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Ethnographic Sense: Composing the Contemporary

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Ethnographic Sense: Composing the Contemporary
Friday, April 9, 2021, 2:00-3:30 PM (Eastern Time)

What does it mean to write from the inside of our current condition—a global pandemic that has kept us home for a year, even as events unfold across the nation and the globe. How can we “make something” of the present, when conditions for doing ethnography have fundamentally changed?

Carole McGranahan is a cultural anthropologist and historian specializing in contemporary Tibet and the USA. Her research focuses on issues of colonialism and empire, history and memory, power and politics, refugees and citizenship, gender, war, nationalism, senses of belonging, and ethnography as method, theory, and writing. She is author of Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Histories of a Forgotten War (Duke University Press, 2010), and editor of Imperial Formations (2007, co-edited with Ann Stoler and Peter Perdue), Ethnographies of U.S. Empire (2018, co-edited with John Collins), Flash Ethnography (co-edited with Nomi Stone, 2020), and Writing Anthropology: Essays on Craft and Commitment (2020, Duke University Press). Currently, she is finishing a decade of research in France, India, Nepal, New York City, Switzerland, and Toronto titled “Refugee Citizenship: Asylum, Refusal, and Political Subjectivity in the Tibetan Diaspora.” During the pandemic, her writing has been alternatively halted and energized, including work on an in-progress book manuscript Theoretical Storytelling: Ethnography as a Way of Knowing.

Marina Peterson is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her work traces modalities of matter, sensory attunements, and emergent socialities, exploring diverse and innovative ways of encountering and presenting the ethnographic. Her recently published book, Atmospheric Noise: The Indefinite Urbanism of Los Angeles (2021, Duke UP), engages mobilizations around airport noise to address ways in which noise amplifies modes of sensing and making sense of the atmospheric. She is the author of Sound, Space, and the City: Civic Performance in Downtown Los Angeles (2010, UPenn Press) and co-editor of Global Downtowns (with Gary McDonogh, 2012, UPenn Press), Anthropology of the Arts: A Reader (with Gretchen Bakke, 2016, Bloomsbury), and Between Matter and Method: Encounters in Anthropology and Art (with Gretchen Bakke, 2017, Bloomsbury). Her work has appeared in Anthropological Quarterly, Popular Music Studies, Postmodern Culture, Space and Culture, Social Text, and South Atlantic Quarterly.


  • McGranahan, Carole, ed. 2020. Writing Anthropology: Essays on Craft and Commitment.  Durham, NC: Duke University Press [Introduction & Chapter 11].
  • Peterson, Marina. 2021. Atmospheric Noise: The Indefinite Urbanism of Los Angeles. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books [Introduction & Chapter 4].

Hosted by: Humanities Unbounded Ethnography Workshop

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Deathscapes; Ethnography of/beyond Senses

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Deathscapes: Ethnography of/beyond Senses

In this covid moment, death has altered the social landscape. How is this taking place and how do anthropologists deal with death as a concept and a method ethnographically: a vital event in our collective life? In this session, the speakers draw upon their own research —on mass graves in Hart Island, digital economies and media communication, and (dis)locations of silence—to consider how death can bring us beyond the sense(s) of finality to shape lives in inalterable ways.

Tamara Kneese (Assistant Professor of Media Studies, Program Director of Gender and Sexualities Studies, University of San Francisco)

Sally Raudon (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)

Benjamin Tausig (Associate Professor, Department of Music, Stony Brook University)

Time: Monday, March 29, 2021, 1:30-3:00 PM (Eastern Time)

References (updated on March 23):
Kneese, Tamara. 2018. “Mourning the Commons: Circulating Affect in Crowdfunded Funeral Campaigns.” Social Media + Society 4 (1): 2056305117743350.
Kneese, Tamara. 2019. “Death, Disrupted.” Continent. 8 (1): 70–75.
– Kneese, Tamara. Forthcoming. “Introduction.” Death Glitch: What Social Networks Leave Behind. Unpublished manuscript, last modified March, 2021. Microsoft Word file.
– Raudon, Sally. “Huddled Masses: Public Knowledge of Hart Island, New York.” Unpublished manuscript, last modified March, 2021. Microsoft Word file.
– Tausig, Benjamin. References shared to the registered participants.

