Fieldwork as location of politics

Convenors: Marc Abélès (EHESS – Centre national de la recherche scientifique) & Lynda Dematteo (EHESS – Centre national de la recherche scientifique)

Human sciences generally tend to look at engagement as taking sides with the disadvantaged, sometimes risking uncritical praise. Patterns of engagement with dominant actors, whose social interests are not shared by the researcher, are rarely taken into account. These fieldwork situations are much more frequent today. On the one hand, ethnographers venture into territories that had not been acknowledged as pertinent until recently. On the other hand, they are often led to defend their work within a reticent, if not outright hostile, social environment.

Ethnographers discarded the idea of a dominant point of view and intangible othernesses, and opted for a bottom-up approach that is necessarily positioned. Some ethnographers are therefore led, throughout their meetings, to conduct specific studies in order to develop diversified forms of engagement.

The ethnographer is constantly pushed into social configurations that she cannot fully master, and on which she has equally unpredictable effects. Her presence questions her respondents, who ultimately find her a place, even if the latter is not necessarily the object of an explicit agreement. On the field, the ethnographer is caught into power relations that are destabilizing, and at the same time are destabilized by her own presence and questions. She always feels uncomfortable, and at the same time it is exactly this unease that produces critical knowledge. Each field condensates a singular political question that the researcher will try to focus on through reflective working. The point is to clarify the way this critical knowledge is elaborated.

We start from the principle that fieldwork position is never defined once and for all. On the field, the point of view of the ethnographer evolves according to the encounters she makes, and those that define her. Very often, she is led to endorse stereotypes she disagrees with, she is called names, she feels lost, she constantly feels her limits. The ethnographic relations that are the backbone of her fieldwork are never crystal-clear, but rather shifting and charged with tensions. There are phases of identification and disidentification. There are emotions that are put to test in the analytical effort. Each time, it will be a matter of finding the correct distance in order to describe what is at stake in these encounters, and seize what is intrinsically political.

We welcome all proposals that can grasp this dimension, irrespective of the research area. We are not only addressing those who usually work on institutions and analysis of political power.

Thinking at the ethnographical fieldwork as a “location of politics” has metaphysical, epistemological, and methodological consequences at the same time. We strive to explore these three domains in order to better grasp what the engaged ethnographies of the 21st century will be like.

Ethnographies of social sciences as a vocation

Convenors: Gianmarco Navarini (University of Milano Bicocca) & Sebastiano Citroni (University of Milano Bicocca)

Nowadays in circles of youth there is a widespread notion that science has become a problem in calculation, fabricated in laboratories or statistical filing systems just as “in a factory”, a calculation involving only the cool intellect and not one’s “heart and soul”. First of all one must say that such comments lack all clarity about what goes on in a factory or in a laboratory.[1]

Max Weber, Science as a Vocation.

The approaching centenary of the well-known lecture by Max Weber (Munich, November 1917) constitutes both a rite and an opportunity to shed light on how  we now practice and produce “social science”.

The rite is the conference’s panel: a small gathering of researchers who undertook ethnographic research in and on the settings in which social science is produced, or on types of “products”, in different disciplines (sociology, anthropology, economy, pedagogy, history et al…), devoting specific attention to:

- the relationships between, on the one hand, everyday practices in the settings of researchers’ ordinary work and, on the other hand, the broader frame in which such practices take place and which is subject to recent institutional, administrative, bureaucratic and political shifts.

- the implications deriving from the logic (or rhetoric, narration, “doxa”, ideology) of academic “evaluation”, grasped in their concrete outcomes and in the everyday social organization of doing research.

The afore-mentioned opportunity implies setting out from Weber in order to move beyond the German sociologist, also thanks to researches carried out on the two themes – the relationships and the implications – before singled out.  The quotes that follow suggest, but do not exhaust, further ethnographic research topics to be discussed in the panel:

  • «To let “facts speak for themselves” is the most unfair» method. That is to say, how are “facts” used in research reports, writing practices, scientific arguments and public debates?
  • «The concept, one of the great tools of all scientific knowledge». What is the practical use of categories (as a marker of belonging or as a way of thinking) in projecting, doing, analyzing, defend, legitimize and reporting social research?
  • «Only by strict specialization can the scientific worker become fully conscious, for once and perhaps never again in his lifetime, that he has achieved something that will endure». What is now at risk  because of this rigorous specialization?
  • «To raise this question is to ask for the vocation of science within the total life of humanity. What is the value of science?» What and who is social science – particularly ethnography – for? What can ethnographies tell us about the general reception of social research? How and in which circumstances does social research, particularly ethnography, have something to offer to people’s “practical life”?

[1] Quotes from Max Weber in this page are taken from the English translation made by H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills: From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946; Routledge 2013)


Convenors: Alvise Sbraccia (University of Bologna) & Francesca Vianello (University of Padova)

Qualitative studies have played a crucial role, in the last century, in producing a critical view on total institutions. These empirical studies have revealed the paradoxes and contradictions among the criteria of legitimization of such institutions, the practices through which they reproduce themselves and the individual, and the social effects they produce. Key concepts and theoretical frameworks have been developed with reference to the complex interaction between institutional cultures and inmates subcultures, the dynamics of identity redefinition (processes of institutionalization and prisonization), the -often hidden- strategical horizons of penality, incarceration and detention in general. When, in 2002, Loïc Wacquant wrote the article titled “The curious eclipse of prison ethnography in the age of mass incarceration”, his worries were mainly related to the conservative shift in criminology and prison studies. A “political” shift oriented to reinforce, inside the university and the criminal justice system apparatus, the perspectives of an administrative criminology, finally useful for the war on crime and coherent with the ideological and juridical assumptions of Zero Tolerance and Actuarial Justice. At the times, mass incarceration was imagined by sevaral authors and scholars as a common tendency (or destiny) strictly linked with the expansion of Neoliberalism, even outside the so called western world. Such a homogeneous growth in the rates of incarceration did not take place. On the contrary, trends about detention show interesting levels of ambivalence with reference to the specific socio-economic and political conditions of the involved states and societies. Moreover, at least in the last decade, prison ethnographies and qualitative studies on detention seem to have gone through a sort of revitalization. The changing social composition of people kept in state of detention along with the central role of the different detention centers in managing new and old forms of marginality and human mobility (see the administrative detention of migrants as a form of carceral expansion) call qualitative researchers for “having a look inside” once again, observing whether these institutions adapt to the challenges they face, and how they do so. This panel is intended as a space for comparison, discussion and reflection on the perspectives of detention and incarceration. Papers are welcome with reference to the following areas of study:

