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Moments from Ethnographic Sense: Composing the Contemporary


Thank you to all of you who joined us on Zoom on April 9 for “Ethnographic Sense: Composing the Contemporary,” featuring Carole McGranahan and Marina Peterson. Composing and crafting were the two key terms we wanted to close this semester with. In thinking about how to write in and through the pandemic, the Ethnography Workshop had the pleasure to invite the two anthropologists. We asked them to share with us how ethnography could enable alternative ways to know and write from the present moment, posing this as “writing from the inside” of our shared condition. In the session, Marina Peterson shared parts of what she had been writing from the inside of her daily life in the pandemic. Each scene was signaled by the events that were happening around her, ranging from the sun to the virus, houses in Texas, and conversations with people. Across these scenes, “I” in her piece was moving away from “consciousness” as, in her quoting Michael Marder, “the exceptionalism of central nervous system.” Her writing provided meditations on how “I can’t seem to find or create an outside.” In these descriptions, the ethnographic did not leave the present permanently. Rather, knowledge was cued, signaled, and made sensible through “I” that “does, moves, senses,” in constant contact with the world around her.

Carole McGranahan presented about how new writing initiatives and communities formed in different times of her life, depending on what was unfolding around her. If anthropology is the “study of human” and ethnography is to “study with people,” she emphasized, “ethnographic sensibility” is such capacity to remain attuned to the “now” we are in. This sensibility is also something that needs to be developed, nourished, and practiced, so that “you can recognize it when you see it.” A series of projects emerged this way in her scholarship, ranging from the blog “Savage Minds” to experimental collaborations through “flash ethnography” as a new genre of scholarship and  “Pandemic Diaries” where graduate students participated in creating seven collections about life in and through the pandemic. At the end, she reflected on her last talk in 2017 at Duke when she was asked to speak about public anthropology. There can be multiple anthropologies; if public anthropology is “to be engaged,” and rogue anthropology “to be enraged,” for pandemic anthropology, she said, we would need “to be in community” which involves “rest as much as action.”

Please watch the video clip for open discussion and more.


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Moments from Death of Senses (Cody Black and Cade Bourne)

On April 2, we gathered for our fourth session which was organized by Cody Black and Cade Bourne. Both Cody and Cade shared their writings along the lines of gigging economy, affective labor, and aural relationality. Cody, who has done his fieldwork with artist-laborers in K-Pop industry in South Korea, discussed in his writing how one media start-up works with the interviewees to catch a human emotion that often moves people to tears and to transform it into a communicable affect on social media platforms like YouTube. Cade, whose research looks at precarious labor of DJs in Japan, examined the potential and limits of the concept immaterial labor in exploring DJing and its product: vibes. We all read both of their works, and posed questions, comments, readings, in terms of how these projects may go forward.


Jieun: I was struck by how much the two projects shared in terms of the tension between process and product, albeit in different contexts of attention or affective economies. And not coincidentally, I kept thinking back to significance of platform along the lines of Tamara Kneese’s work on platform temporality. For Cade, I think vibe is more than “immaterial labor”; vibe seems to me the product-in-process or process-as-product in itself. In this context, labor cannot be solely produced by the laborer’s body— the producers must depend on digitized platforms to be able to produce something at all even before the transactions happen as a point of actualizing value in forms of currency. Their labor itself is digitized. For Cody, how platform conditions what needs to be captured to move the audience to tears within the constraints of production timeline? I feel like both projects have great potential beyond ethnomusicology.

Emily: I found it interesting how complementary the two writings were. The reading was an intriguing experience for me because both of you move in and out sound as something indexical and sound as something affective (more like vibrational energy). Both of you constantly shift between ethnographic details and broadstroke theorization. What if one can think of sound not as a noun but as a verb, in terms of pacing your own attention to the issue at hand? What moves one’s own attention to, for example, vibes and how does one know how to go about giving that vibes presence in writing? I really enjoyed reading both of your works.

