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SEG-SSE-SAA Annual Meeting 2018: Knowledge (Trans) Formations in Anthropology

Zürich, 22-23 November 2018

Annual Meeting of the Swiss Anthropological Association

Panel 6: Making Urban Knowledge – Ethnography, Intersubjectivity and Engagement

Convenors: Silke Oldenburg, Barbara Heer, University of Basel

Robert Park’s seminal essay on “The City” (1915) promised in its subtitle “Suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the city environment”. Quite common to the Chicago School of Sociology was the impetus to not only describe urban lifeworlds, but also to raise issues for public engagement.Today, a century later and for the first time in history, most than half of the world’s population live in cities and urban anthropology has developed into a sprawling field. The emergence, the “turns” and the growth of urban anthropology, not least related to these broader demographic and societal changes, entails research on the myriad of social phenomena in the city as well as thorough reflections on the implications of the urban context in which these phenomena occur. Providing a window on complex processes of urbanization (structural development of a city) as well as changing modes of urbanity (the lived experience of a city), recent studies focus on built forms and social relations, urban imaginaries and shifting power relations in the city, in their entanglements and disconnections in a global world. This raises new epistemological questions which, as we argue, should become more systematically included into the urban research agendas. Therefore, our panel aims to investigate issues and dimensions of knowledge production in and on urban contexts, in and beyond academia. Combining conceptual, empirical and ‘engaged’ takes on knowledge production, we intend to explore the social complexity of cities in particular contexts while including a reflexive perspective on the mechanisms of ‘making’ urban knowledge.The epistemological question of how (urban) knowledge is generated is entangled with and stimulated by interdisciplinary approaches such as Urban Studies or Urban Geography. While the latter were for a long time predominantly engaged in research on the Global North (Europe and North America), anthropologists had much earlier started to focus on researching cities in Africa, Asia or Latin America. In general, doing research on and in cities is inseparably linked to sociopolitical forces and practices. Hence, processes of making urban knowledge have many repercussions for learning and thinking about cities and wider engaged practice. We therefore welcome papers which are empirically grounded in ethnographic fieldwork and deal with epistemological challenges on doing research in the city and the kinds of knowledge that are generated.

  1. On an empirical level, is there a rural-urban divide in ethnographic fieldwork and knowledge production? Are there distinct urban forms of knowledge or a particular ‘interdependence of minds, bodies and environments’ (Marchand 2010) while researching the urban? How do we recognize, research and make meaning of intersubjective moments of encounter among urbanites or between them and the urban built environment? How can we access urban practices lived by others? What does this imply for approaching the urban through ethnography?
  2. On a conceptual level, how can we study embodied ‘local’ knowledge in the urban sphere? How can we as anthropologists relate to urban practices and their embodied forms of articulation or to what extent does the urban social structure shape urban practices or is shaped by it? How do we actually generate anthropological knowledge in and on cities? Which approaches are apt to decipher and interpret knowledge?
  3. On a political level: We would also like to raise questions of engagement and ethics, based on an imagination of the urban “as a complex terrain of politics situated within and between the multiple worlds of research and activism” (Oldfield 2014: 2077). When assuming that knowledge is about power (Foucault 1976), the city can be understood as a social field where different forms of urban knowledges, ranging from spatial specialists like urban planners and architects to politicians, grassroots urban movements and ordinary urban dwellers, compete with each other. How does knowledge produced by urban anthropologists interfere in such urban politics?

Submission Deadline is 31 July 2018.

Further information: Call Knowledge (Trans) Formations in Anthropology