  • prison ethnographies
  • systems of relations inside the total institutions
  • detention as a biographical experience
  • qualitative research on probation and alternative measures to detention
  • inmates point of view and convict criminology
  • understanding prison staff
  • qualitative analysis on recidivism and re-entry
  • institutional cultures and subcultures
  • penal treatment in its practices

Rethinking ‘Europe’ through an Ethnography of its Borderlands, Peripheries and Margins

Convenors: Ilaria Giglioli (University of California, Berkeley), Camilla Hawthorne (University of California, Berkeley) & Alessandro Tiberio (University of California, Berkeley).

The past year has been a tumultuous one for the south/eastern borderlands of Europe. From the failed attempts to resist austerity in Greece against the backdrop of its possible exit/expulsion from the Eurozone, to the ongoing ‘refugee crisis’ that reverberates from Germany to the Mediterranean, old patterns of exclusion at Europe’s socio/spatial ‘margins’ are being reinforced, and new ones are being created. The production of categories of exclusion – the insolvent debtor, the economic migrant, the refugee – are also moments of redefinition of what ‘Europe’ may mean, and who or what may be ‘European’.

This panel seeks to bring together areas that are usually studied separately – the Eurozone crisis and ‘austerity’ on one side, and migration and the ‘refugee crisis’ on the other – in order to challenge the notion that it is migration alone (and a supposed ‘difference’ embodied by migrants, or citizens of non-European descent) that is calling into question a stable notion of ‘Europe’. Instead, the panel seeks to analyze the multiple ways in which ‘Europe’ (as a ‘geo-body’, a ‘historical construct’, a symbol, a relation) is currently being produced and reproduced through patterns of inclusion, exclusion and constant renegotiation of belonging at its borderlands, peripheries and margins.  Understanding the present moment as part of a longer history of the making and remaking of Europe, the panel seeks to understand what is particular about how Europe is being produced at the present conjuncture, and how this is occurring in multiple arenas of everyday life.

In order to hold this conversation, the panel welcomes ethnographically-grounded papers that study how, through everyday forms of interaction, people from different socio-geographical positionalities produce ‘Europe’. Papers can be grounded in ‘obvious’ border-making spaces such as Lampedusa, or peripheries such as Greece, but also in those traditionally conceived as ‘centers’ such as Berlin, as well as outside of Geographical Europe. Possible topics include, but are not limited to: mobility, migration, and the ‘refugee crisis’; life with, and resistance to, austerity measures; rethinking ‘Fortress Europe’, the Eurozone, the Schengen Area, and the meaning of the European project through everyday material practices. We welcome works in progress as well as finished studies.

Experiencing Urban Boundaries

Convenors: Cristina Mattiucci (University of Trento) & Federico Rahola (University of Genova)

As recent approaches in urban sociology and critical geography suggest, current urbanization processes do redefine contemporary city as an essentially multiscalar site, that is, as the complex and rather chaotic outcome of different spatial and temporal dynamics revealing themselves to be un-reducible to a discrete scale. Accordingly, that which we define as «urban» is produced by a widespread multiplication and juxtapositions of scales: it is the irregular landscape defined  by a clash of scales, among scales, within scales. By focusing on this juxtaposition and on the ongoing process of rescaling it triggers, we may detect a whole series of frictions materializing themselves in terms of boundaries. Urban boundaries are thus conceivable and recognizable as the material translation of the frictions redefining urban territories. Rather than borders, they are signals of border. And they can be both spatial and temporal, visible and invisible, physical and immaterial, reflecting and at the same time reproducing and crafting balance of power, social relations, and everyday experiences. Under this perspective, the very act of experiencing the city can be assumed as a way of experiencing urban boundaries, amidst processes imposed from above, lived situations from below, plans conceived on a large scale and subjective maps, explicit conflicts and latent everyday tensions.

It comes from here the idea of a panel on “Experiencing the urban boundaries”. It aims to focus on these specific “border signals”, their phenomenology, genealogy, and possible evolutions, on the assumption that they represent the quintessential “site” of/for urban ethnography. After all, ethnography itself is a kind of social practice that is essentially played on boundaries, on a threshold, in the friction triggered by an encounter among differences. Its “site” is not only defined by frictions and boundaries, but is itself a friction, and a boundary.

Starting from these assumptions, the workshop will address a number of issues to explore the many facets of experiencing the urban boundaries, including:

Which are the shapes  taken by the contiguity and interruptions occuring in urban territories? How you can identify them and understand how they are materially produced, crossed, fallen, contested or reconstructed? What are the thresholds that identify discontinuities and breaks among the different atmospheres settled in space? In which way these same thresholds identify contexts where certain behaviors are considered usual and therefore unnoticed, while others are perceived as idiosyncratic and often stigmatized? How the signals of the discontinuities in the urban space are perceived, represented and lived? In which way the physical segmentations of such discontinuities produce economic, symbolic, political, emotional values, generating other frictions or intermittent fluidities?

This call is addressed to everyone who, from different areas and approach in urban studies (sociology, anthropology, critical geography, visual studies, architecture) may find in the ethnographic practice a useful tool to situate and explore urban boundaries, as well as, in the very act of experiencing urban boundaries, the inner meaning of urban ethnography.

