Paul Stoller: "The Art of Ethnography"

The Departmental Seminar Series features Paul Stoller, Professor of Anthropology at the Westchester University.

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The seminar will be held on Zoom. Join Zoom Meeting.

Abstract

In May of 2020 gunmen riding on motorcycles looted shops, stole cattle and killed 20 people in the Tillaberi Region of Niger—the latest in a two-year cycle of Al Qaeda-inspired violence. This news filled me with sadness. Having spent many years in Tillaberi I harbor wonderful memories of gracious and dignified people, of sweeping vistas of the Niger River snaking its way through majestic dunes and sandstone buttes, and of hunger-inducing aromas of kabobs roasting on makeshift grills. In Tillaberi my teacher, Adamu Jenitongo, often staged compellingly beautiful traditional religious rituals. What had once been social life characterized by widespread tolerance has been replaced with religious zealotry.

The dysfunction that shredded the social fabric in Tillaberi, Niger is, of course, not an isolated phenomenon.  These days we live in a world in which we can no longer ignore systemic racism, ethnic discrimination, religious intolerance, and income inequality, not to forget the social and economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.

How can anthropologists meet the challenges of our troubled times?  In this talk, I suggest that we confront our obligations as scholars and admit that many of our longstanding set of methods and denotative conventions of representation are no longer in sync with the state of contemporary social, political, environmental and economic dysfunction. In anthropology we know a great deal about the existential issues that have shaped our times, but because of our reliance on established conventions of representation, our insights have often had admittedly limited appeal.  To meet the existential challenges of contemporary times, I suggest that anthropologists plunge into the art of ethnography, in which ethnographers sensuously articulate dimensions of locality, language, and character.  Borrowing techniques from film, poetry, and fiction, artfully inspired ethnographers can craft ethnographic narratives in text and film that can connect the public to the idiosyncrasies of people and place.  In so doing, I argue, an artful ethnography has the potential to bring to the public sphere the nuanced wisdom of others, the very foundation of anthropological insight. Such wisdom can set a course that ultimately leads to meaningful change and social justice.

Published Jan. 18, 2021 9:47 AM - Last modified Jan. 20, 2021 5:12 PM