Ralph: Given that both of you are interested in materiality and immateriality of certain forms of labor, I was thinking about equipments that are actually necessary for the people you work with in the first place as a material basis. There are many forms of immaterial labor, and for example, coders are equipped differently from DJs. How would this factor in your projects with possible implications for what immaterial labor can be or do?

Sophia: Nowadays, almost all the artists broadcast on many different platforms. What makes DJs or media start-ups distinctive in this historical moment? For Cade, I wonder if there is something in the DJing that makes DJs distinctive as broadcasting artist. For Cody, I wanted to hear more about empathy given other discussions about the role of social media platforms in diminishing empathy. Many works depict the affects of platform economy and its impact on human relationality in utopian or dystopian terms. I wondered if you had thoughts about this.

Shreya: While reading your works, I thought about writing—how does one communicate something like an affect or production, transformation, and music through writing? What are the ways people artistically engage such sensations for giving the reader a space to feel the moment as part of reading experience?

Yanping: I wonder how mental health and changing psychological needs in the pandemic context might be relevant to Cade’s research. I have been following and using “study with me” videos on Youtube. A lot of comments there imply sociality and relationality. So I am thinking about audience as interlocutors in Cade’s fieldwork. Also, do some groups of old audience move to the digital platform, or are there new audience driven by the pandemic stress?


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Moments from Deathscapes; Ethnography of/beyond Death

Thank you to all of you who joined us on Zoom on March 29 for “Deathscapes; Ethnography of/beyond Death,” featuring Tamara Kneese, Sally Raudon, and Benjamin Tausig. This time we invited all the three speakers to speak about death, all of whom approach death from different locations in their own creative ways.

Sally Raudon’s talk was focused on Hart Island in New York during the pandemic. Hart Island is not an unfamiliar name to New Yorkers. Rather, it is very much part of the landscape. And yet, at the same time, it is a place that is kept at a distance symbolically, administratively, and physically. Like many public parks in New York that were once potter’s field, it is a place where poor, unclaimed, unidentified bodies are usually buried. While about 1,500 people are buried in Hart Island annually, both unmarked and unclaimed, the number increased six times during the pandemic due to an urgent need to handle a large amount of corpses, which made the operation of the place the busiest ever since the 1918 influenza pandemic. During this traumatic time, Raudon traces disposal and burial at Hart Island as a process of making identities as well as political communities. From the families who try to restore their rights to the lost ones to the unrecognized caring relationships that are not allowed to mourn properly for the deceased homeless without paperwork, the efforts at forging proper ties with the buried by way of recognition continue, re-making social relations between the living and the dead.

Tamara Kneese discussed digital remains after death, shifting economies of platform, and emerging mortuary practices. Kneese started out with her observations from 2007 when Facebook users pushed back Facebook’s profile policy in their memorializing practices for those who were lost to the Virginia Tech Shooting. Originally targeted for young users, social media platforms have increasingly evolved in terms of how to manage what she calls communicative trails of dead people, digital remains like profile, blogs, emails, and so on. With digital platforms taking up a significant part of everyday life for many people today, human relationships between the living and the dead came to be embedded in corporate-managed platforms, which raises vital points about dying and mourning. Though memorialized in intimate ways, digital remains fall under the control of corporations, rather than regulated by law. However immaterial it may appear, such platforms and death-related services also require human labor, taking up material resources, subject to occasional break-downs. How could we re-imagine and struggle for dying and morning well in a time where death leaves digital remains and estates, if we were to view this reality from multiple angles beyond the corporate solution for death? How can we make social media platforms into a more accommodating place for those who visits the platforms as a grave without a headstone?

Benjamin Tausig’s presentation was informed by American wars in Vietnam—from Thailand that was a chief ally of the US in the region from 1950s and 1970s. Rather than the inner worlds of the soldiers themselves, Tausig is interested in the perspectives of Thai hospitality workers, many of whom were called “rented wife” of American soldiers who passed through the region as R&R (Rest & Recuperation). Death was much part of the nightlife where Thai hospitality workers did auditory labor for American soldiers who themselves faced their potential deaths while young, male, and away from home. In the backdrop of the ongoing dispossession from agricultural livelihood, “rented wives” eagerly studied English to make money, or to marry an American soldier, while most Americans remained disengaged from Thai language. In a song he played to the audience, Tausig invited all to imagine how “rented wives” negotiated the presence of American soldiers—who came to where they live as part of neocolonial wars—”by ear.”

