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Ethnography as exchange: Power, money, debt.


Sept. 20.-22. 2018

Lang EN Workshop language is English

Prof. Heinzpeter Znoj, Uni BE


Aldo Haessler, Université de Caen

Kathrin Oester, PH Bern


Colonial anthropology proclaimed that „informants" should not be paid in oder to avoid a possible economic interest affecting the way they represent their own culture. Although based both on the objectivist scientific ideals of the period and the necessary authority to convince natives to provide services without pay – that anthropology took part of in the colonial era – this professional ethic seems still to be widespread today, even as the discipline has moved beyond objectivist ideals and has adapted to its postcolonial condition. It is still considered little appropriate to pay research partners, and fears of their exploitation by the anthropologist still linger. But it seems evident that fieldwork relationships between anthropologists and research partners have nevertheless changed and so have the reasons to avoid payment. Payment seems inappropriate today not because the objectivity of the data could be jeopardized but because it connotes the commercialization of the research partnership. Rather than as a business transaction, anthropologists frame the exchanges taking place during fieldwork in a non-capitalist way.
I therefore argue that to understand contemporary (and past, probably) ethnographic research partnerships we have to focus on exchange relationships. Anthropologists, when establising research partnerships, tend to perform the kind of balanced reciprocity and gift exchange their forefathers had discovered in the field a hundred years ago. We now talk of the complicity between anthropologists and their research partners, we experiment with cooperative ethnographic strategies, such as performance ethnography, and we experience our work as consisting of an ongoing and potentially never-ending give-and-take, with mutual debts and obligations binding us together beyond the research project.
If anthropologists indeed shape their research partnerships based on social exchange as opposed to commodity exchange, they may do so in the intention to establish egalitarian relationships in a world where relartionships between the North and the South are essentially exploitative. But gift exchange and reciprocal relationships are in themselves far from egalitarian and innocent.
I propose to explore in this workshop how anthropologists today construct their research partnerships and reflect specifically on how they deal with issues of power, money, and debt and obligation. The material will come in part from the participants' own research.


Schloss Ueberstorf FR




Participation fee CHF 50

For students of the CUSO universities (Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel and Fribourg) and from the universities of Bern, Zürich and Luzern, accommodation and meals at Schloss Überstorf are covered by the CUSO doctoral program in anthropology. Travel expenses will be reimbursed based on half-fare train ticket (2nd class) from the student's university to the place of the activity.



Deadline for registration 06.09.2018
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