The Politics of Ethnography:
Emergence, Time and Value
in Ethnographic Knowledge


Professor George Marcus
Department of Anthropology

Professor Bill Maurer
Department of Anthropology

Course archive

Winter Schedule: scroll down

For over thirty years, anthropology has been querying its signal method and mode of knowledge-production: ethnography. While it has been doing so, ethnography as tool and metaphor has migrated into other fields in the humanities and sciences. Through an examination of canonical and experimental ethnographic texts, as well as recent considerations of the production of knowledge that move beyond the reflexive critique of the 1980s, this course explores the manner in which cultural inquiry is bound up with the techne of representation: the techniques of abstraction and adequation that provide epistemological warrants for knowledge claims about the social.

Moving beyond the "Writing Culture" moment, which foregrounded the narrative techniques of ethnographic representation, the course considers particular formal elements of ethnographic knowledge, as well as the notions of the ethnographic record and the archive subtending claims about "culture" and "society." It will focus on the techniques of analytical abstraction implicit in anthropology's empiricist modes, the uncritical adoption of those techniques of abstraction as ethnography traveled to other fields, as well as recent moves toward a non-empiricist and "non-representational" critique. What comes "after" the critique of representation? What temporalities are in play in both the formation of ethnographic representation and those forms of ethnographic discourse that "follow" it?

To address these questions, the course will attend to the interchanges among exchange, value, meaning and ethics that have animated recent re-evaluations of the ethnographic project. It will explore analytical moves around emergence, hope, complicity, perspectivalism, acceleration, and laterality that seek to shift the ground not only of ethnographic realism but forms of inquiry warranted by the empirical gesture more broadly conceived.

This year-long course is one of the requirements for the Critical Theory Emphasis, but it is open to all graduate students. The workshop is structured as a reading group to allow for full student/faculty interaction. There will be no term papers and no letter grades (except for an S or a U). Students will receive four units of credit for this course in the last (that is, the Spring) quarter. Meetings will take place throughout the year, with approximately 5 meetings per quarter. Because it is structured as a reading group and depends on active participation by students as well as faculty, the work and direction of the workshop will necessarily reflect the interests of its members.


Winter Schedule


1/23 Form and Knowledge

Marilyn Strathern, Partial Connections
Marilyn Strathern, Commons & Borderlands
Hirokazu Miyazaki, The Method of Hope
Annelise Riles, "Real Time: Unwinding Technocratic and Anthropological Knowledge," American Ethnologist 31(3)


2/27 Complexity and Ethics

Michael M.J. Fischer, Introduction, Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice
Global Assemblages, both introductions (revisit them)
Nigel Thrift, Knowing Capitalism, introduction, and chapter on complexity


3/13 Theory and Movement

Dominic Boyer, Spirit and System
Julie Taylor, Paper Tangos