Studying With: Relation and method in the technoscientific field

Studying With: Relation and method in the technoscientific field

Since Laura Nader (1972) suggested that anthropologists turn their attention “up,” using the ethnographic gaze to bring powerful informants down to size, the anthropology of expertise has been entwined with concerns about the politics of method. The anthropology of scientists, engineers and other experts raises new forms of classic methodological questions: How should we understand the relationship between explanations offered by anthropologists and those offered by their interlocutors? How should ethnographers respond to the practical, political, and epistemic problems raised by the idea that our role is to explain what is “really” going on? Anthropologists have proposed a variety of concepts to address these questions, from “polymorphous engagement” (Gusterson 1997), to “lateral reason” (Maurer 2005) and “collateral knowledge” (Riles 2011), to the “found para-ethnographic” (Holmes and Marcus 2005).

Following this year’s call to “examine the truths we encounter, produce and communicate through anthropological theories and methods,” this panel brings together a set of researchers engaged with the practical and conceptual difficulty of studying technoscientific knowledge practices ethnographically. When engineers claim anthropological objects like “culture” as their own, when fieldwork may involve traveling just across campus, or when access hinges on convincing interlocutors of the commercial merit of ethnography, anthropology’s trademark reflexivity and charitable interpretations face new challenges. Drawing on recent and ongoing fieldwork experiences, these papers propose and explore novel modes of relation between the knowledge practices of anthropologists and those they study, building on work in the anthropology of expertise and science and technology studies.

We are looking for one or two papers to round out the panel. If you are interested in joining us, please reply to nseaver@uci.edu expressing your interest by this Friday, April 11th.

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