Please watch the video for actual presentations and more.


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Ethnographic Sense: Composing the Contemporary

Please register here for this event.

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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Moments from Death and Biopolitics (Sophia Goodfriend and Yanping Ni)

On March 5, we gathered for our third session which was organized by Sophia Goodfriend and Yanping Ni. Sophia shared a paper, “A Street View of Occupation: Getting Around Hebron on Google Maps,” which was based on her research in the summer of 2018. Starting with her own frustration in navigating the streets of Hebron—the largest city in the West Bank—on Google Maps, she considers the tensions of producing cartographic data. While the street views of Hebron show seamlessly stitched images, these rub against borders, checkpoints, or walls that people encounter on the ground as pedestrians, residents, and commuters. She follows Wesam—a Palestinian who walks the city to create user-generated images with a 360-degree camera attached to the selfie-stick—to discuss how the panoramic view becomes a site of contestation in this specific place. Yanping shared the first chapter of her thesis, “Disposable Bodies, Privatized Care” for the workshop. Her work looks at the political economy of care in post-socialist China by foregrounding mine workers who developed black lung disease and the caretakers who look after them. She discusses in this chapter how local mines operate besides official terms of contract, and how family values become mobilized in organizing domestic care when healthcare is dispossessed. We all read both of their works, and posed questions, comments, readings, in terms of how these may go forward. Some portion of the session is in the below:

Comments for Sophia

Anne: This writing reminded me of what Jake was doing with the sky. What is Wesam trying to do? He’s like an artist, but there was also a practical benefit to it, doing cartography. It seems important to keep that ambiguity which blurs many boundaries.

Jieun: “They have to walk around me,” Wesam said—which stuck out to me. He is a “guide” and you emphasized that “thoroughness” as something important in making sense of what Wesam is doing. Your interview at Google also included many important points about cars, “objective maps,” access of “our people,” and so on. Thinking about cars, walking the street, and people responding to Wesam’s walk, something like a point of view may be productive to further this work. In this case, it’s literally a point of view—what would happen if one were to suspend objectivity/neutrality/subjectivity, and instead, to engage something like a point of view to foreground the ambiguity anne was pointing out?

Jake: Wesam is a virtual explorer. I found interesting that the digital here is introducing new forms through which people are getting at something like the taste of the city. In relation to anonymous cars, viewers physically toggling to get the view of the street, and so on, what relationships would be in the making here? To me, it seems like a different type from objective/subjective understandings of space. Resistance is not the term with which Wesam is making sense of what he is doing. I don’t have the term for this, but perhaps something akin to cityhood or city-ness?

Emily: Wesam’s photography is interesting because it’s not only produced by his individual perspective—it also entails his ideas of what his perspective can do, and the places he can access. Regarding cars, I can see some parallel debates in ethnomusicology where people discuss the role of sound recording devices that are sent to places where people cannot physically go. On one hand, there is presumed objectivity/neutrality of recording device like a camera, but on the other hand, the person’s perception can never be fully flattened into such mediated views. Then what happens in this gap? Thinking of cultural geographers who work on map, and how the same place can become different ideas by how it is represented on the map—the ideologies of cartography—I’d be interested in thinking about what story is being told by Google Maps.

Comments for Yanping

Anne: Many families you discuss in this chapter hold onto the “traditional” family values, which seems interesting and surprising to me, partly because this is not the case in Japan where I work. Maybe one way to think about this in terms of going forward is to start with the family. Family seems very important in your work, but it only appears at the end. Before the migrant workers get sick, what is the role/attachment of family to them? How does the family factor in when the miners leave home to work, and what kind of trajectories are there for them?

