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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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