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NAPA @ AAA: NAPA Invited Session

Business Encounters: Fieldwork Conversations Fri 11/19, 1:45-5:30 pm

Balcony N, Fourth Floor, Marriott

This session aims to bring together a broad range of academic and industry professionals to engage in a discussion of what, if anything, makes anthropology special when it comes to fieldwork. There has been much talk over several decades of the role of fieldwork in anthropological knowledge. Should it be long- or short-term, single- or multi-sited, frame- or network-based? No single, satisfactory answer to such questions has been forthcoming because much depends on different kinds of financial, organizational and institutional constraints. At the same time, fieldwork has been taken up as a methodology by other academic disciplines, as well as by those working in advertising, marketing, consultancy, and related business practices. Some professionals – like journalists, psychologists, and police detectives – practice what amounts to a form of fieldwork during the course of their everyday working lives. As a result, some anthropologists feel that, whereas once they could swim freely in a comfortable flow of ideas and practices, now they are drowning in a whirlpool of confusion. This year’s AAA Annual Meeting theme is appropriately about circulation. Flow works as an organizing trope for our questions, methodologies, analyses and accounts of fieldwork encounters. The idea of flow invites us to consider and converse on what triggers, facilitates, constrains, disrupts or stops flows in our fieldwork; what is at stake in these processes, and for whom; and what their consequences might be for the people involved, as well as for organizations. When, as ethnographers, can we go with the flow, allowing informants to guide the course taken by our fieldwork? When do we find ourselves swimming against the tide, and what should we do then? What are the dams to discovery and knowledge put up by business organizations, and are these dams any different from those built by – say – rural villagers in their attempts to keep the stream of modernization at bay? This double panel is based on short presentations by, and conversations between, anthropologists and their professional partners in the field. It has two aims. The first is to hear accounts of ways in which business organizations are being studied and written about by anthropologists; the second to hear how business practitioners themselves think about what they are doing, and how anthropologists study them. Ultimately, it asks whether the practices of a journalist, detective, advertising agent, documentary film producer or Wall Street financier are any different from those of an anthropologist fieldworker? Where do these professional streams merge, and where do they part? The panel is designed to be interactive. Plenty of time has been put aside for audience participation in these business encounters and fieldwork conversations.

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