Cade: Also with the emphasis on family and the “brotherly” relationship between government and contractors, I’d be curious about the potentially familial relationships between the miners and what forms of care exist between them.

Jieun: The chapter is very rich—you’re weaving a lot here, including models, histories, institutional players, and so on. What stuck out to me was “legal society” that the minders were talking about. If they are constantly disenfranchised in terms of both work and care, what do they mean when they refer to “legal society” in this place, or in post-socialist China in general? I’d like to hear more about the trajectories of the families.

Jake: Because care is so central here, I’d like to hear more about how you tracked the caring networks/trajectories. There is a lot of frustration here so I’m interested in how unraveling those types of networks might get at care, or endurance, or a form of life amidst all this.

Sophia: I’d like to hear more about your methods, given that the work for this chapter was mostly done during the pandemic. Maybe you don’t have to do this in this chapter, but I think it may be productive to think about the communications angle as one of the constraints when care (or the care networks) is so hard to access.

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Moments from Death and Affect (Anne Allison and Jake Silver)

On February 19, we gathered for our second session which was organized with the generous sharing of works-in-progress by Anne Allison and Jake Silver. We read both of their works, and shared what came to the mind of each of us, what we’d like to hear more about, and how we can do anthropology when the object of description/inquiry is not so clear as we may assume. I share here the opening remarks by the two organizers, and some portion of the conversations (at the expense of their original richness).

Anne: These are the last two sections in what is a chapter in the book I’m writing on new mortuary practices in an era of downsizing sociality in Japan. The chapter takes on a new genre of business called “companies that deal with the possessions of the deceased” (遺品整理会社) that also clean-up residences where corpses of the lonely dead (people who have died alone and left behind corpses that go undiscovered for up to several months) are found. In the chapter I am interested in the smell these corpses emit that are often what provokes discovery in the first place (by landlords, neighbors, passers-by). The smell of unsociality: being alone, and undiscovered, at death. I invite a discussion of death/the senses/care as they come together in this work performed by manual workers. Quite astounding I find this. And wonder if you do too. And, of course, how to write this, how to ethnographize this, how to “do” this.

Jake: What I’m sharing touches upon affect, atmosphere, and life/death. The portion of the chapter I share with you focuses on jokes—that I kept hearing regarding the smell of outer space. I initially resisted writing about these since they seem far from the realm for “astronomy” or “politics.” Then I came to realize they were important ways in which understandings about the sensuous atmosphere of colonialism and outer space were bleeding into one another. Perhaps the sky harbors things that can hurt Palestinians. The sky can be an enemy. The place—Gaza—is often called as an open-air prison, but the air is not quite “open”—the air is under seizure. How can one make sense of the jokes about the sky when they may be commentaries, aspirations, imaginations that derive from the life under seizure here, in that particular place? Why do people exchange banters about the smell of the moon? I’d appreciate any comment and critique.

Questions from the floor

Shreya: Jake, I don’t know why, but somehow, the way you talked about the sky reminded me of the forest, or jungle—as space of the unknown with perpetual danger. The potential for extraction and abuse. A landscape of infinite knowledge that demands intimacy. Do you think that there’s something about the expansion of the self in humans trying to prospect and extract from the sky?

Cody: Jake, I liked your invocation of synesthesia (one sense’s automatic recall of a different sense). I wonder what does it actually mean to “feel the sky”—which you’re grappling with in your writing here—to figure out, say, “experience” of the world under certain conditions. In terms of synesthesia, you try to look and feel here. For me, feeling is something tactile, and I wonder in what sense you are connecting the sight and feeling here. Is there something beyond what it means to see in the jokes? Is there something that you’re looking for in regard to how the world is, or can be, “experienced”?

Emily: Why smell? What is it about the smell that provides people something that is out of reach for others, or outside language? I am really interested in the organization of sensorium, and this varies across time and space. So I feel like it can be very productive to think along this line—perhaps synesthesia is one way. How can smell be situated? And also, about affect, people have different understandings about affect, and where to locate it, i.e., inside/outside bodies or elsewhere. So I think the organization of writing here doesn’t have to be cleanly separated.

