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The ethnographic fact

Fri, 12 Jul 2019 at Weekend Workshop

A workshop to discuss the ethics of ‘Future Health’ anthropology

Anthropology, at least the kind we are undertaking in the Future Health project (see also: empirical philosophy), is an interpretive, prescriptive practice. We do not necessarily know what we want to ask before setting out, we want the people we meet to shape our work, and we also know our writing will be lively—taken up in ways we cannot yet predict or understand. We work with known public experts, but will also treat everyone as an expert. We encounter confidential materials—some of which we might have an imperative to expose, much of which we’ll need to conceal (the line between exposing and concealing will not often be clear). We also have in front of us fraught representational histories with which to contend. Yes, we want audiences; but we also have to care for the truths in our materials.

So how, then, do we conduct good research? What are techniques or practices we might follow? To whom do we make our commitments? How do we attune ourselves to ethical sensitivities and what do we do when we make mistakes? Other fields – journalism, biological sciences, non-fiction writing, photojournalism/documentary film – may have standards and protocols. Psychologists, for example, frequently use randomized trials, blinding or even double-blinding subjects and investigators; anonymity is everything, “the subject” can withdraw at any time, and replicability — however rare — stabilizes the fact. Journalists, in contrast, work stabilize facts in an ethical way by asking people to speak on-or-off “the record,” using names whenever they can, and running documents through professional/paid fact-checkers who verify the authority of the fact by comparing it to other sources. As anthropologists, we also have standards to which we must adhere in order to follow the legal guidelines stipulated by our funders. But our research ethics, as those who study them empirically can attest, do not always fit into the logic of prescriptive (pre-determinable) standards. Where might it make sense to borrow and adapt from the ethical practices of the journalist, the medic, the scientist, etc? Where do their standards fail us and what else can we build in their place?

This workshop is a chance to share ideas, techniques, fears, and dilemmas before the PhDs head into “the field” (this itself is, possibly, an unethical term). Guests will discuss challenges they’ve run into (or documented) in their work and how they’ve strategized to address these. Future health team members will share problems they anticipate in order to gather audience feedback about what to do—and hopefully together think of problems as of yet unconsidered to begin the process of working through these as well. 

Workshop Schedule

Friday, July 12th, 2019

Film Screening: “Collecting in the Collection: 46 Inuit artifacts in the Berlin Ethnological Museum from Franz Boas’s 1883-4 Baffin Island expedition” and discussion with Rebecca Sakoun & Florian Göttke

Saturday, July 13th, 2019

Discussion of Research Ethics

Walking seminar on the beach

Sunday, July 14th, 2019

Discussion of Future Health PhDs Projects