Intimacies, Knowledges and Ethnography

Ethnografeast IV: Young Scholars Workshop



June 24-27, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Ethnografeast IV brings together anthropologists and sociologists working on the nexus of intimacies, knowledges, and ethnography. Ethnographies of intimacies and knowledges are of particular interest in light of the frequently voiced concerns about individualization, diversity of religion and ethnicity, and the erosion of intimate communities. Particularly Amitai Etzioni’s (1993) view on communitarian policy has had major impact on the political agenda, for example former presidents Blair, Clinton, while in the Netherlands Etzioni is dubbed ‘the Balkenende whisperer’. Etzioni, but also Putnam’s seminal account of the erosion of social capital in the US (Putnam 2000) inspires nation states to develop policies to revitalize communities, build trust, and bring back the good old days of shared norms and values. Such policies, combined with neoliberal ideology, have their own epistemology of intimate relations, particularly community relations. 

What do ethnographic accounts reveal about the nation-state and intimacy and what is its current theoretical contribution? Herzfeld’s concept of cultural intimacy (2004) opens up new avenues for exploring the construction of identity in the context of the nation state. Based on ethnographic research he argues that embarrassment and an uncomfortable self-recognition are the key markers to cultural intimacy. How has the lexicon that Herzfeld developed, particularly cultural intimacy, social poetics, and structural nostalgia, inspired recent ethnographic research? How does Herzfeld’s lexicon on intimacy relate to Giddens (1992) ‘The Transformation of Intimacy’? Giddens (1992) has a fairly optimistic view on intimacy when he argues that ‘Intimacy implies a wholesale democratization of the interpersonal domain, in a manner fully compatible with democracy in the public sphere’ (Giddens 1992,3). Intimacy is increasingly about trust between people and the sharing of emotions, less about regulation by law and social expectations. How has Gidden’s terminology (1992), of ‘pure relationship’, ‘fixated relationship’, and ‘plastic sexuality’ informed ethnographic accounts of intimacy and modernity? Also Beck’s (1992) argument about the reconfiguration of intimacies and
belonging in the risk society, as well as Scheff’s (1994) work on emotions are sources of inspiration. 

Scholars in The Netherlands, mostly at the University of Amsterdam, have been mostly inspired by Elias’ psycho-and sociogenesis (Elias 1939, but also Elias and Scotson 1965), which has led to lively debates among anthropologists and sociologists about intimacy in the light of grand social transformation. 

What are the anthropological and sociological disputes that arise when the interdependencies of global or national transformations with the microsociological intimacy are examined? Which insights does ethnography generate on the relationship between intimacy and often abstract notions of the nation state, modernity, globalisation, and neoliberalism? One of the strengths of ethnography, in contrast to the majority of other social scientific forms of enquiry, is that it works through and gives access to spheres of intimacy. But intimacies change. Some well established spheres of intimacy may be losing their importance (the neighbourhood, the extended family), some are changing (the nuclear family, the couple, pastoral and medical care, welfare), while new social spheres generate new forms of intimacy, weblogs, internet, mobile phones). Even more, intimacies change because of their contrast with changing conceptions of distance (through migration and global communication, changing forms of statistical surveyance, different partnership arrangements, to mention just a few).

What challenges does this pose to the empirical and theoretical foundations of ethnography? How does ethnographic enquiry help us to gain insight into the future of intimacy? 

If we agree that ethnography’s strengths lie in the interfaces of values systems and practices,
in the observation of material bodies as much as their transformation by immaterial knowledge, and in the capacity to relate the different scales on which people and things act on each other, the following themes suggest themselves: 

1. The intimate interfaces of global, national and local scales. How have global trade, the nation state, colonialism and development all work(ed) to introduce new habits and knowledge of translocal and global connections into the most intimate spheres of human life?

2. The changing interface of body, knowledge and technology. What insights have ethnographies generated with regards to embodiment, knowledge, and technology? This includes the embodiment of knowledge, the changing public sphere under the influence of digital technology; intimacies of disembodiment such as the internet, as well as sexual and medical regimes, especially as mediated by technology.

3. The shifting sites of emotion. Why do we witness the increasingly public nature of Romantic love, happiness, and fear, as well as individualism, freedom and the commodification of emotions? 

The first edition of Ethnografeast was held in 2002 at the University of California, Berkeley. i
ts purpose was 'to take stock of the past achievements, to reflect on the contemporary practice, and to sketch out the promise of ethnography as a distinctive mode of inquiry and form of public consciousness'. Its spirit was to foster a dialogue across three divides: 

1) the split between national traditions,

2) the separation of sociology and anthropology, that is, the two major disciplines historically tied to the creation and to the definition of ethnography's standards, and

3) the diversity of styles of ethnographic work. 

Since then, the continued expansion and proliferation of ethnographic methods into other disciplines, from literature to political science to business, has made reflecting on current ethnographic approaches by the founding disciplines of ethnography all the more critical. As a result, in 2004 at the École Normale Supérieure, Paris, Ethnografeast II focused on 'The Making of Ethnography' in its different stages of production. Ethnografeast III, held in 2006 at the Centro de Estudos de Antropologia Social, Portugal, was entitled ‘Ethnography and the Public Sphere'. It deepened and extended the wide-open discussions launched at the previous two meetings. It brought together a new group of field-based scholars to address the relationship between ethnography and the public sphere. 

The project of Ethnografeast IV stems from the discussions held in the previous M
eetings and aims at promoting their further development by bringing together a new group of scholars and by centering them on the nexus of ethnography, intimacies, and knowledges. The organizing committee is particularly keen on stimulating an engaged and lively debate across the disciplines of anthropology and sociology as well as across diverging (national) ethnographic traditions and epistemologies.

Participation and important dates 
If you are interested in participating submit an abstract of the paper that you would wish to present and state the relevance for the theme of Ethnografeast IV Intimacies and Knowledges. E-mail this to Erik Bähre:

Based on the abstracts, the organizing committee will invite fifteen PhD students and PostDoc researchers to present their paper on the 24th of June 2009 and discuss them with internationally renowned scholars. In order for the discussants and other participants to prepare, your paper must be submitted in advance of the conference. You will also be invited to take part in the rest of the event. 

15th of March 2009: deadline for submission of abstract to

1st of April 2009: the organizing committee will select 15 PhD students and young scholars and invite them to present their work.

1st of June 2009: deadline submission of your paper to

24th of June 2009: Ethnografeast IV: presentation young scholars workshop

25th-27th of June 2009: Ethnografeast IV: Intimacies and Knowledges