Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Primary Theme: Exchange
Notions of spatial confinement, boundedness, and delimitation have been integral to the practice of anthropology. They have served to demarcate those (field) sites that host ethnographic research, to territorialise those (culture) areas that accommodate applications of similarity and difference, and to mediate the production of intimate knowledge and epistemic authority. When Geertz (1973:22) famously remarked that, ‘anthropologists do not study villages; they study in villages’, the ‘local’ was largely grasped as a geographically designated and culturally bounded ‘locale’ that evaded analytical probing. The advent of neoliberal globalisation, however, posed urgent questions about the ethnographic ‘where’ (Appadurai, 1996; Inda & Rosaldo, 2002), while the ‘crisis of representation’ complicated existing answers (Clifford & Marcus, 1986; Gupta and Ferguson, 1997). The theoretical and methodological certainties once afforded by the ‘local’ have been unsettled, arguably, to give rise to ‘an anthropological location of changing proportions’ (Comaroff & Comaroff, 2003:153) and analytical shifts to flows (Larkin 1997), connections (Tsing, 2005), scapes (Appadurai, 1996) and assemblages (Ong & Collier, 2004). In this constellation, ‘anthropologists alternate between accusing one another now of myopia, now of panoptics’ (Strathern, 2004: xv).
This panel proposes to engage these tensions through a dual focus on location and scale. Following Massey (2005), we understand space to be relational, thus hosting multiple and coexisting ‘relative locations’ (Green, 2017). To be located, in this approach, means to be somewhere in particular, but does not foreclose the concurrence of diverse locations in a given geographical space. Rather, location and locatedness are always the relational product of power-laden scaling practices, regimes, and devices, which social actors (anthropologist included) use to ‘organise, interpret, orient, and act in their worlds’ (Carr and Lempert, 2016:3). As such, while the panel abandons attempts to analytically ‘fix’ or ‘prescribe’ place, it takes minute interest in how spatial stabilisation unfolds ethnographically through legal, religious, financial and linguistic ‘locating regimes’ (Green 2017) that operate through and on multiple scales all at once. How, we ask, could a recasting of location as a result of overlapping scalar enactments open up for a reflexive ethnography that challenges central anthropological premises? What new could such a vantage point tell us, not only about the scaling of locations that anthropologists study (in), but also about the location of scales in comparisons (Fox & Gingrich, 2002), exemplification (Höjer & Bandak, 2015) and in anthropological analysis more broadly?
The panel takes inspiration from anthropological conceptualisations and applications of scale (Strathern, 2004; Neveling & Wergin, 2009; Tsing 2015; Gal, 2016; Moore, 2018) and interrogates its interplay with location through five Mediterranean case studies: from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, the border-enclave of Melilla, contested public space in Beirut, variously scaled ‘projects’ in Egypt, and Christian Orthodox pilgrimage in Greece. Taken together, these ethnographic explorations demonstrate that the anthropological study of location is necessarily a scalar endeavour, while scaling work always presupposes location.