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Call for Book Chapters: Experiments in Worldly Ethnography


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Does ethnography — whose credibility has always been its disruptive turn toward local knowledge and the minutiae everyday life — still have a place in the writing of global, planetary experience? The principled ethnographic response to globally extended social issues has been to locate the ‘global’ within local practice. But to stop here is to limit ethnography to a question of mere closeness.

Critical work in social anthropology and sociology over the past few decades has opened new tracks of research into contemporary cultural and social practice, theoretically and methodologically grappling with the multi-sited, diachronistic, and relational character of our subject matter. From material-semiotic approaches to understanding actor-networks, to new phenomenological thinking on multi-modal planetary experience, contemporary research in the humanities and social sciences faces the significant methodological challenge of describing what we mean by a ‘practice’ today, and how it inflects our research.

What kind of critical contribution can ethnographic writing make in research contexts where ‘location’ and ‘object’ are being constantly re-signified, and where the material centres of human social and cultural life are constantly liquefied and re-crystallised? In worldly life, the local has not been dissolved entirely, but taken on radical new decentralised forms. From digital natives to symbiotic entanglements of human and non-human organisms, new schemas of ‘local knowledge’ are emerging that invite a rethinking of what it means to capture, with fidelity and authenticity, the granular details everyday life.

Can a critical practice of writing ethnography — as well as overlapping techniques for capturing, videoing and inscribing its encounters — not extend to objects with an irreducible multiplicity of worldly sites, or entangle itself with phenomena of vast planetary extension?

‘Experiments in Worldly Ethnography’ is an invitation to explore how new approaches toward generating and presenting ethnographic knowledge can be used to offer fresh perspectives on these questions. Editors Joshua McNamara, Melissa Nolas and Christos Varvantakis invite scholars and creative-critical practitioners to contribute to a growing transdisciplinary exploration of ethnographic thought in a globalised world.

We venture the notion of a ‘worldly ethnography’ to embrace work that challenges and experiments with the multi-sited and the siteless nature of contemporary planetary life. This call is structured into three general streams:

  1. Beyond comparison: Expanding on conversations in multi-sited ethnography, from work struggling to constitute the city as a site of research, to inter-urban comparative research looking at entangled multiplicities of publics, consumers and end-users, this stream seeks to explore multi-sited methods and their role in new thinking on a distributed, de-centralised life. In what ways can our research and writing bring together scattered sites not simply into regional and geo-cultural comparison, but in synthesis of new kinds of distributed, diachronic fields of study?
  2. Gigantic objects outside the human scale: As the scale against which we make sense of human life and its struggles expands, we have started to come face-to-face with a new range of gigantic objects:  climate, data, radiation, ecosystem. Experimental work, such as the ecological work by Donna Harraway and Anna Tsing on the intimacies of human and non-human entanglements in the Anthropocene, has started to pose vital questions about the closeness and locatedness of the ethnographic encounter when confronted with the vastness of planetary objects. What is the meeting point between scientific data, ethnographic writing and our new strategies for thinking outside the human scale?
  3. Si(gh)tlessness: We would like to venture that there is a productive paradox at the heart of the notion of a Worldly Ethnography. While ethnography relies on its testimony to a visible life, the worldly itself often sits beyond direct vision. In a focus on si(gh)tlessness – whose double meaning signifies both the lack of vision, and a lack of a coherent research site – this stream seeks to explore how experiments in ethnography might develop new ways of ‘seeing’ the un-seeable. This stream would be especially excited to hear from scholars experimenting with new forms of audio-visual media in relation to their ethnographic work.

We invite proposals for chapters that fit within one or more of the above streams, and which reflect on the methodological and philosophical issues, and creative-critical practices, that might arise in worldly ethnographic encounters. We would be especially interested in hearing from scholars grappling with multi-sitedness in work on global political experience, and those experimenting with new ways of capturing the deep planetary scale on which many of our most profound human transformations are taking place today.

Given the experimental inflection of this work, we are open to contributions in a multitude of forms, from traditional research papers to more creative-critical reflections, and work that integrates practice-led multimedia into its method and/or critique.

Important dates

  • Abstracts (500 words) due 15 January 2019.
  • Response on abstracts:  28 February 2019.
  • First draft articles due 01 September 2019.
  • Final revised drafts will be due in January 2020.

Please email all enquires and submissions to Joshua McNamara (joshua.mcnamara@unimelb.edu.au). Please also cc: Melissa Nolas (s.nolas@gold.ac.uk) and Christos Varvantakis (c.varvantakis@gold.ac.uk).

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