Ethnographies of Waste Politics

Convenor: Nick Dines (Middlesex University)

Today the multiple ways in which different kinds of waste (municipal, industrial, hazardous, digital, human, etc.) are produced, circulated, destroyed and transformed constitute an established field of inquiry in the social sciences. Waste is studied both as a topic in itself and as a lens through which to examine broader processes in contemporary capitalist societies, be these emergent forms of neoliberal governmentality or alternative modes of organizing social life. At a generic level, social theorists such as Zygmunt Bauman and Ulrich Beck have adopted waste as a metaconcept to make sense of the dilemmas of late modernity, while at a more specific level, struggles against incinerators and landfills, especially in the United States, have made a fundamental contribution to debates about environmental justice. In recent years major conflicts over waste management around the world, from Naples to Beirut, Guangzhou to Bogotà, have attracted mainstream media and scholarly interest, although the political significance of these controversial cases has frequently been misrepresented and trivialized. At the same time, the politics of waste also plays out at a mundane and unspectacular level, for example in the informal collection strategies deployed by the Zabbaleen garbage recyclers in Cairo in response to the privatization of the city’s refuse system.

Combining a focus on the institutional, agonistic and everyday politics of waste, this panel aims to explore how ethnography can enrich our understanding of the contested material and symbolic place of waste in contemporary societies. Proposals are welcome that draw on original ethnographic research and that engage with the wider political and social dimensions of waste. Possible themes include, but are not limited to the following:

  • the governance and bureaucracy of waste systems
  • the politics of waste ‘crises’ and ‘emergencies
  • urban waste and the right to the city
  • anti-incinerator and anti-landfill campaigns
  • organised labour in the refuse sector
  • counter-strategies to living and working in localities stigmatised by waste
  • the production of professional and popular knowledge about waste cycles and management
  • the disciplinary regimes of alternative waste management (e.g. zero waste)

States of imagination/Imagined states. Performing the political within and beyond the state

Convenors: Federica Infantino (University of Oxford – Université libre de Bruxelles) & Timothy Raeymaekers (University of Zurich)

Political anthropology has succesfully defended the idea that government (as the conduct of conduct) cannot and never has been the monopoly of an executive, unitary state. Instead it raises awareness about the marginal spaces, where de facto public authority is constantly constituted, performed and reproduced. Within this realm, ethnograpy has arisen as the method of choice to actively engage with the ways such public rule is qualified and established –by demarcating, imagining and mediating the contours of contemporary citizenship, for example, but also to investigate how fieldwork itself can be performative of the state and its constituent fields of power. By immersing ourselves into the states of imagination, the values and symbolism that underpin political legitimacy in a given time and space, we are able to track down the social processes that help to constitute, transform and resist public authority beyond mere assertions of (violent) sovereign rule.

In this panel, we are interested in exploring more in-depth the use(fulness) of ethnographic method to investigate government practice from a broad perspective of institutional and spatial multiplicity. Domains of interest include both the grounded analysis of social relations and discourses that shape public authority –from either a practice-oriented or governmentality perspective, as well as more performative investigations into the repetitive, ritualized acts that write the possibility of a securable state. Priority will be given to contributions that actively engage with the issue of scale, i.e. the question how political knowledge is mediated and taking shape through a network of interconnected technologies, actors and instutions.

The Chicago School and the study of conflicts in contemporary societies

Convenors: Marco Pitzalis (University of Cagliari) & Izabela Wagner (Uniwersytet Warszawski)

the nortons

Conflict is a social phenomenon that has been present in theoretical reflections and empirical studies since the beginnings of sociology as a discipline. However, in the numerous manuals of sociology, it seems that some theories remain prominent while others are forgotten. Our aim here is to draw the attention of the sociological community to the particular relevance of the Sociological Tradition of Chicago (Chapoulie, 2001) in the study and general understanding of conflicts.

We are looking for theoretical studies concerning the Chicago School of Sociology and the sociological analyses of conflicts as well as for empirical studies dealing with conflicts present in different areas of human activity (professional, educational and societal). Our aim is to focus on the Chicago School’s intellectual legacy in order to awaken sociological imagination and revive some of the ideas and scientific approaches for gaining a better understanding of our contemporary societies.

The contribution that the Chicago School made to the study of conflicts seems to have been somewhat overlooked by contemporary sociological “accounts” of the history of our discipline. Nonetheless, this Tradition made successful use of the concept of “conflict” and produced different variants of the definition of conflict. Various types of conflicts were studied at different levels and in various environments (society, institutions, organizations, groups and face to face interactions). Their inquiries enhanced understanding of macro, meso and micro levels of conflict phenomena.

Two of the most recurrent elements present in studies of conflict in the Chicago School tradition are the focus on interactions, which emphasizes the dynamics of social relationship, and the use of qualitative methods. In particular, observation seems particularly suited to the investigation of conflicts within daily life in different areas of human activity.  Numerous levels of analysis emerge: from the negotiation of identities through the political/institutional level to the interracial relationships in urban space.

We are looking for fresh and innovative papers in order to foster an original debate on the Chicago School’s intellectual legacy on the theme of conflict. In particular, we would like to encourage submissions dealing with the study of current migration processes, organizational life, group relations and processes, focusing on identity negotiations, conflicts and/or stigmatization processes. The aim is to explore the legacy and establish dialogue between the sociological theory of the traditional and contemporary Chicago Schools of Sociology.

Ethnography of labour chains

Convenors: Domenico Perrotta (University of Bergamo) & Devi Sacchetto (University of Padova)

One can start from a crumbling shack occupied by seasonal farmworkers in one of the rural areas of the Mediterranean, and arrive, via the packinghouses or the canning plants, to the retailing giants in one of the main European cities. Or else, one can start from the branded laptop with which we work on a daily basis back to an enormous factory where electronics are produced and to the dormitories provided to its workers. One can keep on moving to the miners who extract coltan, the essential raw material for the electronics industry. Is it possible for social scientists to study these connections, these chains, with ethnographic methodologies?

