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Trouble in the field and ethnographic vigilance

Du trouble à la vigilance ethnographique

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Published on Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Comme le faisait remarquer Didier Fassin, aujourd’hui l'expérience ethnographique ne va plus de soi, pas plus que l'écriture anthropologique. C’est ainsi que l’auteur plaide pour l'exercice de l’« inquiétude ethnographique » (2008) tout comme Bob White appelle à la « vigilance ethnographique » ; soit laisser le doute, l'incertitude faire irruption à chaque étape du processus de recherche et de production de connaissances anthropologiques. Chacune de ces étapes sont ainsi interrogées et soumises à la critique, depuis les situations intersubjectives d’enquête jusqu’à la production du texte, les procédés d'écriture et l'autorité même à parler de, ou à parler pour. Il s’agit donc pour l’anthropologue contemporain de porter un regard critique et réflexif sur toute sa pratique pour ainsi proposer un renouvellement épistémologique qui dépasse la simple observation du soi du chercheur ou des sujets singuliers de son enquête.



In any relationship of inquiry (relation d'enquête), ethnographers ask their interlocutors to express themselves in ways that differ from everyday forms of language and practice. In a similar fashion, the ethnographer asks questions, writes down answers and makes observations that are specifically related to the a particular moment of inquiry, but not necessarily a part of his various traditions or experiences. What results from these moments of mutual explicitation is a particular space of speech and signification that can be exhilarating but also disorienting or disturbing. Our interlocutors often ask themselves the questions that we have asked (albeit in a different form) and it is not uncommon for them to use the ethnographer in order to say things that could not be said without this third presence. Throughout the process of extended fieldwork, the ethnographer's social and psychological dispositions are in many ways modified because her ways of thinking and acting are challenged and she must adapt in order to achieve some degree of understanding about what was actually said, what Hans-Georg Gadamer refers to as the subjectum.

Following the lead of Johannes Fabian, this panel challenges ethnographers to re-create the “troubles” associated with the dynamics of interlocution that emerge in the context of field-based inquiry. This means we need to think of ethnographic inquiry as a context of knowledge production that is made possible by a sometimes difficult existential passage, as much for the ethnographer as for his or her interlocutors. In order to understand the dynamics of this process, we propose to analyse a series of field-based narratives that emphasize the productive misunderstandings through which anthropologists and their interlocutors discover themselves as Other and to the extent that it is possible reflect upon the co-produced nature of ethnographic knowledge. This proposition involves remaining open to a wide variety of ruptures and discoveries: calling into question conventional wisdom in anthropology; shared moral inquiry about beliefs and values; openness to the idea that group-specific behaviour may actually be universal.

The analysis of these “ethnographic troubles” gives us access to knowledge about the passage from individual to collective identity and also about the interactional space of ethnographic inquiry, which, as we already know, is in many ways an ongoing narrative.

Didier Fassin explained that todays ethnographic experience is not a given, neither is anthropological writing. Therefore Fassin calls for implementing “ethnographic anxiety” (2008). In the same vein Bob White claims for “ethnographic vigilance”, that is to leave doubt and uncertainty erupt at each step of the process of research and production of anthropological knowledge. Each of these times needs to be questioned and subjected to critics from intersubjective fieldwork situations up to textual production and the authority to talk about or to talk for.

Consequently, for the contemporary anthropologist it is a matter of carrying a critic and reflexive look on her/his whole practice in order to offer a renewed epistemology going beyond the sole observation of the researcher’s self or that of the individuals we study.  


Mercredi 20 mai

Salle Lombard, 96 boulevard Raspail, Paris 6e 

13h30   Accueil des participants                

13h45  - 14h  Mot d’accueil de Marc Bessin (Directeur de l’IRIS, UMR 8156-U997, EHESS) et Marieke Blondet (MNHN, UMR 7206  et LEF INRA, Nancy) 

14h -14h20   Introduction de Bob White (U. Montréal) et Alban Bensa (EHESS, IRIS) 

SESSION 1 - Modérateur: Mickaële Lantin Mallet (EHESS, IRIS UMR 8156- U997)

  • 14h20 - 15h05 Jamais deux sans trois : Le rapport à l’objet dans la quête de la vigilance ethnographique, Bob W. White (U. de Montréal)
  • 15h05 - 15h50  Parler de soi dans le dialogue ethnographique : rêves et destin de Tyua, Natacha Collomb (CNRS, CASE UMR 8170) 

15h50 – 16h Pause  

16h - 16h45   L’ethnographe hors terrain, Annabelle Boissier (LAMES UMR 7305 CNRS/Université Aix Marseille)

Jeudi 21 mai 2015

Maison Suger, 16-18 rue Suger, Paris 6e 

SESSION 2 - Modérateur: Thierry Bonnot (EHESS, IRIS UMR 8156- U997) 

  • 10h - 10h45  Confusion of Power : Colonized People and Intellectuals in Kanak New Caledonia, Alban Bensa (EHESS, IRIS UMR 8156- U997) 
  • 10h45 -11h30  Ethnographic Experience and Misunderstanding As a Productive Mirror, Luis Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira (University of Brasilia) 

11h30 – 11h45  Pause 

  • 11h45  -  12h30  On Ethnographic Cruelty, Joao de Pina-Cabral (School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent) 

12h30 – 14h00 Pause Déjeuner  

SESSION 3 - Modérateur: Marieke Blondet  (MNHN, UMR 7206 et LEF INRA, Nancy)

  • 14h00 – 14h45  Duplicité ethnographique dans un dispositif d’accueil de demandeurs d’asile, Claude Nicole Grin (EPHE - IUHMSP- Université de Lausanne)
  • 14h45 – 15h30  Menues considérations digressives sur la vigilance ethnographique, Lomomba Emongo  (Université de Montréal et Collège Ahuntsic de Montréal) 

15h30 – 15h45 Pause 

15h45 – 17h30

TABLE RONDE -  Inquiétude et vigilance : deux notions pour l’anthropologie ?   

Clôture, Bob White (U. Montréal) et Alban Bensa (EHESS, IRIS) 

Organizing committee

  • Bob White (Professeur, Université de Montréal, CA)
  • Alban Bensa (Directeur d’étude, EHESS, IRIS UMR 8156- U997)
  • Marieke Blondet (ATER, MNHN, UMR 7206 Eco-anthropologie et ethnobiologie et chargée de recherche, LEF INRA, Nancy).
  • Mickaële Lantin Mallet (doctorante, EHESS, IRIS UMR 8156- U997 et chargée de recherche, LESC UMR 7186)


  • EHESS, Salle Lombard | Maison Suger - 96 bld. Raspail | 16-18 rue Suger
    Paris, France (75006)


  • Wednesday, May 20, 2015
  • Thursday, May 21, 2015


  • ethnographie, vigilance, trouble, relation ethnographique, enquête, terrain, écriture, épistémologie, expérience, connaissance, savoir


  • Marieke Blondet
    courriel : marieke [dot] blondet [at] nancy [dot] inra [dot] fr
  • Mickaele Lantin Mallet
    courriel : mlantin [at] ehess [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Mickaele Lantin Mallet
    courriel : mlantin [at] ehess [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Trouble in the field and ethnographic vigilance », Study days, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, https://doi.org/10.58079/sne

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