Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: The Political
Over the past three decades, anthropologists that follow people, things and ideas - migrants, sugar, policy, mushrooms, medicines and microbes to name just a few - have opened up the so-called singular -or even multi-sited- ethnographic field (Jensen 2012; Kirksey & Helmreich 2010; Marcus 1999; Tsing 2009, 2015). They have helped to reveal the practices that make and define our field sites and objects of study, as well as the conditions for knowing them. ‘Following’ has emerged from methodological and conceptual experimentation with how we co-produce, document and delimit ethnographic presents.
This panel is concerned with exploring the diverse arts of ethnographic following and the reflexive practices that following entails. In the Anthropology of Global Health, ethnographies that ‘follow’ often emphasize cartographic and geometric metaphors, along with images of continuity and connection. These metaphors and images can assist us in attending to the spatialisation and flow of tangible objects in global health circuits, but we are interested too in how we might better consider the non-tangibles in global health – the affective, imaginary, atmospheric, and emotional – and the difficulties of placing these in a coherent ‘field’. How, then, do cartographic or geometric metaphors potentially constrain the ways we do, think about, and imagine our co-production of ethnographic presents and engagement while ‘following’ in the field?
The papers in this panel are all interested in how ‘what we follow’ depends on our fine-tuning and experimenting with various modes of noticing: listening, reading, smelling, seeing, and touching, but also how this is enabled through technologies such as mobile phones, computers, and x-rays, for example. These can direct our attention in different ways and shape how and what we follow; highlighting the importance of temporality and emotional experience, as much as spatiality to our following. The papers here trace following in a multitude of ways, from the ethnographer becoming the followed in the case of research on TB patients in India and the fear encased in this, to the psychological and violent ways that following can be policed and/or prohibited, to challenges of following microbes and medicines and their associated emotional and cognitive disconnect, to how we might follow something like proof, which is at the same time deeply emotional and bureaucratically firm.
The aim of following, then, may not be to know ‘an object’ as it moves, but to document particularities and similarities as they emerge through connections, tensions and disconnections in specific sites, situations and practices (Yates-Doerr 2015). Thus, in this panel, we aim to conceive of an Anthropology of Global Health that can use a ‘following’ methodology that does not just demonstrate effortless ‘flow’, but also how global health, and its objects, affects, imaginaries, and atmospheres, are often patchy, disconnected, and uneven.