Over the past twenty years, the expansion of the global production systems and of transnational mobility has deeply transformed the forms of labour and the ways of life of the people involved in them. Globalization has appeared to be not a unique and holistic process, but rather a multiplier of different labour situations. Production is articulated among a number of countries and is characterized by processes of standardization as well as strong differentiation. The construction of production chains localized in different areas gives ample space to management to adopt different labour conditions within and outside the workplace. Along these chains of the global economy, an intense process of fragmentation of the forms of labour has spread, whose main feature is the increasing casualization of labour-power. The traditional trade unions, which were already declining, found themselves under pressure. On the other hand, precarious workers have tried new strategies of organization, which remain in most cases territorially limited.

The literature on the so-called global value chains and global production networks has grown substantially over the last years; nonetheless, topics such as workplace relations and individual and collective agency of workers within these chains have remained understudied.

In fact, in order to analyse these transformations, new fieldwork methodologies and a new sociological imagination are required. For example, we aim to discuss how to extend the ethnographic study of one productive site to other links in the chain, to the whole production networks and to the forms of government of the workforce. This panel welcomes ethnographically grounded papers focused on the diverse working and living conditions as well as on social and labour conflicts within the global production chains. Presentations based upon collective research projects are particularly appreciated. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • intersectionality at work: the role of gender, nationality and skin colour in the productive processes
  • forms of casualization and informalization of labour
  • externalization, subcontracting and delocalization processes
  • the relationships between production and reproduction processes
  • global production networks and forms of resistance on the workplace
  • union strategies and new forms of labour organization
  • forms of government of global labour chains, among State authorities, supranational bodies, power-unbalanced business relationships, and labour market regulations
  • ethnographers in the labour chains

Diffracting Ethnography in the Anthropocene

Convenor: Elena Bougleux (University of Bergamo)

The theoretical framework of Anthropocene has quickly spread across several disciplinary areas, from Anthropology to History, from Ecology to Economics, as a critical tool for the investigation of the contemporary, in the attempt to provide a multidisciplinary context where to confront and compare different sensitivities and competences on the issues of environment, shared responsibility, public interest and common visions about the future.

The concept of Anthropocene provides a sort of metascenario where a multiplicity of separated critical aspects of the contemporary crisis acquire common and mutually depending meanings: climate refugees, food insecurity, energetic crisis, restrictions to water accesses. These are all independent signs converging to assemble a severe criticism of the dominating paradigm of development, based on markets and profits, that has been imposed as a unique model and that has largely contributed to generate all the mentioned criticalities.

The discourse on Anthropocene tries to promote the enhancement of a global awareness of shared belonging, emphasizing the invisible and indirect connections between human actions and their environmental consequences, connecting large and micro scales, superposing individual causes and global effects. The pluri-semantic figurations of diffraction and transversality are powerful metaphors borrowed from disciplines such as philosophy and natural sciences that describe at best the new network of meanings, both theoretical and material ones, needed to grasp all these mutual dependencies.

The panel seeks to discuss this framework characterized by instabilities with the support of ethnographic description and case studies discussion, focussing in particular on:

  •  the mutual relations between small scale (human) actions and large scale (environmental) effects, many of which still need to be accurately understood, in their multidisciplinary dimension
  • the new social unbalances emerging as consequences of the environmental exploitation, worsening existing gaps and unbalances among genders, classes, communities; in particular documenting poor housing, decreasing education, worsening of health conditions
  • new environmental sensitivities originated with the crisis and generated by the inadequate managing of resources, producing new patterns of engagement and collective behaviours; in particular documenting social movements, their environmental commitment, their strategies of aggregation and claim

Ethnographic and artistic practices and the question of the images in contemporary Middle East

Convenors: Donatella Della  Ratta (University of Copenaghen) & Paola Gandolfi (University of Bergamo)

The question of the image in the ethnographic practices, the multiple narratives of the violence by means of the images, the challenge of the experimentation among artistic practices, performances, and ethnographic practices

Which is the role of the images in the contemporary ethnographic practices? Which ethnographies of the contemporaneity are possible nowadays, involving the images or rather an innovative use of the images in an ethnographic perspective? Which are the interrelation among the productions of images, the practices of the contemporary media communication, the practices of the visual art and the ethnographic practices?

Taking into consideration the recent debate about the necessity of a new reflection around the meaning and the role of the images in the contemporaneity, this panel aims to question about the urgency of a dialogue among artistic practices and ethnographic practices, as well as around ethnography as a methodological approach in the production and the fruition of images.

The complex articulations among ethnography and art are debated today in multiple ways, not only because the contemporary artistic practices are analyzed by ethnographic research but mainly because the object of the analysis is how some artistic practices might contribute to the experimentation of innovative ethnographic practices, in the perspective of an ethnography of the contemporaneity (Schneider and Wright, 2013) interested in questioning what is contemporaneous today  (Agamben, 2008).

Some works of visual anthropology propose a discussion around an original conversation between art and ethnography (Schneider, 2008, Wright and Schneider, 2010, Schneider and Pasqualino 2014), with the aim of experimenting ethnographic practices interacting with artistic experimentations and vice versa. Here, the aim is to analyse some of these issues in specific contexts in the Near and Middle East.

What do the digital images and the videos add to ethnographic practices and how does an ethnographic approach contribute to the creation of images and visual narratives? How can the hyper-presence and the construction of the images contribute to create a fieldwork and how can images make part of a fieldwork?  Such questions will be debated in the specific contexts of the contemporaneous Middle East, with the intention of investigating the complex articulation among the ongoing change processes, the recent uprisings, the revolutionary processes and the state of the violence in Middle East. Taking into account an history of the Near and Middle East giving value to an historical and sociopolitical approach for the comprehension of the contemporary scenarios (Bozarslan, 2008, 2015), the point will be the analysis and the debate of some of the most recent ethnographic perspectives investigating the multiple and very actual performances of the violence, among which the new media as instruments of  performance of the daily violence.

We will discuss how we can make an ethnography nowadays in contemporary contexts marked by a culture which is also a digital one or, rather, a culture made by specific performative practices, in societies in which communication is related to a necessity of images and visibility which are deeply contemporaneous (Zimmer, 2015; Della Ratta, 2015; Brighenti, 2010).  All that is related to social and cultural dynamics and specific processes of aesthetization. Therefore, we will propose a debate around how contemporaneous can be related to images, imaginary and imagination (Anderson, 1991; Appadurai, 1996, Bhabha, 1998), as well as to a new relationship between aesthetics and narrative. Within this framework, this panel aims at debating the articulations and interactions among artistic practices, ethnographic practices and the role and the use of images in ethnography (Shapiro, 2013), and the actual implications of an ethnography of the contemporaneity in Middle East.

