Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Ethics
Secondary Theme: The Visual
As professional outsiders and sometimes unbidden guests, anthropologists often have a commitment not to see everything, training themselves to integrate sensory input while sifting out irrelevant details. Although anthropological self-critique has interrogated the colonial gaze and entanglements between anthropologists and intelligence agencies (Fluehr-Lobban 2003; Albro et al. 2012), more remains to be said about observation as a method of cross-cultural knowledge production with inherent promises and pitfalls. This panel brings together scholars who have worked in settings affected by institutional surveillance, and asks them to reflect on what they have learned from those under observation about ethical ways of seeing.
Given the proliferation of machine-based and machine-enhanced approaches to observation in law enforcement, health care, security, and the helping professions, it seems timely to highlight anthropology’s use of an intentionally subjective gaze that seeks to “see with” rather than “seeing against” people in their daily activities. During ethnographic research, such disciplinary standards encounter a particular community’s ways of regulating its legibility to outsiders. How do habits of responding to, evading, or suspecting surveillance shape the encounter between a community and newcomers, including anthropologists? How does observation by government agencies, service providers, or private businesses reshape, affirm, or violate expectations of what is displayed and hidden in a given community or household? What is the impact of contemporary machine technologies on professional practices of observation?
Individual paper topics include the securitization of borders and refugee camps; the responses of religious or dissident groups to government surveillance in socialist states; ethnographies of health care and social work; and anthropological research among NGOs and activist groups. Together, the papers will consider how ethical standards emerge from interpersonal encounters, and how ways of seeing inform imaginaries of communal resilience.
Albro, Robert et al., eds. 2012. Anthropologists in the Securityscape: Ethics, Practice, and Professional Identity. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.
Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn, ed. 2003. Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology: Dialogue for Ethically Conscious Practice. Lanham: Altamira Press.