Oslo Summer School for Social Sciences 2020
Analytical Methods and Unruly Concepts
Professor Marisol de la Cadena, UC Davies, USA, and Professor Penny Harvey, University of Manchester, UK
Course dates: 6 July - 10 July 2020
Main disciplines: social anthropology, ethnography, research methodology
In this course we set out to explore analytical methods as tools to ‘make’ concepts. Ethnographic concepts are an achievement of fieldwork and writing practices. They blend the empirical and the theoretical, the abstract and the concrete, in such a way, that once achieved they can no longer be pulled apart. Thus thought, ethnographic concepts add to the classic notion of ethnography: they are both ‘thick description’ (Geertz, 1973) and ‘thick conceptualization.’. They emerge from questions that arise in the field, as we think about how to think, and as we follow how specific questions unfold and begin to involve issues that might not have been present in our original questions.
We thus approach ‘fieldwork’ as thought-work, that we undertake to compose our questions, and disturb the habitual vocabularies and grammars with which we pose them. And, as we will learn, such disturbance is not equivalent to critique. Existing vocabularies and grammars may be useful in this task. We may find overlaps between otherwise dissimilar situations, but we may also find gaps, differences, limits and excesses. This is an aspect of the unruliness of concepts: they can surprise us, they can have an ungraspable quality that may need to be accounted for, they may be analytically important and at the same time irrelevant in terms of their effectiveness for particular ends. We also note that ethnographic concepts are very specific—different from the concepts that philosophy uses for example. Yet, we will be in conversation with philosophers, and their thinking practices. The reading list is comprised of a mix of classic and contemporary anthropological texts, and works from critical theory, philosophy and intellectual traditions that are not grounded in ethnographic research. This combination of texts provides the ground for us to explore the specificity of anthropology’s analytical methods.
The two course givers will draw on their most recent ethnographic engagements with cattle ranches and veterinary schools in Colombia (de la Cadena) and with infrastructures of nuclear power and environmental protection in the UK (Harvey). We will undoubtedly also return to our shared experiences of ethnographic fieldwork in the Peruvian Andes and our long-term commitment to thinking together about science, technology and the diverse knowledges that are not contained by established domains of authorised knowledge. We are interested in politics and history (and the a-historical), with incommensurability, non-coherence and ambiguity and the struggles that these produce in the unfoldings of everyday life.
The key aim of this course is to support and join with Ph.D. students in their efforts to engage contemporary theory through ethnography. In a nutshell: we will talk, think, and make ‘ethnographic concepts.’ We will further our understandings of ‘analysis’ by ‘practicing’ it as we read books and articles and unpack their ‘methods’—the words are in single quotes to slow down their meaning. We will learn what to make of and with these terms as we go along; reliance on prior certainties and definitions would defeat the core purpose of the course.
Some ideas that will guide our discussions: methods will be specific to concepts; their relation is intrinsic; anything—and the word is apposite because our intention includes things-- may emerge as a concept; concepts as we discuss them are not equivalent to theory; ethnography describes conceptually; descriptions are always analytical.
We will focus on themes of current of geo-political interest regardless of their scale.
Brief Description of each session
Each session will open with a conversation between the course-givers in which we will discuss the relationship between methods, concepts and analysis in relation to our own ethnographic work. We will focus each day on a specific topic, and the ways in which we have engaged other thinkers and writers to develop ‘thought experiments’ (or ways of thinking) that in turn help us to explore new conceptual possibilities. We will explore the intersections of anthropological concepts, philosophical and historical concepts and concepts that emerge in and through fieldwork. Following these introductory conversations students are asked to join the conversation from the perspective of their own fieldwork and their own response to the suggested readings. Our aim is to provide a framework for thinking together.
The topics we propose to cover
Lectures 1 and 2: The Anthropocene - and the turn to ‘geos’.
Key concepts: Human, Geos, Person, Substance, Matter.
- Yusoff, Kathryn. 2018. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. University of Minnesota Press. 108pp
- De la Cadena, Marisol “Runakuna, human and not only” (text of an oral presentation) 13 pp.
- Harvey, Penny. 2019. “Lithic Vitality: Human Entanglement with Non-Organic Matter” pp. 143-160 in Anthropos and the Material: Anthropological Reflections on Emerging Political Formations. Edited by P. Harvey, C. Krohn-Hansen and K. Nustad. Durham: Duke University Press. 18pp
- Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2019. “On Models and Examples: Engineers and Bricoleurs in the Anthropocene.” Current Anthropology 60 (S20): 296–308. https://doi.org/10.1086/702787.
