Back to All Events

Panel Discussion: Commoning Ethnography (Anthropology in Aotearoa, 50 Years of Anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington)

11am – 1pm, Hunter Council Chamber
Chair: Dr. Eli Elinoff

Contemporary ethnographic practices (and the political economies that drive them), raise important questions about the centres and peripheries of knowledge production and consumption. The most fundamental of these questions relates to who gets to be part of our disciplinary conversations and who is excluded. Following recent calls from within and beyond the academy to build a ‘knowledge commons’, this panel explores how the figure of the commons and practices of commoning might recraft ethnographic research for the 21st century. We ask: What might an ethnographic commons look like? What would it do? How might commoning reconfigure relationships between researchers and participants? What kinds of technologies, methods, and media might broaden the reach of our work and recompose our praxis? We invite contributors to this panel to critically consider new ways of opening up ethnography to diverse models of commoning. How can an ethnography of/for the commons engage diverse audiences, produce new modes of communication and research dissemination, reshape research relationships, and challenge the philosophical underpinnings of our discipline?

Dr. Eli Elinoff, Victoria University of Wellington
Towards an Ethnography Commons

Scholars of capitalism have noted that private property not only restructures relations with physical space and material things, but also produces new forms of social relations. Building on this insight, I explore the ways in which the boundaries of property shape our approaches to ethnographic research, writing, and teaching. I ask how challenging these boundaries with an Ethnography Commons might reconfigure both knowledge production and academic praxis for the 21st century.

Dr. Catherine Trundle, Victoria University of Wellington
Feminist Critiques and Alternative Commons

In this talk I will ask what feminist critiques of commoning projects offer our discussion of building an ethnographic commons. Examining feminist debates around the politics of care work and the body as property, as well as feminist praxis regarding collaboration, sharing and the boundaries and nature of economic life, I will argue that a feminist approach to the commons spotlights the potential inequalities and exclusions of commoning projects. Seeking metaphors for the commons in marginal spaces and outside of the polis or the public sphere, feminist critiques allows us to unsettle many assumptions about how we might constitute a shared ethnographic project.

Associate Professor Ruth Fitzgerald, University of Otago.
How might commoning serve as a new pedagogical grounds for training ethnographers?

My answer draws upon seven years of developing the OtagoANTH youtube channel. This is a collaborative public enterprise exploring representations of Dunedin societies and cultures. It is also a vehicle for teaching about the ethics and politics of representation to second year anthropology majors. The presentation of our findings through the youtube commons and via the medium of individually crafted vlogs, allows students opportunities to explore sensuous scholarships while learning how to create citizen ethnographies. These skills have then become useful to their own life projects.

Dr. Dave Wilson, New Zealand School of Music, Victoria University of Wellington
The Sound of Ethnography to Come

Grounded in ethnography since the 1950s, ethnomusicology has consistently engaged in and grappled with multiple modes of knowledge production beyond the ethnographic monograph. In many cases ethnomusicologists and interlocutors participate in collaborative production of sound recordings that often enter markets as commodities in some form. I address this provocation by considering my own multi-modal ethnographic research among musicians in Macedonia and examining (1) ethnomusicological discourses of how knowledge is co-produced and/or communicated through sound, (2) varied conceptions of ownership and intellectual property across music cultures, and (3) disparate regimes of value and uneven positionality among collaborators vis-à-vis ethnographic sonic texts.

Professor Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich, Victoria University of Wellington
Commoning Data Creation

Ethnographic writing workshops are normally held to help colleagues overcome writer's block or to help postgraduate students find their ethnographic voice. This paper considers auto-ethnographic writing workshops as a mode of commoning data production and a means of redistributing ethnographic authority. Ethnographic writing workshops offer alternative modes of self-interrogation that enable participants to co-create data, contributing their voices to a common pool that explores topics of shared interest aligned with the researcher and his or her team of participating experts. Using the example of auto-ethnographic writing workshops on experiences of academic mobility, I will introduce the method as a rich alternative to interviews or free flowing conversations.

Professor Cris Shore, University of Auckland
Academic Capitalism, Anthropology and the Tragedy of the Knowledge Commons

The history of social anthropology is intimately connected to that of the university, an institution with a primarily social mission geared to public good research and teaching. Today, however, a new kind of university is emerging, one based around the imperatives of the competitive global knowledge economy and increasingly geared towards innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialisation. The public university, it seems, is being restructured to resemble a transnational business corporation. Tertiary education has been reconceptualised as a private, personal investment in one’s individual career. This provocation will examine how these new institutional constraints are impacting on the production of knowledge and on notions of ownership in the contemporary university.

Dr. Ruth Gibbons, Massey University
Creative Practice: Challenging Perceptions

Ong suggested that “Print is curiously intolerant of physical incompleteness. It can convey the impression, unintentionally and subtly, but very really that what the material in the text deals with is similarly complete or self-consistent” (2013:130). This perception of completeness is one of the points of challenge within the debates around creative practices as more alternative practices have been criticised as incomplete leaving the work open to interpretation (Cox and Wright 2012). Using my own creative practice I suggest the questions of what makes something complete or accessible is key to challenging the stature of the word in academia.

Dr. Tuhina Ganguly, University of Canterbury
The Challenges and Possibilities of Commoning Anthropology in India

This paper examines the implications of growing anti-intellectualism in India for anthropology. How can anthropologists in/of/working on India respond to the challenges of addressing popular opinions which are decidedly against critical academic analyses? ‘Who is our rightful audience’ and ‘who are we writing for’, are pertinent questions in the present context, given young, urban, middle-class Indians are some of the strongest proponents of anti-intellectual nationalism. A middle-class urban audience is influencing who has the privilege to articulate critical opinions, which topics of research are acceptable, and what kinds of knowledge production and dissemination are taboo. The language of anthropological work needs to be more mindful of its readership and the audiences’ contestation of academic authority.

Dr. Caroline Bennett, Victoria University of Wellington
A ‘Sweaty’ Praxis?

In Wilful Subjects, Sara Ahmed urges anthropologists to develop ‘sweaty concepts’ – concepts that embrace and describe bodies that are not at home in the world; that interact with the bodily discomfort of lived experience. Brexit, the US presidential elections, the pending elections in France, humanitarian catastrophes in the Middle East, deepening authoritarianism in Southeast Asia, rising fundamentalism in South Asia, and persistent low-level warfare around the globe emphasize the deeply contested nature of our geopolitical moment. In this context, ethnography becomes critical potentially joining movements, opening new spaces, and imagining shared communities and futures. If in ethnographic practice we create the worlds we communicate within, then to address the precarity of contemporary time, it is time to get sweaty. In this provocation, I want to argue that commoning is not only about new infrastructures of knowledge creation and distribution, but that it also is an imperative for an anthropological praxis that moves away from conservative encounters with knowledge, to sweaty knowledge that challenges our own comfort, incorporates dissident voices, dislocates authorial authority, and opens spaces for new knowledge to travel out of our control and into the world at large.