own limits. Undertaking research on seemingly unspeakable topics, or in seemingly uninhabitable places, can pose analytical, logistical and methodological challenges to our understandings of ethnography. Limits can also be productive, forcing us to reshape questions or take new approaches to projects that are compelling precisely due to their apparent limitations.
The panel also explores the limits of how ethnography might be conceived, both within and beyond the domain of sociocultural anthropology. When anthropologists work at the interstices of anthropology and other fields, they regularly encounter the reality that ethnography is no longer assumed to be (if it ever was) their particular domain. ‘Ethnography’ has come to have a purchase that is often wider – some would say weaker – than is traditionally envisaged within anthropological traditions. How should anthropologists, in their research and in their teaching, respond to such a broadening out of the ethnographic approach? Rather than reacting with a policing of disciplinary borders, how might anthropologists engage in productive cross-disciplinary dialogue and collaboration that makes room for the multiple meanings and uses of ethnographic approaches?
With reference to our fieldwork, writing, teaching or other forms of engagement, panellists consider the many ways in which understanding the limits of ethnographic exploration – whether we respect or reject such limits – might deepen and enrich anthropology.