Taking into account some critical and innovative ethnographies in Middle East (nowadays at the core of specific constructions of images, performances and dissonant narratives, with both a local and a transnational relevance), we wish to propose an analysis of those ethnographies able to observe the complexity of the daily life, in the awareness of the multiple and ambiguous meanings of the images of the reality, experimenting the production of images and alternative narratives, as much close as possible to the contemporaneous reality.


Agamben Giorgio (2008) Che cos’è il contemporaneo?, Roma, Nottetempo.

Anderson Benedict (1991) Imagined Communities, London, Verso.

Appadurai Arjun (1996) Modernity at large, University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press.

Bhabha Homi (1994), The location of culture, London, Routledge.

Bozarslan Hamit (2008), Une histoire de la violence au Moyen Orient, Paris, La découverte.

Bozarslan, Hamit (2015), Révolutions et état de violence. Moyen Orient 2011-2015. Paris, CNRS Editions.

Brighenti Andrea Mubi (2010), Visibility in Social Theory and Social Research, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Della Ratta Donatella (2015), Violence and Visibility in Contemporary Syria: an ethnography of the “expanded places”, CyberOrient On Line Journal of the Virtual Middle East, forthcoming 2015.

Schneider Arnd. (2008) Three Modes of Experimentation with Art and Ethnography ,  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 14,, pp. 171-194.

Schneider Arnd et Wright Chris (eds.)  (2013). Anthropology  and Art Practice. New York, London, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Schneider Arnd et Pasqualino C. (2014). Experimental Film and Anthropology. London,  Bloomsbury Publishing.

Shapiro Michale J (2015),  Studies in trans-disciplinary method : after the aesthetic turn, New York-London,  Routledge.

Wright Chris et Schneider Arnd (2010). Between Art and Anthropology : Contemporary Ethnographic Practice. New York, Berg Publishers.

Zimmer, Catherine (2015) Surveillance Cinema, New York and London, New York University Press.

Subjectivity, surveillance and control. Ethnographic research on forced migration towards Europe

Convenors: Elena Fontanari (University of Milano ) & Barbara Pinelli (Univesity of Milano Bicocca)

As a strategic point of observation on forced mobilities, the Euro-Mediterranean area is also the place where is possible to analyze the policies of control, selection and monitoring of refugees and asylum seekers.

In this articulated and complex scenario, migratory movements are both framed by historical forms of mobility, and trace new routes. In order to contain the multiple mobilities, national states, EU institutions and international control agencies increasingly shift and externalize their borders outside the European territories, expanding the surveillance and the selection scope. The reinforcement and geographical extension of the externalization policies of European borders (i.e. the process of Khartoum, the delegation to Frontex of the rescue operations, military missions such as EUNAVFOR Med) go hand in hand with a narrowing of the space for the migrants’ rights. Migrants are forced to find autonomous spaces of action, where protection policies shelter them less and less.

This session focuses on ethnographic research in order to analyze the relationships that actually occur between policies, social forces and forms of subjectivity. The premise is to offer an analysis on migration for asylum in Europe, starting from the concrete experiences of migrants once they arrived in Europe. Particularly, we focus on empirical research that highlight the tension between structural dynamics associated with the control and governance of forced migration, and the social practices of subjects, who – moving between legal and “illegal” regimes – attempt to rebuild their lives after they escaped from places of first arrival or crossed national borders to reach other social contexts.

The panel aims to provide a discussion on the restriction of the European space starting from the experience of landing and transit, and from the everyday practices of migrants. Examples are the movements of migrants through which they challenge the legal and territorial borders and the agreements of Schengen and Dublin; the tent camps built close to the agricultural areas to be employed in the harvest work; the temporary settlements positioned in extemporaneous places or public places such as the train station Milano Centrale; Calais and Ventimiglia; homes and tent camps near the places of entry into the reception system, for example in large urban areas of central/northern Italy, or in places such as the hinterland of the southern regions; the attempts to escape the finger prints procedure.

We are interested in ethnographic contributions that address the following issues:

  •  migration control: policies of military intervention and/or coercive intervention, humanitarian regimes, surveillance policies and practices
  •  the political construction of regime of regularity/irregularity
  •  camps and confinement forms: regimes, selections, surveillance and abandonment policies and practices
  •  at the margins of the protection system: transits, border-crossing, stationing, entrance zones

Critical Ethnographies of Schooling

Convenors: Fulvia Antonelli (University of Bologna) & Mario Romito (University of Milano)

Challenging the assumption that schools are the major mechanism for the development of a democratic and egalitarian society, critical research interrogate the nature of the relationship between formal education and the dominant cultural and social order.

Ethnographic method played and play a crucial role in engaging a critical dialogue with macro theories of schooling. On the one hand, ethnographies provide vivid description of how social order is able to reproduce itself within the subjectivities, needs and experiences of teachers, educators, students. On the other hand, being particularly interested to the subjectivities of subalterns groups and cultures, ethnographic method offer the opportunity to highlight that the dynamics of reproduction take place within a cultural terrain marked by resistance, contestation and struggles; points of departure for a radical pedagogy aimed to produce social changes.

Today school life is increasingly characterized by tensions, open and tacit conflicts. Austerity regimes and the political hegemony of neoliberal ideologies pose complex challenges to public school needing to face old contradictions and new epochal phenomena: globalization, international migrations, the urban (and school) segregation processes following cities restructuring around the globe, the new emphasis on standardized evaluation aimed at inter and intra-national comparisons, the accelerated path of technological innovations, the devaluation of teachers’ profession, the deep changes of labor markets, the challenges to the meaning of doing school and of being at school today. School players, students, families, attempt to find innovative practices to face these phenomena as well as new ambivalent strategies to protect the school order or to challenge it.

