CFP: Fieldwork Technologies: Transitional Histories of Ethnographic Mediation (Panel)
AAA/CASCA 2023 Call for Papers
Organizers: Jennifer Hsieh (University of Michigan), Matthew C. Watson (Mount Holyoke College)
Mythologies of ethnographic research – past and present – often construct fieldwork as a series of unmediated intersubjective encounters. But particular tools routinely enable, shape, and frame ethnographers’ field experiences. This panel rethinks the mediation of anthropologists’ embodied sensory, technical, and epistemic labors through fine-grained attention to historically-specific fieldwork technologies. We expect the panel to draw together work on past and present fieldwork technologies in order to reframe constructions of the field’s history and rethink the contemporary techno-politics of extended ethnographic embodiment. How might attention to technologies aid us to recompose fieldwork’s history and to reimagine the technical, ethical, and epistemic contours of ethnography today? How have anthropologists, and the tools that they use, uniquely constructed ethnographic fieldwork at a specific time and place?
While a longstanding literature – bridging anthropological subfields – examines the social production of technologies, comparatively little attention has been directed to ethnography’s own tools of mobility, recording and documentation, and inscription. Work on the practical, aesthetic, and epistemic shapes of film and photography comprises a clear exception to this technical aversion. But the ethnographic imagination also forms through technologies of travel and mobility, audio recording tools, and varied inscription devices – ranging from pen and paper to typewriters to contemporary tablets and computers. Such tool-enabled recording and textualization are not just objects for use by the researcher; they produce ethnographic insights and modes of theorization—in cases when the tools are deployed as intended, and in cases when they aren’t. These technologies further invite consideration of the limits and potentials of ethnographic embodiment and access in terms that might engage disability studies critiques.
We invite presenters to track the role of technologies in affecting the sensorial, political, and ethical shapes of ethnographic labor across fieldwork, interpretation, and exposition. While panelists should situate ethnographic fieldwork and writing in specific sociotechnical contexts, this work of contextualization may take up diverse theoretical inspirations, including research in the anthropologies of technology and the body, science & technology studies, disability studies, digital ethnography, feminist assemblage theory, and affect theory.
Orienting questions for historical and critical work on this topic may include:
- How is the sensory and bodily experience of fieldwork constrained or extended through technological mediation?
- How have technological transitions and transformations shifted the very construction (including the imaginable site) of the ethnographic “field?”
- How have shifts in technologies of mobility shaped the imagination, planning, and practice of fieldwork?
- How have transitions in inscription technologies – e.g., typewriters and computers – reshaped the evidentiary, analytical, and expository work of ethnography?
- How have transitions in computer technology shaped the interpretation of ethnographic data and, hence, the field’s prevailing narratives of theoretical development and change?
- How do computer programs, software, or apps yield distinct kinds of ethnographic reasoning and analysis?
- How has the development of cellphones into discrete and ubiquitous audiovisual devices affected the terms and practices of recording and analysis in the field?
- How have technologies of record keeping – e.g., bibliographies, filing cabinets, computer hard-drives, the “cloud” – affected modes of ethnographic reasoning and reportage?
- How have anthropologists adapted technologies, using them in unintended ways?