- Dumit Joe Substance as Method—Bromine for example. 26pp
- Ureta, Sebastián, and Patricio Flores. 2018. “Don’t Wake up the Dragon! Monstrous Geontologies in a Mining Waste Impoundment.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 36 (6): 1063–80. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263775818780373.
- Harvey, Penny, C. Krohn-Hansen, and K. Nustad. 2019. Introduction pp.1-31 to Anthropos and the Material. Duke University Press.
- De la Cadena, Marisol, and Mario Blaser. 2018. Introduction pp. 1 22A World of Many Worlds. Duke University Press.
Lectures 3 and 4: Conceptualizing through the senses (Part 1)
Key concepts: Animate, Animism, Intimacy, Body, Entity
- Weston, Kath. 2017. Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, in Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a High-Tech Ecologically Damaged World. Durham NC: Duke University Press. 101 pp
- Mol, Annemarie. 2016. ‘Juxtaposition’. Somatosphere. Available at: http://somatosphere.net/2016/juxtaposition.html. 5 pp
- Stengers, Isabelle. 2012. ‘Reclaiming Animism’. E-flux journal 36, 1-10. 10 pp
- Despret, Vinciane . 2013. ‘Responding Bodies and Partial Affinities in Human-Animal Worlds’ in Theory, Culture & Society 30 (7/8) 51-76. 25 pp
- Crowder, K. ‘Artisanal affection: detachment in human-animal relations within intensive pig production in Britain’ in M. Candea, J. Cook, C. Trundle and T. Yarrow (eds) Detachment: Essays on the limits of relational thinking. Manchester University Press. 79-101. 22 pp.
Lectures 5 and 6: Thinking with and about ‘animals’
Key Concepts: Human-animal, Metamorphosis, Capacity, Relation, Animation.
- Despret, Vinciane. 2016. What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions? University of Minnesota Press. (including Foreword by Bruno Latour). 219 pp.
Lectures 7 and 8: Conceptualizing through the senses (Part 2)
Key Concepts: Medium, Water, Sensation, Sound/Sounding, Life/Being
- Peters, John Durham. 2015. The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental Media. University of California Press. Introduction, Chapter 1 ‘Chapter 2. 114 pp.
- Helmreich, Stefan. 2016. Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond. Princeton University Press. ‘Sounding Life, Water, Sound (ix - xxii); Chapter 1; Chapter 4; Chapter 6; ‘Life, Water, Sound Resounding’ (183-187). 52 pp.
Lectures 9 and 10: Comparison and Ecologies as analytics
Key Concepts: Comparison, Suspension, Entity/Identity, Politics, Ecology
- Choy, Timothy. 2011. Ecologies of Comparison: An Ethnography of Endangerment in Hong Kong. Durham NC: Duke University Press. Chapter 1; Chapter 4. 48 pp.
- Choy, Timothy. ‘Condition - Suspension’ in Cultural Anthropology vol 30, issue 2. Pp. 210-223. 14 pp.
- Strathern, M. 2011. ‘Binary License’ in Common Knowledge 17:1. 17 pp.
- Kapferer, Bruce. ‘Strathern’s New Comparative Anthropology: Thoughts from Hagen and Zambia’. 7pp
- Mol, Annemarie. One, Two, Three: Counting, Cutting and Eating. 6pp
- Pedersen, Morten Axel. Non-Identity Politics. 6pp
- Strathern, Marilyn. What Politics? 5 pp
5 books - essential preparation (overview/background)
Choy, Timothy. 2011. Ecologies of Comparison: An Ethnography of Endangerment in Hong Kong. Durham NC: Duke University Press 204 pp
Despret, Vinciane. 2016. What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions? University of Minnesota Press. 288 pp
Mol, Annemarie, 2003. The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice. Durham NC: Duke University Press. 216 pp
Peters, John Durham. 2015. The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental Media. University of California Press 416 pp
Weston, Kath. 2017. Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a High-Tech Ecologically Damaged World. Durham NC: Duke University Press 264
Yusoff, Kathryn. 2018. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. University of Minnesota Press. 130pp