Sophia: I am interested in the tension between phenomenology and affect. In Jake’s work, the sky seems to be overdetermined by the pervasiveness of occupation as something that is atmospheric. But also, you make connections between these affective encounters with hopeful potential. For me, affect is about indeterminacy, potential features, and (different organizations of) sensorium. But in this specific place, the sky looks so foreclosed by violence. When phenomenology/senses are overdetermined by the atmosphere, what happens to potential?

Cade: I’m thinking back to my interests about transduction in bodies. Could we talk about the place of the biological in the ethnographic? Particularly smell. For anne, the ethnographic seems to be located in the ruptures and affordances of biological processes: Corpses, the biological and physical responses. With Jake, if this can be productive, could the biological be another way to think about how overdetermined mechanisms actually control biologies of people?

Ralph: I’m interested in phenomenology and the speaking subject. Does affect theory—in its phenomenological emphasis—fail to deal with the physiological or the biological somehow? Can they address, for example, blood pressure, heart beats, panic as a physiological response inside your body? I read that both of you deal with the sensorium, and also speaking subjects, extrapolating from jokes, smell, corpses, reaching out to larger theoretical claims about colonialism, enclosure, (un)sociality. To what extent can we depend on the speaking subject to produce ethnographic knowledge? How can the ethnographic encounters be different?

Jieun: In anne’s sections, I was struck by the organization of writing where anne puts the work of cleaners on par with the work of miniature artist. In my work, I think a lot about how to value care laborers, what figures I may discuss to what questions, and so on. I expected to hear about cleaners in this chapter, but not dollhouses. The labor of art and art of labor—the distinction between these two, as anne describes, is not clear in the lives of people. It only becomes compartmentalized when they get to be written. So this was something that caught me. I wonder if you have considered using dollhouses for a different section—for different organization.

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Deathscapes; Ethnography of/beyond Senses

Please register here.

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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Moments from Death and Rebirth (Jieun Cho and Shreya Maini)

On February 5, the members of Ethnography Workshop 2020-21 gathered for the first session to discuss death and rebirth, which was organized by Shreya Maini (fellow, Religious Studies) and Jieun Cho (GA, Cultural Anthropology). Drawing on Gupta’s article that uses childhood as a critical lens to examine the category of child in developmental models, the session proposed to think about reincarnation beyond the secular-religious divide. How do certain figures become central to (re)imagination of collective futures, in ways that bring together the spiritual and the political? How are senses of time—cyclical, linear, or otherwise—remade in/through such figures to what ends and effects? Given that living through the pandemic has curtailed opportunities for generative interactions in social fields, how can one think of reincarnation or rebirth in light of the current challenge to care for each other?

Shreya began the session by her short presentation on reincarnation in Hinduism. In her work, she engages how people live as reincarnated persons especially through their bodies, rather than general abstraction of karma circulation. Reincarnated people are not only marked by the memory from their previous lives, but also they often live with corporeal traces like scars and birthmarks. Living in and through these bodies, how do they experience past, perhaps less nostalgic than continuous, in ways to shape the contours of a distinctive present? Shreya wants to take seriously the physicality of reincarnation as a ground for thinking beyond the religious tenets of reincarnation. What would this provide for how history, time, and past are constructed, when developmental models often take it for granted that life starts at birth and ends with death?

Jieun continued the conversation, and shifted the topic of mortality, rebirth, and body to the relationship between modernity, body politic, and nuclear family in Japan. In historical discussions of Japanese modernity, nationhood may be thought as a formation of a body politic around the “two bodies” of kingship and the figure of nuclear family, which constantly shaped moral impetus for nuclear family across different periods as civilized, cultured, and postwar middle-class life. In this history of national rebirth, children have become a developmental project in families as the centerpiece of postwar citizenship. And this change in children’s place has bearings on post-Fukushima politics where “Fukushima children” figure middle-class aspirations, as hauntings of national past, presentist caring efforts, and future imaginaries. In light of this history, how can one address the issues of care, life, re/production, and long-term radiation exposure by focusing on the nitty-gritty of care labor to raise healthy children? How can the everyday places bring us beyond re/productive framework in thinking about post-nuclear life?

