As places where residents and researchers practice and contest divides between local and global, cities challenge anthropologists to conceptualize their field sites across cultural boundaries. Philippe Bourgois recently commented that, as anthropologists, “we often purposefully violate de facto apartheid divisions of social class, ethnicity, and normativity that structure many, if not all, social formations” (Bourgois 2011). Henri Lefebvre's seminal work on The Production of Space (1991) proposed three types of space: the perceived, the conceived, and the lived. The three do not exist separately, but get produced simultaneously through the varying practices of city experts and residents. Urban ethnographers travel across these spaces, creating what Michel de Certeau (1984) called a “space of enunciation” through our movements as boundary crossers. How does the diversity of urban space aid or hinder ethnographic fieldwork? Through our fieldwork practice, how do we reproduce or destabilize the way our informants experience urban space?
Building on the Center for Ethnography’s inquiries into new forms of knowledge in ethnographic practice, this series imagines the urban field as an experimental space that collapses the distance between theory and practice. It considers the “city as laboratory,” reflecting on experimental methods through a panel discussion at the Center for Ethnography at UC Irvine and a workshop on urban ethnographic fieldwork at an open street event in Los Angeles, followed by a final session reviewing the two events. Series participants will investigate the relationship between fieldwork methods and the production of expert knowledge in anthropology, leaving the meaning of “experiment” open in order to produce new questions.
Call for Presentations on Experiments in Urban Fieldwork (April 9)
Transitioning from the pedagogical world of graduate school to working in the field, fledgling anthropologists inhabit a conceptual space “somewhat betwixt and between fieldwork as a method and experience” (Marcus 1992). Upon arriving in the field, the anthropology student invariably finds herself experimenting in various ways. Because the anthropological canon focuses on research methods for rural field sites, when the field becomes the city these opportunities for experimentation are expanded. This panel will create a discursive space where PhD candidates can reflect on their recent experiments in fieldwork, providing a comparative framework for the field experiment that follows. **Students who have returned from dissertation research who would like to give short (15 minutes) presentations about their experiments with urban fieldwork methods, followed by commentary from project advisers, should send an abstract of up to 150 words to Adonia (email@example.com) by March 9.**
City as Laboratory Field Experiment at CicLAvia (April 15)
Building on the insights of the April 9 panel, participants will engage in a new field experiment. On Sunday, April 15, we will attend CicLAvia, a bicycling and pedestrian event that connects historically divided neighborhoods in central Los Angeles through street closures. This event was co-founded by Adonia Lugo during her dissertation fieldwork. Making use of the closed streets and crowds of people on bikes and on foot, participants will record and make observations about sound, visual, and social elements. There will be collaboration beforehand to determine what kinds of data will be collected. Contact Adonia if you want to participate.
City as Laboratory Debrief at the Center for Ethnography (April 23)
Back on campus, participants in the April 15 workshop will share their field notes and data and reflect on CicLAvia. Did the pressure points for the field experiment differ from those discussed at the April 9 panel? Does the distance between the university and the field constitute the space between everyday life and expert knowledge? All data and proceedings will be posted online.