Hosted by: Humanities Unbounded Ethnography Workshop

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Ethnography between Repression and Resilience (Graduate Colloquium by Sophia Goodfriend and Jake Silver)

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We are pleased to announce our last graduate colloquium for Fall 2020, organized by two of our graduate fellows, Jake Silver and Sophia Goodfriend. Centered around the theme of ethnography as both analytic and creative practice, this session highlights ethnographic possibilities regarding surveillance, capitalism, policing states as well as resilience, refusals, resistance in the occupied West Bank. We are excited to be joined by Lisa Bhungalia, Assistant Professor in Department of Geography at Kent State University.

Date: November 20, Friday, 4-5:30 pm, EST.

Description: Many disciplines veer into one of two analytic directions when examining colonialism, surveillance, or police states: either structural inquiries into the power of such military systems to determine life, or examinations of how those living in the grasp of such regimes resist, refuse, and cultivate subversive power on their own terms. This colloquium examines if and how ethnography might reconcile these divergent frameworks: Can ethnography balance repression and resilience? Can it offer a portrait of how individuals navigate massive forms of political enclosure with their own ambitions and hopes in mind? In particular, we will explore these questions through ethnographies in the occupied West Bank, though the issues and concerns underlying our conversation resonate far and wide.


  • Bhungalia, Lisa. 2020. “Laughing at Power: Humor, Transgression, and the Politics of Refusal in Palestine.” Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 38 (3): 387–404.
  • Silver, Jake. 2020. “Verticality and vulnerability: on the affective infrastructures of Palestinian astronomy.” Unpublished manuscript, last modified November, 2020. Adobe PDF file.
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Surveillance Regimes: Capitalism/ Race/ Digitality

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Time: 1:30 – 3:00 pm, Monday, November 9, 2020 Eastern Time (US & Canada)

Our speakers for this Ethnography Workshop grapple with the following questions, adding nuance and complexity to current debates about the logics and practices of surveillance capitalism. How do we understand the relationship between cybernetic capitalism and racial capitalism? How are states working with tech firms to maintain racial hierarchies in citizenries and labor markets? How does digital enclosure of Uyghur and Kazakh societies in Northwest China produce a form of original accumulation or capitalist frontier making? How do digital enclosures convert targeted populations into data while at the same time expropriating their labor and produce an underclass of dependent laborers? And how are electronic bracelets, from the US-Mexico border to Europe tracking migrants and creating borders without fences and confinement without walls?


Brian Jefferson is Associate Professor of Geography and Geographic Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Author of Digitize and Punish: Racial Criminalization in the Digital Age. My work explores intersections of digital technology, the state, and capitalism. My recent publications look at political geographies and economies of digital carceral technology in New York City and Chicago.

Keywords: history of computers, racial capitalism, state theory, urbanization.

Presentation Topic: Cybernetic Capitalism, Racial Capitalism considers surveillance technology from the standpoint of racial capitalist theory. It draws attention to the incentives that states offer tech firms to help maintain racial hierarchy in  citizenries and labor markets.

Darren Byler is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Asian Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He researches the dispossession of ethno-racial Muslim minorities through forms of surveillance and digital capitalism in China and Southeast Asia. His first book Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City (Duke University Press, January 2021) examines emerging forms of ethno-racialization, capitalism and state power in the Uyghur region in Chinese Central Asia. His second book Technologies of Reeducation considers the social life of surveillance technologies among ethno-racial minorities in China and around the world.

Presentation Topic: “The Digital Enclosure of Turkic Muslims in Northwest China.” This talk analyzes the way the digital enclosure of Uyghur and Kazakh societies in Northwest China produces a form of original accumulation or capitalist frontier making. It argues that digital enclosures can convert the sociality of targeted populations into data while at the same time expropriating their labor – producing an underclass of dependent laborers.

Carolina Sanchez Boe is a sociologist and anthropologist. She is currently a Danish Research Foundation post-doctoral fellow at IMC, Aarhus University, at Université de Paris, Cerlis, CNRS, and at SADR, John Jay Center for Criminal Justice, CUNY. Her research project “Borders Without Fences, Confinement Without Walls” focuses on the use of electronic monitoring for border control purposes. Her broader research interests center on the anthropology of confinement, deportation, illegalization, and bordering practices in prisons and urban spaces, primarily in France and the USA. She has worked for non-profit organizations in these fields, including Cimade, American Friends’ Service Committee, Cette France-là, and the Prison Litigation Network. Her book, The Undeported (due 2021) is forthcoming with Rowman and Littlefield.

