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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!

Published May 27, 2019 12:11 PM - Last modified Apr. 27, 2022 9:44 AM