Discussion questions

  • We’d like you to think with us what moral/religious/ideological/discursive configurations, figures, figurations may be productive in remaking death, mortality, ending into cyclical life (of a community, family, nation, species, etc.). Who is the figure of interest for you in your field, how is it discussed by people, what’s the history, what is the figure made of, what characterizes the chances and risks of that configured life/death? When do they appear to what effect?
  • And, ethnographically, how to write about (represent) them in our fields when such stories about configured life/death are always on the verge of being made illogical, unscientific, incomprehensible?

Emily: What is a child, if not determined by age and processes of biological growth? In ethnomusicology, questions like why children should listen to a different set of music were asked. Music, in that sense, is definitely one venue where such socializations are set in motion to produce children and childhood. In what ways do your interests in reincarnation/rebirth explode the notions of childhood?

Ralph: It is necessary to think against the homogenization of “the West” in terms of childhood, and also, historicity in general. How can we break out of the East-West framework in our work, in working with people and written texts? The Youtube Video we watched together made me think a lot about other beings than humans. The narrative seems human-centric, and I wanted to throw this out as a question for all of us.

Jake: Both Shreya and Jieun’s researches resonate much with the ethics of care. The idea of transactional or relation networks that are created by care may have potential to remake identity categories that are frequently associated with age. In this covid moment, interestingly, the notion of vulnerabiltiy/capacity seems to be inverted or subverted in some ways, for children are said to be not as vulnerable to the virus as elders are in biological terms. Also, in general, there is a huge look towards children when “humans” (read adults) reached this moment in history. Perhaps we can think of this week’s topic in relation to such questions. We may be in distinctive moments where we can reconceptualize how certain people can do certain things when life and living are made through processes of care.

Cade: I came to think of reincarnation as something that animates social life. And we are in the moment when such interactions for sociality are constantly scaled down, perhaps in the waiting for another moment of reincarnation. Reincarnation may offer productive insights to apply to other issues beyond religious dimension of life (as Shreya is trying to do), to think through the ways in which we come out of the present moment.

Yanping: “Child as a developmental project” resonates a lot with what I encountered in my research. Many women I meet in the context of Black lung disease are care workers, and often for both in and outside their own families. Age-bounded notion of childhood often led people to describe their children in terms of what they cannot do and how they are behind certain developmental norms.


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Spring 2021 Updates from Ethnography Workshop

In Fall 2020, the Ethnography Workshop convened to host a series of public events around a variety of topics in hopes of critically engaging the shared experience of living through the pandemic. In Spring 2021, while continuing to be socially distanced, we will work through a single topic: death. The decision to scale down our business as usual is made at the end of Fall 2020. Instead of doing more events, we want to value mutual support among the members of the Ethnography Workshop by attending less to performance but more to intimacy. And, to do this cultural work in times of uncertainty, we will stay with death as an overarching theme of this semester.

We plan to share among us our own works-in-progress, build archives/glossaries, and feelings/thoughts/comments for each other. We will also watch a film, read a novel, listen to a playlist together. This emphasis on cultivating internal culture is both intellectual and ethnographic. We hope that this change of strategy to endure the weight of the time allows for the fellows to explore their inquiries through more ethnographic modes of attention as in expressing, crafting, feeling, and archiving.

To value closed exchanges, however, does not necessarily mean that we are going to be invisible. We are going to have one public event on March 29. We will continue to share parts of our dialogues and a list of references on this website. When we discuss widely publicized materials like music, films, and novels, we will open the sessions to the public. In such occasions, we will let you know through our listserv and this website. So please stay tuned!

We have one event coming up on March 29, Mon, 1:30-3 pm (EST). The details will be shared through our listserv and this website soon. A blogpost from our first session on February 5—Death and Rebirth—will be updated soon.

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