Presentation Topic: “Studying Digital Confinement and Internal Border Surveillance in the Time of Covid.” After working on the entanglements of criminal justice and immigration control in France and the USA for the past two decades, with a focus on the experiences of foreign-nationals in prisons, detention centers, and facing de-legalized or undocumented status in the Greater Paris and New York areas, I turned towards studying the use of electronic monitoring as an alternative to immigration detention in the USA. My project “Borders Without Fences and Confinement Without Walls: New Approaches to Migration Control Through Electronic Bracelets” a project that studies 1) the for-profit and humanitarian motives behind the use of electronic surveillance for internal border control as well as 2) the ways in which these new technologies of confinement experienced and embodied, when border control is ensured in the most intimate spheres, in homes, and on bodies. In my 15 minute presentation, I wish to discuss the use of audiovisual methods to study digital confinement and surveillance and the specific problems encountered now that contacts to my research participants are reduced to communications through their cell phones, which are also the device through which they are being monitored by ICE.

References for informed participation:

  • Boe, Carolina S. 2020. “Institutions of Confinement as Sites of Passage: The Mètis of Foreign Nationals Caught in the Wars on Terror, Drugs and Immigration.” The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 38 (1): 70–87.
  • Boe, Carolina S. 2020. “Contestation and Visibility in Prison, Immigration Detention and Under Digital Confinement in New York.” Unpublished manuscript, last modified October, 2020. Microsoft word file.
  • Byler, Darren. 2020. “Terror Capitalism Technologies and Digital Enclosure in Northwest China.” Unpublished manuscript, last modified October, 2020. Adobe PDF file.
  • Jefferson, Brian Jordan. 2018. “Computerizing Carceral Space: Coded Geographies of Criminalization and Capture in New York City:” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, March.
  • Jefferson, Brian. 2020. “Punishment in the Network Form.” In Digitize and Punish: Racial Criminalization in the Digital Age, 129-63. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
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Affordances of Schizophonia (Graduate Colloquium by Cade Bourne and Yanping Ni)

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Time: October 16, Friday, 1PM – 2:30PM (EST)

  • Professor John Supko (Associate Professor, Music Department, Duke University)
  • Members of the OS Collective – A collective of artists and scholars that work with multi-modal ethnographic installations and experimental ethnography

In 1977, composer and scholar R. Murray Schafer coined the term “schizophonia”, which he described as, “the split between an original sound and its electroacoustical transmission or reproduction.” Schafer viewed the separation of sound from its source as inherently destructive and a facet of anxieties regarding the gradual erasure of the sounds of nature and the human voice as a consequence of the technocratic incursion of industrial noise into increasingly dense urban acoustic ecologies.

The Field Recording is a time-honored technique across the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. This panel, comprised of anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, composers, and sound artists, asks:

  • Is the separation of sound from its source necessarily a destructive or violent process?
  • What are the possibilities for the use of field recordings both as part of the ethnographic process and as an ethnographic product?
  • What are the ethics of the recording and reproduction of sound in ethnography and music composition?
  • Can ethnography be distinguished from art?

Sources for informed consideration:
1. Four selected tracks from John Supko’s composition work:

2. Three selected works by the OS Collective (one 30-minute piece and two 6-minute responses; they are all included in one stream) here.

3. Readings (download from here);

  • Schafer, R. Murray. 1997 [1977]. “Introduction.” In The Soundscape : Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, 3-12. Rochester: Destiny Books.
  • Schafer, R. Murray. 1997 [1977]. “The Electric Revolution.” In The Soundscape : Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, 88-99. Rochester: Destiny Books.
  • McLuhan, Marshall. 2017. “Visual and Acoustic Space.” In Audio Culture, Readings in Modern Music, 89-94. New York: Bloomsbury.

(Optional) Suggested Viewings:

  • Tornatore, Giuseppe, dir.The legend of 1900. 1998; Chatsworth, CA: New Line Home Entertainment, 2002. DVD.
  • Hsiao-Hsien, Hou, dir. Café Lumière. 2003; New York: Wellspring Media, 2005. DVD.
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Syncopated Resonances: Ethnography in/of Fractured Times

  • Register for session one here.
  • Register for session two here.