This session welcomes ethnographic contributions critically exploring the processes of formal education through fieldwork carried out within schools or through studies analyzing the production and implementation of public policies (at local, national or super-national level) within this field. Researches reflecting on ideologies, habitus, generational and social class cultures, organizational practices, professional identities, power and hierarchical relationship that foster or limit school drop-out, participatory processes, social emancipation and democracy are particularly encouraged.

Lived Religion. An ethnographical insight

Convenors: Alberta Giorgi (Universidade de Coimbra), Stafania Palmisano (University of Torino) & Giovanna Rech (University of Trento)

Religion today lies at the heart of a cultural and political debate, related to immigration, human rights, the role of women and democracy in general. Various questions are asked about what criteria define a lay, pluralistic space and its physical and symbolical boundaries. From this point of view examination of multiple expressions of religiosity in the human body, in physical and symbolic spaces and in the relationship among individuals, and between individuals and space, assumes critical importance.

For over a century, social sciences have been highlighting that “religion” is a plural category, a composite set of organizations, actors, practices, beliefs, meanings, relations, values and traditions. Since the 1980s, the concept of “lived religion” has expressed a living, fluid, pluralistic and everyday dimension of religions: religion is part of daily life; religiosity is expressed through a variable set of collective and individual, institutionalised and informal, hybrid and codified practices.

We believe that an ethnographical prospective allows us productively to examine such religious ecology and with this end in view we invite contributions dealing with the theme of religion in daily life – lived religion – based on solid empirical analysis.

The areas in which the theme may be declined include:

  • native religions in today’s world
  • religious tradition and innovation
  • female religious experience, for example in churches, in alternative spirituality, in religious groups/movements and in politics
  • mobile religion including pilgrimages and religious tourism;
  • religion, economics and consumption
  • religion, the human body and mass media

Immanence of seduction: for a micro-interactionist perspective on charisma

Convenors: Chiara Bassetti (CNR – University of Trento) & Emanuele Bottazzi (CNR – San Raffaele University)


The group assembly that achieves rhythmic coordination and collective effervescence gives emotional energy and feelings of membership to everyone taking part. But some persons put themselves more in the center of attention, while others are at the outskirts, or even excluded. (Collins, 2015, p. 17)

In everyday situated interaction, there are always those who are at the center. Think of activities such as fascinating a class during a lecture, mesmerizing the audience while telling a story or seducing the crowd while dancing in a club. Work needs to be done to give an empirical account of this peculiar kind of power. We think that in order to understand these phenomena we have to reconsider the Weberian notion of charisma, something that is almost not seen by current micro-interactionist literature.

To this purpose, this very notion needs to be reworked. The original view on charisma, as expressed in Economy and society, was not meant to cover “matters of everyday life”, dominated by patriarchalism and bureaucracy, but as transcending them. Such an exceptional character of charisma holds at the macro- and the meso-level of social life, where it makes sense, for example, to talk of the subjects of charismatic authority as “followers” or “disciples”, or to talk of the enemies of the charismatic leadership as bureaucratic agencies or permanent institutions. However, charisma, we believe, can be considered a phenomenon immanent to the micro-organization of everyday situated interaction.

Intuitively, some elements highlighted by Weber seem to be adaptable to an idea of charisma in micro-interaction, that is: charisma is not appointed by any formal authority, but it is given by proof; charisma is naturally unstable, since it is not an intrinsic property of the one who exercises it; charisma, finally, manifests its revolutionary power from within, by changing attitudes and beliefs of the people under its effect. But to seriously investigate such questions is to find new approaches for understanding, both theoretically and empirically, how the charismatic leader in an interaction changes others’ situated beliefs. May this “micro-leader” be regarded as the one who defines the sense of an interaction, given that s/he is the one who step-by-step compels the others, consciously or not, towards a particular reading of the situation at hand? How such an authority can be analyzed as an ongoing interactional achievement?

We would like to invite empirically-grounded and theoretically-founded contributions that highlight the situated, immanent character of charisma in social interaction.

Further possible topics are the following:

  • It seems that charisma is elusive and difficult to characterize. Is this a limit of the current literature or an intrinsic feature of this very notion?
  • What is the effect of charisma on the orderliness of an ongoing interaction?
  • May charisma be connected to seduction? How does desire spread? How to empirically study affect? How do desire, pleasure and power intertwine in and through social interaction?
  • Are the charismatic micro-leaders those who spread and reproduce, or those who resist and disrupt dominant ideologies and constituted powers?
  • Is charisma in micro-interaction a key to understand Foucauldian micro-powers?
  • Which are the methods to contrast the effects of charisma?
  • What about the immanent, impermanent character of charisma? How can this be related to performance studies and improvisation?
  • How to represent charisma? How to perform onstage (e.g. theatre) the charismatic character? What are the displayed traits of this kind-of-person?
  • Which is the role of the body and embodiment? More generally, which is the aesthetic of charisma?

NGOs, Grass-root Activism and Social Movements: Understanding Novel Entanglements of Public Engagement

Convenors: Filippo Zerilli (University of Cagliary) & Alex Koensler (Queen’s University Belfast)

In recent years non-governmental organizations (NGOs) became an important vehicle to rethink the political sphere and, in particular, to theorize changing forms of public engagement, both in sociology and anthropology (among many initiatives see for instance the “NGO-graphy” conferences). A number of scholars observe how NGOs have assumed functions and responsibilities that were usually managed by states or governmental organizations, arguing that (some) NGOs are now powerful global actors operating consistently with neoliberal governmentality (for example, Transparency International) and unintentionally reproducing existing social divisions and power relations.

