Reflection on Research Experiences among “Unmarked” Groups

Ethnographies of Inverted Fieldworks

Convenors: Yolinliztli Pérez Hernández (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales; Institut National d’Études Démographiques) & Paulina Sabugal Paz (University of Pisa; University of Roma Tre)
Contacts: yolinliztli.perez@ehess.fr, pau.sabugal@gmail.com.

Ethnography has been historically linked with the colonial relationship between Europe and their ex-colonies and with other asymmetries. For social anthropology, for example, fieldwork has consisted for a long time in the study of “exotic cultures” in non-European societies, and for sociology in the research of “marginal groups” in modern societies. Fieldwork research has an a priori: the researcher or participant observer belongs to a “we” group (civilized and Westerns) and the informant or participant observed, belongs to a “they” group (primitive and non-Western). This tendency is today mainly maintained. Researches about “unmarked” groups (white, wealthy and heterosexual people, for example) are scarce. Although the “unmarked” comprises the vast majority of social life, the “marked” commands a disproportionate share of attention from social scientists currently doing ethnography studies. Regretfully, researches subverting these historical hierarchical relationships are still rare. Several methodological obstacles (How to get access to people in order to study them? Who gives access and on what terms? Who can and who does study whom? And, under what conditions and for which objectives who studies who?) and epistemological consequences (since the marked already draws more attention within the global culture, social scientists contribute to re-mark marked groups, and to reproduce common-sense images of the social reality) are associated with this marginality.

Furthermore, not only those kind of studies are little common, but also personal reflections on research experiences. This panel aims at fulfilling this theoretical vacuum by gathering researchers working on “inverted” fieldworks. It invites social scientists conducting ethnographic fieldwork about “unmarked” groups to send a proposal. Theoretical and methodological reflections are welcomed as well as reflections on how asymmetrical relationships play in fieldwork relationships (reflexivity).

Proposals are welcome from different research fields such as anthropology, sociology, history, Latin-American studies, political studies.

Papers are invited on topics related, but not limited, to:

- Methodological, theoretical, and practical (access to fieldwork) challenges that researchers face when they study “unmarked” groups;

- How fieldwork experiences contribute to thinking epistemological conditions of the production of knowledge;

- Significant elements for the researcher’s identity to defined respectability: mainstream social values, race, gender, social interests;

- How a phenomenon becomes an ethnographically studiedly and legitimately subject of research;

- Under what historical, social and cultural conditions a social segment deserve ethnographic research;

- How methods can be used not only to debunk hierarchical research relationships but also to produce new scientific insights with greater validity.

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