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Forms of Ethnography – Ethnography as Form

An attempt to foster experimentation with the form of ethnographic work, including but not limited to writing, photo and film, exhibitions, book design, drawing, performance, conceptual art, dance, collaborative practice, across our department and involving colleagues from elsewhere.

The working group ‘Forms of Ethnography - Ethnography as Form’, is a forum to share work and reflection, and explore the possibilities of ethnographic form, across regional and theoretical-methodological diversity.  Form concerns here not only textual format and textual style – though this is our starting point, but includes also non-textual forms such as images, film, exhibitions, book design, drawing, performance, conceptual art, dance, collaborative practice.

The core group is open to new members, and the group as such is intended as open and shifting in composition, aiming to include as many colleagues as possible.

We invite everyone to come up with good ideas for workshops or invited speakers, who could help us to jointly develop the forms - and the formal diversity and experimental courage - of our ethnographic work.

Ten PhD-students in workshop around table in Tanzania. Laptops and papers on table. Photo: Wenzel Geissler
Workshop for PhD students, Amani, Tanzania. Photo: Wenzel Geissler

Across anthropology, there is a (re-)surging interest in form. At key conferences, panels combine visual and textual means, performance, exhibitions, music and art collaboration, political activism and even cooking. Programmatic papers and edited volumes call for engagements with visual arts and literature as well as political collaborations and activisms. Such explorations beyond the ethnographic text reflect an interest in political aesthetics, as well as the relationship between ethnographic fieldwork and text. This engagement echoes, but also extends beyond, familiar themes from post-1980s anthropological ‘reflexivity’: questioning for example representation and positionality, subjectivity, and the place of theory in relation to description and narration, and the relations between conventional ethnography, para-ethnography, auto-ethnography and ethnography at home.

The attention to form draws upon different, sometimes contradictory ‘turns’ in our discipline, such as affect theory, new materialism, visual anthropology, Science and Technology Studies (STS) and anthropology beyond the human, and decolonial critique. It also reflects a concern with what our discipline might contribute to challenges of our time, and reach audiences beyond the discipline and academia. We believe that by paying attention to how we share what really matters to us in our ethnography – and to reflect together on the challenge of form - will help to move beyond the confines of our diverse and separate theoretical and ideological frames.


While there is a core organizing group to create some continuity and memory, the events are open for all members of the Department of Social Anthropology (SAI) and friends. They are indeed meant to bring us together in shifting constellations. Long-term commitment is not required, but continuous engagement might be an asset. It is our hope that others will bring their particular formal curiosities to the group and organize related events, gradually broadening scope and ownership.

The working group organises short workshops (with or without special guests, which are open also to relevant participants from outside our department), and invites visitors who contribute particular insight or experiences related to writing/representational practice and experimentation. Suggestions for events and invitations are welcome!

Autumn 2018

October 18th – 19th 2018: Writing workshop (with Kathleen Stewart, University Texas). Solli, Norway.

November 23rd 2018: Ethnolab writing workshop for SAI staff, (with Marianne Lien & Wenzel Geissler). Professorboligen, Oslo

Spring 2019

January 23rd – 24th 2019: Writing workshop for PhD students and supervisors (with Penny Harvey and Noemi Tousignant). Amani Hill Research Station, Tanzania.

March 6th 2019: Why form? Introduction to the topic at lunch seminar with Wenzel Geissler and Marianne Lien. SAI, Oslo.

March 28th 2019: Writing Five Hundreds. SAI staff workshop with Wenzel Geissler & Marianne Lien. Professorboligen, Oslo

June 11th-13th 2019:  Photography and Ethnography. Workshop by Christian Vium, Aarhus organised by Line Dalsgård and Marianne Lien in collaboration with Aarhus University. Moesgaard Museum, Aarhus, Denmark.   

Autumn 2019

October 21st-23rd 2019: Writing images (or: ‘Tell don’t show’): Visualising ethnography in the absence of photographic imagery. Writing workshop with invited guest, Laura Ogden. Facilitators: Marianne Lien & Wenzel Geissler. Registration open.

  • Abstract: Photography is increasingly part of anthropological presentations and publications, sometimes to great effect and intellectual reward.  Through images we sometimes engage with critical questions of representation, performativity, affect, aesthetics and ethics raised in recent visual anthropology - at other times we turn to images merely to illustrate, entertain and distract, or possibly seduce.  In this workshop, we will to push the relation between ethnography and photography, critically reflecting on the relation between the use of imagery in anthropology, whether it might be in the form  ‘over-use’, or even an ‘under-use’, that does not fully exhaust its potentials. We will explore what happens if images are recrafted as texts, and reiterated without the picture itself. What opportunities for visual imagery are already inherent in textual form, and how might photos act as props for writing more evocative ethnographic texts?  Venue: Solli (a cabin 2-hrs drive from Oslo), Norway

November 25th 2019: The art of writing non-fiction. One day seminar in Oslo with guidance from professionals, selected readings and possibly some exercises. Registration open. Facilitators: Wenzel Geissler and Marianne Lien. Invited guest TBC.

November, date TBC: Film evening with Martin Demant Fredriksen

Published May 27, 2019 12:11 PM - Last modified Mar. 16, 2021 1:59 PM