In this session, we will focus on a less explored area of research: How do NGOs interact with various forms of grass-root activism and spontaneous social movements? We aim to address questions of how these connections might reveal uneven and novel configurations of public engagement, including a study of the multifaceted and unintended consequences of social justice, development or human rights. While according to some scholars traditional social movements have now been absorbed by “the culture of projects” (Sampson 2002), others argue that the growing number of NGOs around the world also generates new, unprecedented forms of activism that challenge existing forms of engagement that pose new questions about the “collective fiction” of the state (Bourdieu 2015). Based on ethnographic research, we would also like to draw specifically attention to these emerging forms of public engagement. Ethnography is uniquely situated to illuminate both “emerging forms of life” (Fisher 2009) and the complex web micro-politics surrounding the intersections between NGOs, activism and movements. Albeit we do have in mind our own ethnographic experiences with activism and NGOs related to themes such as agro-food activism, property restitution, or political tourism, this session does not intend to focus on a particular topic or geographic region.

In particular, we ask: On which particular ground NGOs and activist groups meet and cooperate (or refuse cooperation) one with each other, and why? What sort of tensions and contradictions their alliances and collaborations have produced in specific settings? How to assess the success (and the failure) of similar encounters at different scales? Is member affiliation to a specific NGO influencing particular forms of social activism and excluding others? How people negotiate complex interdependencies between the logic of organizations they belong to, and their social and political aspirations in everyday life? What sort of compromises, collisions, and collusions such intersections produce? How do local, national and supranational actors intersect in such encounters? How does the evolving processes between NGOs and grass-root practices enable spaces of resistance and/or complicity? In a broader web of social relations, what are the unintended consequences of these new forms of public engagement?


Bourdieu, P. (2015) On the State. Polity, London.

Fischer, M.M.J. (2009) Anthropological Futures. Duke University Press, Durham.

Sampson, S.L. (2002) Weak States, Uncivil Societies and Thousands of NGOs: Benevolent Colonialism in the Balkans. In S. Resic and B. Törnquist-Plewa (eds.), The Balkans in Focus: Cultural Boundaries in Europe, Lund University Press, Lund, 27-44.

Innovating Universities. Everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same?

Convenors: Daniela Falcinelli (University of Milano) & Annalisa Murgia (University of Trento)

The dominance of the neoliberal paradigm in recent years has significantly changed the way universities are run. They have progressively adopted the principles of New Public Management (NPM), which are based on centralizing leadership, increasing competition and greater participation in decision-making by entities that are external to the academic world. Thus, university governance has undergone a process of transformation that has shifted it in the direction of managerial logics, both in terms of how to handle the decision-making processes, and in response to the need to find external funding to guarantee teaching as well as research activities. These transformations, though in a slightly different way in different countries, have had noticeable effects on courses of study and academic autonomy, as well as on the theoretical and methodological approaches used in scientific research. In fact, almost all funding for research is now apportioned based on the assessment of projects, often with an eye to finding good fundraising opportunities, rather than to investing in fields of research that do not necessarily have a short-term impact and/or clear applications.

In conjunction with this, the progressive liberalization of the academic world has translated into a general deterioration of working conditions for people working at all levels in universities, with an inevitable effect on the quality of what has turned into a real training and research marketplace. Among the most significant mutations that have marked the academic world is the exasperated growth of competitiveness, accompanied by the ever increasing and prolonged uncertainty of embarking on a scientific career, which is becoming more fragmented and focused on the short term. These processes only intensify the application of evaluation criteria that are based on efficiency, pushing researchers, especially those not in stable positions (or tenure tracks), to always produce more, applying ever higher international standards, and ever more fastly. Moreover, this happens in a professional context in which the pressure to increase productivity erodes the time and space boundaries that delimit the working times. Furthermore, these are phenomena characterised – we could say on a global scale – by notable differences,  in terms of gender and age, not to mention social class.

In this session we solicit ethnographic and qualitative contributions, including comparative ones, that examine the changes taking place in the academic world, either with respect to social, economic, legal or political contexts, or to organizational changes and to the current state of scientific careers both in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and in SSH (Social Sciences and Humanities). We accept contributions both in Italian and in English.

Young people practicing everyday multiculturalism: An ethnographic look

Convenor: Enzo Colombo (University of Milano)

This section welcomes theoretically informed and ethnographically grounded papers on young people’s practical uses of cultural difference. We are interested in empirical analysis focusing on institutional and urban situations in which young adults use cultural difference as a rhetorical tool for producing meanings, regulating relations, and defining criteria for inclusion, exclusion and recognition. We invite papers that explore young people’s quotidian experiences of cultural difference and diversity, presenting grounded research on the topic of multiculturalism which analyse the ways in which people experience and (dis)engage with cultural difference.

We welcome papers that examine situations of everyday, mundane, multiculturalism, in which at least one of the actors involved use cultural difference as a political tool and as a rhetorical strategy for either claiming recognition, respect, inclusion, and producing solidarity ties or for drawing boundaries that establish specific social hierarchies, produce exclusion, selective accessibility, and protection of privileges. We are interested in papers that explore the intersections and relationships between cultural  groups, rather than research taking a single ethnic group as a focus.

This session also aims to focus on ethnographic analysis of racialization processes and anti-racist actions; that is, situations in which ‘race’ (as well as other categories that are reified through naturalizing practices and discourses) is constructed and/or de-constructed in order to discipline interactions, define subjects status, and regulate access to scarce resources.

Papers can also examine:

  • young people’s modes of living with and across difference in cities, at school, at work, in public spaces, doing shopping, playing sport, enjoying free time, etc.
  • intersection between generation identification, gender, class, religion and any other social categorization used to draw boundaries between “Us” and “Them”
  • multicultural place-sharing and battles over place identity and belonging
  • interconnections between young people practices and attitudes and larger discourses of multiculturalism and national belonging

We invite papers that engage critically with the methodological and theoretical challenges of undertaking ethnographic research on urban spaces, changing citizenship and personal belonging, including but not limited to question such as the positionality of the researcher in multicultural contexts.

Both Italian and English papers and presentations will be accepted.

