PAPER

By
Alice Riddell, Chloe Dominique, Emilie Glazer, Ioanna Manoussaki-Adamopoulou, and Victoria Tecca
PhD Anthropology

Introducing PAPER, Power and Politics of/in Ethnographic Research; a timely and imperative seminar series, interrogating the ongoing decolonisation of ethnographic fieldwork, with aims to instigate pedagogical progress within the department, enmeshing care as praxis and prioritising decolonial ethical practice within our discipline. 

Created and run by PhD researchers, PAPER will address the power and positionality of the researcher within the delicate politics of participation and observation, and challenge ideas about representation, through an exploration of indigenous methodologies, collaborative authorship and the ways in which we acknowledge and share ethnographic time with our participants. This series will create an open space for students, staff and researchers to ask questions such as, how can we best create a research praxis that acknowledges and works to surpass the imperialist and extractivist history of our discipline? How do we develop and sustain relationships with our participants, both in and out of the field, in order to centre care and respect, whilst also mediating potential power imbalances?

This series is being run by researchers who are also in the process of de-learning and addressing their own positionality within these complex topics. That being said, whilst by no means experts on decoloniality, we are dedicated to structural institutional change by creating a space to discuss and challenge current fieldwork training and the pedagogy of ethical praxis. We hope this series will act as a small, but hopeful, step in the right direction. 

For more information, and to sign-up to the events, see our eventbrite page here.

For those who join the series, some considerations and housekeeping rules: 

This is an open space, encouraging productive, yet challenging dialogue about complex and often uncomfortable issues. With this in mind, please be thoughtful and engage with integrity. There is no room for racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and classism in these seminars. Marginalised folk are under no obligation to educate you, share their experiences, or comfort you during these seminars, and we ask you to be mindful of any assumptions you make about others present at the events. We will have two moderators at our events; one managing the live chat, and the other on hand if any issues arise.

Trigger Warning: This series may include content that is distressing or uncomfortable, as we address examples of microaggressions in our department, intergenerational trauma and other forms of violences as a result of our discipline’s colonial history. 

If at any time you need to leave the ‘room’, log-off, and take some time for yourself, please feel free to do so. The host can re-admit you (just send them a message if you’re able to so they can keep an eye on the waiting room).

Tickets to this event are FREE, but we are asking those that are able to make a financial contribution, do so to Free Black University, a project that exists to re-distribute knowledge and act as a space of incubation for the creation of transformative knowledge in the Black community.We suggest a minimum of £10.

Contact us at papereventseries@gmail.com

Seminar 1: INSTITUTIONS 

February 9th, 6:30-8:30pm GMT

With Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith author of Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, Toyin Agbetu UCL scholar and activist, and UCL outsourced workers & members of IWGB

Our opening seminar will work as an introduction to the series more generally, before focusing on institutional responsibility and ways to progress the decolonisation of pedagogy and ethical practice in our department and discipline. How can we best acknowledge and supersede the unsavoury colonial legacy of anthropology? In what ways can we resist and reverse the extractionist nature of Western academia?

Seminar 2: WITNESSING 

February 23rd, 6pm GMT

With Dr Laura Agustín, author of Sex at the Margins: Migration, Sex Work, Trafficking, and the Rescue Industry, writing publicly as the Naked Anthropologist and Harshadha Balasubramanian, UCL PhD Research Candidate. 

The second seminar in our series we will be addressing the ethics and politics of witnessing and participating. Through an interrogation of anthropology’s fundamental methodology, our speakers will navigate questions of power and positionality of researchers in the field, the potential pitfalls and limits of participation-observation and the ethics of interventionist anthropology.

Speakers:

Seminar 3: RELATIONSHIPS 

March 12th, 6pm GMT

With author, poet, and anthropologist Professor Ruth Behar, and Professor Maya J Berry, dancer and anthropologist

Our third seminar focuses on relationships. We will be exploring the question of how our assumptions about research participants might guide our research design and lead to us asking questions that perpetuate essentialised images of certain groups of people, as well as what kind of relationships and solidarities we might form with research participants whilst in the field. In this sense, how best can we incorporate care as praxis into our participant relationships and normalise methodological practices of emotion and affect? 

Speakers:

  • As a cultural anthropologist, poet and writer, teacher, and public speaker, Ruth Behar is acclaimed for the compassion she brings to her quest to understand the depth of the human experience. She was born in Havana and grew up in New York and has lived in Spain and Mexico. She returns often to Cuba to build bridges around culture, literature, art, and Jewish life. Her books about her travels, Translated Woman, The Vulnerable Observer, An Island Called Home, and Traveling Heavy, are acclaimed for their unique mix of personal and scholarly writing. She is the author of a bilingual book of poetry, Everything I Kept/Todo lo que guardé. Behar made her fiction debut with her autobiographic novel for young people, Lucky Broken Girl, which won the Pura Belpré Medal. Her new young adult novel, Letters from Cuba, a work of historical fiction, is based on her grandmother’s escape from Poland to start a new life in Cuba on the eve of the Holocaust. She was the first Latina to win a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. She has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship and was named a “Great Immigrant” by the Carnegie Corporation. Behar is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
  • Anthropologist and Dancer Professor Maya J Berry, uses performance as an analytical lens and a black feminist approach to understand racialized and gendered experience, social formations and political imaginaries. She is a Postdoctoral Associate at Yale and Assistant Professor of African, African-American, and Diaspora Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focus is politics of race, gender, and performance, with a special emphasis on blackness, the sacred arts, and spiritual epistemologies in contemporary Cuba.

Seminar 4: REPRESENTATION 

March 16th, 5pm GMT

With Professor Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, leading the Refugee Hosts and Southern Responses projects
(Second speaker TBA)

Our final seminar tackles the ethics and politics of representation. We will raise questions about progressive and collective ethnographies, exploring the potentialities of indigenous methodologies and collaborative authorship. How can we accurately share time with our participants, without relegating them to the past or subsuming them into the pseudo-temporality of academia? How can we foster co-ownership and accessibility to the research with our participants? Who is our research actually benefiting?

Workshops

Following the seminar series, we will host two workshops for UCL PhD researchers. During these events, we will reflect on the epistemological dimensions addressed in the seminars for individual research projects, and think through practical recommendations to be embedded in the department’s pedagogy on research ethics. We will cover topics such as:

  • Collectively imagining suggestions for a new Fieldwork Code of Conduct;
  • Discussing difficulties, shifts and repositionings between pre-fieldwork design and fieldwork, and how these could be integrated creatively and reflexively in writing;
  • Creating a caring and anti-racist department.

Reading List

To accompany the event series we will curate a reading list which will include references specific to each event, as well as core seminal texts. The list will be made available to all students. 

What will emerge from this event series

We aim for this series to catalyse action among UCL departmental staff, and to directly support researchers’ individual projects as they incorporate these discussions into their work. We plan the following outcomes: 

  • Providing the opportunity for UK researchers to be in conversation with world-leading international scholars on the topics of decoloniality in ethnographic fieldwork;
  • A survey shared with research participants to assess impact of series;
  • A report of suggestions for a new departmental Fieldwork Code of Conduct;
  • A written report which will include reflections on the series and recommendations for changes in PhD pedagogy.

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