We are the new ethnographers.
Some of our supervisors have warned us against embarking on this project (“it could damage your career”). Many of us are in our late 20s and early 30s. Most of us are juggling complex family demands and pressures at home and in the field. All of us are facing the looming job market with anxiety and unease.
A remarkable proportion of us are women.
We are the new ethnographers. All of the contributors to this blog are by anthropologists in the midst of, or who have recently completed fieldwork. All of us have navigated complex, challenging encounters in the process. Crucially, few of us have received adequate support, guidance or solidarity from supervisors or institutions.
We did not embark on fieldwork without some trepidation, and in some cases the process of conducting risk assessments and ethics clearance creates enough space to think through what the challenges of fieldwork might entail. Indeed, junior scholars often seek out controversial, proverbially unchartered territories for their doctoral fieldwork, aware of the ever-shrinking job market and the need to have a topic that stands out from the crowd. But in our experience, and indeed as evidence suggests (see Pollard 2009), University risk assessments and ethics procedures are often seen by both doctoral students and their supervisors as hoops to jump through rather than meaningful exercises. ‘It’s always tricky to get ethnographic fieldwork signed off – only tell them the minimum of what they need to go. You don’t want them to stop you from doing it’. Words to that effect are words that many of us, at the end of our first years on doctoral programmes, were told. Furthermore, we are asked to rely on meaningless data far removed from our projects before we leave for the field, such as our national Foreign Office reports or news briefings that often do not reflect the real political situations on the ground .
Our point of departure here is to ask why it is that academic institutions are seemingly so unwilling to engage with these challenges critically, supportively, constructively – frankly, unwilling to engage at all. We are among many of our peers whose challenges have been met with a quite literal silence from our institutions. We find support and solidarity among our friends and peers, in the field and at home, none of whom are ‘qualified’ to really help us navigate these issues with the weight of the academy in mind. Nor is it their job to do so. Often supervisors are instructed to direct any “emotional” or “health related” concerns to university counselling staff or healthcare professions, to protect themselves for legal reasons.
The response to The New Ethnographer has been overwhelming. Across continents junior (and not so junior) anthropologists have responded to our initial call for contributions saying how needed a space like this is in the field.
Moving forward, this blog will be posting new contributions each week. Some will be anonymous, others not. The New Ethnographer will be hosting panels and lab events at two major Anthropology conferences later in 2018. We’ll be at the EASA in Stockholm in August, where we plan to collaboratively develop new codes of practice to be shared with professional associations and institutions. We’ll be at the ASA in September in Oxford, where we are looking forward to teaming up with colleagues from Australia and New Zealand leading the #MeTooAnthro movement and discussing safer practices and spaces in our field sites and our institutions.
It’s time to turn the thoughts that so many of us have when conducting fieldwork into action. We hope you will join us in developing this lively community of mutually supportive, new ethnographers. As the graffiti in the photo spells out, Time Waits for Nobody.