Yun Emily Wang, Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology, Duke University

Deborah Kapchan, Professor, Performance Studies, New York University
Cassandra Hartblay, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Toronto Scarborough

Ethnography happens through bodily engagement with people and the world. However, the capacious role of body in mediating and medicated ethnography often remains marginal in how ethnography is imagined and pursued. How can we listen and perform ethnography when we can no longer assume continuities of time, space and identities? What does our fractured forms of being and belonging in the current moment teach us about mediated forms of (dis)abilities? How does engagement with the body allow us to imagine ethnography in new ways? How might we lean into the affordances of syncopations—offset time— in a moment already marked by disjuncture?

This two-session event (October 1 and 5) is an experiment in form. All sessions will be recorded, with a possibility for broadcasting later. Registered participants can join us for either of, or both, the sessions.

Session One, October 1, Thursday, 9 – 10 am, EST.

The two speakers will each speak for 15 min, followed by an open dialogue with registered participants. We encourage all the participants come prepared and invested to build an intimate and intense session.

Session Two, October 5, Monday, 1:30 – 3 pm, EST.

We will start the session by streaming the recording of the first session for an hour. An open discussion with the Ethnography Workshop fellows will follow, during which we will also field questions and musings. The discussion session will be recorded and shared with the two speakers with possibility (but not responsibility!) of further conversations.

Readings (updated on Sep 26):

Optional: The fellows workshopped chapters from Theorizing Sound Writing.

  • Kapchan, Deborah A. 2017. “The Splash of Icarus: Theorizing Sound Writing/Writing Sound Theory.” In Theorizing Sound Writing. Wesleyan University Press.
  • Kapchan, Deborah A. 2017. “Listening Acts: Witnessing the Pain (and Praise) of Others.” In Theorizing Sound Writing. Wesleyan University Press.
  • Kapchan, Deborah. 2015. “Body.” In Keywords in Sound. Edited by David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny. Duke University Press.
  • Wong, Deborah. 2017. “Deadly Soundscapes: Scripts of Lethal Force and Lo-Fi Death.” In Theorizing Sound Writing. Wesleyan University Press.
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Imprisoned and Post-Prison Lives (Graduate Colloquium by Cody Black, Shreya Maini, and Prof. Leela Prasad)

We are pleased to announce our first graduate colloquium organized by two of our graduate fellows, Shreya Maini and Cody Black. Centered around the theme of “Imprisoned & Post-Prison Lives,” this session highlights ethnographic concerns regarding issues of care and recovery among those who are incarcerated—broadly conceived—by the state. We are excited to be joined by Leela Prasad, Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University.

This is a private Zoom event with limited seating. If you are interested in attending, please register here. Since this is a small-group session with works-in-progress, please note that registering does not guarantee a virtual seat at the event.

To prepare for the talk, we will read the following works;

In the spirit of the Ethnography Workshop, we invite the participants to learn about the speaker’s work, and offer generative feedback as to how these works may better address and speak to the current moment.

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Whiplash: Anthropology in/of Disaster (Dr. Yarimar Bonilla & Dr. Laurence Ralph)

We are pleased to announce our first public event with these two of anthropology’s most provocative thinkers! Please join us by registering here. When people register they receive the link automatically.

To prepare for the talk, the members of the Ethnography Workshop discussed the selected works listed below. We invite you to learn about the speakers’ work and to think with them about the current moment.

For Laurence Ralph:

  • Introduction and Appendix (on “ethnographic lettering”) from The Torture Letters (2020).
  • (optional) Part 1 “The Black Box” (pp.13-56)
  • A video produced from his book;

For Yarimar Bonilla:
The members of the Lab read two or more from the following four articles;


And viewed a documentary produced from her recently edited volume Aftershocks of Disaster:

Looking forward to meeting you all at 1:30 pm on September 7!

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Rethinking Immigration and Generation Z Futures: Competitive Childhood in the 21st Century

Join us for the upcoming colloquium, presented by the Department of Cultural Anthropology and the Ethnography Workshop:

Shalini Shankar, Professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies

Northwestern University

“Rethinking Immigration and Generation Z Futures: Competitive Childhood in the 21st Century”

Monday, March 2, 1:30PM, Friedl 225

RSVP on Facebook here

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