Ethnography of predatory and mafia practices

Convenors: Marco De Biase (Université Libre de Bruxelles) & Lucio Castracani (Université de Montreal)

pescatori_Session DeBiase

Violence, illegality and predatory practices have played a fundamental role in the processes of wealth accumulation and in the development of social elites (Marx 1872; Wallerstein 1978; Braudel 1979). Today, these particular economic practices of capital accumulation have found a new strength and have spread within the increasing relationships between legal/illegal and formal/informal dynamics, characterizing capitalist market economy (Harvey 2005). The most of scientific literature concerning this kind of economic practices has frequently linked these mechanisms of predation to the role of mafia or criminals organizations. These studies did not allow to understand a wide range of economic practices of wealth accumulation, the fragmentation and violence of some paths of social mobility, proposing to analyse these practices as the result of mafia activities that bypass the normal functioning of the capitalist market (De Biase 2015 Allum 2014; Santino 1994; 2007; Braudel, 1988).

Indeed, these activities have many similarities to a series of economic dynamics commonly described as mafia practices, but they are rarely analysed as endogenous forms to capitalist mechanisms of wealth accumulation (Sanfilippo and Palidda 2012; Santino 1994; 2006; Vercellone and Lebert 2001; Briquet and Favarel-Garrigues 2008). The aim of this panel is to investigate different economic activities and entrepreneurial careers that base their success and social mobility on the use of violent methods of accumulation and specific strategies of social relations. For this reason, we will address to rethinking the affirmation of predatory practices in the contemporary processes of accumulation, in the extraction of value from workforce, in the monopolization of new markets and in the regulation of competitive relationships. Our objective is to study, trough an ethnographic approach, different economic sectors in order to identify the main factors that ensure entrepreneurial success on the capitalist economic market.

More specifically, we are looking for original ethnographic contributions which explore the role of predatory practices in the processes of capital accumulation, privileging – to some extent – the studies regarding the food chain (from production to distribution and consumption). We maintain, indeed, that the food chain – which has always been marked by the use of violent practices to manage and discipline the workforce, to monopolize economic market and to control commercial trading – represents one of the core sector to understand contemporary world (Moulier-Boutang 1998 Mezzadra 2006).


Boutang, Y. M. 1998, De l’esclavage au salariat: économie historique du salariat bridé, Paris, Presses universitaires de France.

Braudel, F., 1979, Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, Xv°-XVIII° siècle, 3 tomes, Paris, Armand Colin.

Braudel, F., 1988, La dynamique du capitalisme, Paris, Flammarion.

Briquet. J. L., Favarel-Garrigues, G., (ed.), 2008, Milieux criminels et pouvoir politique: Les ressorts illicites de l’État, Paris, Khartala.

De Biase, M. 2014, “Mafia Practices and Italian Entrepreneurial Activities in the Belgian Food Sector. Research Objectivies”, « The European Review of Organised Crime », 1(2), pp. 81-96.

Harvey, D., 2005, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Marx, K., 1872, Capital. Traduction par Joseph Roy, Paris, Maurice Lechatre.

Mezzadra, S. 2006, Diritto di fuga: migrazioni, cittadinanza, globalizzazione, Verona, Ombre corte.

Sanfilippo, M., Palidda, S., (ed.), 2012, “Emigrazione e organizzazioni criminali”, « Asei Archivio storico dell’emigrazione italiana », 8(12).

Santino, U., 1994, La mafia come soggetto politico, Palermo, Centro Siciliano di Documentazione “Giuseppe Impastato”.

Vercellone, C., Lebert, D., 2001, “La mafia comme expression endogène de l’accumulation du capital”, « Cahiers de Maison des Sciences économiques », 58, pp. 1-36.

Wallerstein, I., 1984, The politics of the world-economy: The states, the movements and the civilizations, Cambridge MA, Cambridge University Press.

Submerged Conflicts. Ethnography of the invisible resistances in the quotidian

Convenor: Pietro Saitta (University of Messina)

pinelli_Session Saitta

Since its appearance in the pioneering pages of Hobsbawm, the concept of resistance is understood as ambivalent, elusive and controversial – more an expression of the “desire” of researchers than a category to grasp the meanings given by social actors for their actions.

In spite of these limits, real or supposed, resulting perhaps more from abuses than from any ontological quality of the category itself, studies on resistance have shed light on the invisible forms of conflict present in societies and environments considered stable and crystallized in the relational asymmetries that have structured them. Country, factory, family, public space and art worlds constitute only some of the spheres explored by social sciences through the lenses provided by the notion of resistance. In particular, such studies have shown that conflict can take forms that are very different from others, explicit and visible, that are typical of more conventional ways of presence in the public sphere. Sabotage, theft, lies, dissimulations, non-cooperative behavior, «production games», the refusal of doing domestic chores or having sexual intercourse, are behaviors that have resulted in private or pathological meanings, but projected also possibilities of an “everyday politics” whose objectives can be elevated and resemble those pursued by mass movements.

If the terrain of studies on resistance was composed of past societies, structures and epochs in Europe, the United States or the colonies, they have shed light also on communities and practices of the present. Above all, they have contributed to viewing the «retro-action» that moves from Europe to the colonies, and from there returns to the homeland, showing the experimental character of the overseas dominions and the overlapping of historical temporalities, the economic geographies as well as the dynamics that occur «there» and «here», simultaneously or in a time lapse. In more blunt terms, studies on resistance show that there are communalities between the European rural past, the colonial «third space» and the «western» present, in spite of clear differences in matters of technology, politics and organization that distinguish these environments. The growing inequalities and asymmetries in the fields of economics and labor, the appearing indifference of extended social components toward political mobilization, the privatization and expropriation of public space by different powers, the violence of social control and, in general, the contemporary forms of «endocolonialism» suggest that the concept of resistance and studies of the invisible forms of conflict in the quotidian still have much to say about the present.

The present call for papers solicits either ethnographic or qualitative contributions that deal with the theme of invisible resistances in the realms of everyday life, labor and public space, and that show how politics and struggles move to private and quotidian plans, often illegal, which parallel the more conventional forms of collective action. Methodological contributions, based both on primary research accounts and secondary ethnographical and historical data that reflect on the problems of the recognition of resistances and the politics of writing, are also encouraged. 

Proposals written in Italian, English and French will be accepted; but the discussion should be preferably in English. Authors interested in this initiative should submit an abstract (700 words) to: