Ethnography in the Way of Theory

Inline_then_hillside

Article Abstract

In this article, I return to my engagements with people in the field not only to address the specific circumstances and trajectories I encountered there, but to make a case for allowing our engagement with Others to determine the course of our thinking about them and to reflect more broadly upon the agonistic and reflexive relations between anthropology and philosophy. I do so in order to suggest that through ethnographic rendering, people’s own theorizing of their conditions may leak into, animate, and challenge present-day regimes of veridiction, including philosophical universals and anthropological subjugation to philosophy. I am interested in how ethnographic realities find their way into theoretical work. Using the mutual influence between Pierre Clastres and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari as a case study, I argue against reducing ethnography to proto-philosophy. The relationship, in fact, may be more productively seen as one of creative tension and cross-pollination. This sense of ethnography in the way of (instead of to) theory—like art—aims at keeping interrelatedness, precariousness, curiosity, and unfinishedness in focus. In resisting synthetic ends and making openings rather than truths, ethnographic practice allows for an emancipatory reflexivity and for a more empowering critique of the rationalities, interventions, and moral issues of our times. I conclude with a literal return to the field and reflect on how the story of lives continues.  [ethnography and critical theory, fieldwork and life stories, exchanges between Clastres, Deleuze and Guattari, concept work, human becomings, the unfinishedness of anthropology]

Inline_now_resting

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published numerous articles on innovative approaches ethnographic research, theory, and writing, including: Anand Pandian's "The Time of Anthropology: Notes from a Field of Contemporary Experience" (2012); Kathleen Stewart's "Precarity's Form" (2012); Kim Fortun's "Ethnography in Late Industrialism" (2012); Angela Garcia's "The Elegiac Addict: History, Chronicity, and the Melancholic Subject" (2008); Stuart McLean's "Stories and Cosmogonies: Imagining Creativity Beyond 'Nature' and 'Culture'" (2009); E. Valentine Daniel's "The Coolie" (2008); George Marcus' "The End(s) of Ethnography: Social/Cultural Anthropology's Signature Form of Producing Knowledge in Transition" (2008); Michael M. J. Fischer's "Culture and Cultural Analysis as Experimental Systems" (2007); and also the pieces featured in the August 2012 special issue celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Writing Culture

Cultural Anthropology has also published a variety of articles relating to health and medicine, including: Amade M'charek's "Beyond Fact or Fiction: Materiality of Race in Practice" (2013); Saida Hodzic's "Ascertaining Deadly Harms: Aesthetics and Politics of Global Evidence" (2013); Paul Clough's "Immunology, the Human Self, and the Neoliberal Regime" (2012); Nancy Scheper-Hughes's "The Other Who is Also Oneself: Immunological Risk, Danger, and Recognition" (2012); Clara Han's "Symptoms of Another Life: Time, Possibility, and Domestic Relations in Chile's Credit Economy" (2011); and Julie Livingston's "Suicide, Risk, and Investment in the Heart of the African Miracle" (2009).   

Inline_now_chatting

About the Author

Joao Biehl is the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology and Woodrow Wilson School Faculty Associate at Princeton University, where he also serves as the Co-Director of the Program in Global Health and Health Policy. In addition, he holds an Old Dominion Professorship at Princeton's Council of the Humanities and is also a Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study's School of Social Science. He has taught at Princeton since 2001. He earned his PhD in Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1999, as well as a doctorate in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union in 1996. Previously, he studied philosophy, theology, and journalism in Brazil. Biehl's 2005 book, Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment, garnered multiple book awards, including the American Anthropological Association's Margaret Mead Award.  Will to Live, published in 2007, received the Wellcome Medal of the Royal Anthropological Society and the American Anthropological Association's Diana Forsythe Prize. Both ethnographies examine the lived experiences and treatments of AIDS (Will to Live) and mental illness (Vita) in Brazil, and explore questions of access, marginalization, and pharmaceutical globalization. In addition, Biehl has published multiple academic articles in recent years (see "Further Readings" below), and he co-edited When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health (2013) and Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations (2007), and he is the co-editor of Duke University Press's series on "Critical Global Health." For additional biographical information, please refer to Biehl's personal website or his Princeton faculty profile page.  

Inline_now_room

Multimedia Links

Listen as Biehl shares some thoughts on his life, work, and passion for storytelling with AAA President Virginia R. Dominguez. Inside the President's Studio: João Biehl.

View a selection of Torben Eskerod's photographs from Vita, the site of Biehl's book by the same name.  Vita: Photo Essay

Inline_now_bed

Other Works by Biehl

Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

"Homo Economicus and Life Markets," Medical Anthropology Quarterly 25, no. 2 (2011): 278–84.

"Drugs for All: The Future of Global AIDS Treatment," Medical Anthropology 27, no. 2 (2008): 1–7.

"Bodies of Rights and Therapeutic Markets," Social Research 78, no. 2 (2011): 359–86.

"Ex-Human: Reflections on Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment," City & Society 19, no. 1 (2007): 81–85.

with Byron Good and Arthur Kleinman, eds., Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.  

with Peter Locke, “Deleuze and the Anthropology of Becoming,” Current Anthropology 51, no. 3 (2010): 317–51.

with Ramah McKay, “Ethnography as a Political Critique,” Anthropological Quarterly 85, no. 4 (2012): 1211–30.

with Amy Moran-Thomas, “Symptom: Subjectivities, Social Ills, Technologies,” Annual Review of Anthropology 38 (2009):267–88.

with Adriana Petryna, eds., When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Inline_now_clothesline
Photo Credits: All photographs courtesy of João Biehl.

Post a Comment

Please log in or register to comment