Dark Ethnography

Encountering ‘the Uncomfortable Other’ in Ethnographic Research

International Workshop at the Department of Anthropology and African Studies of the JGU Mainz
11 – 12 July 2019

Organizers: Lene Faust (Bern) and Simone Pfeifer (Mainz)
Contact: lene.faust@anthro.unibe.ch; pfeifer@uni-mainz.de

Please register for participation as places are limited. To register, email Simone Pfeifer (pfeifer@unimainz.
de). The keynote is open to the public.

The workshop “Dark Ethnography” brings together researchers from anthropology and related disciplines working in the fields of neo fascism and militant Islamism, two somehow extreme sides of a political and societal spectrum. The three thematic sections focus on methodological and theoretical implications and challenges of working ethnographically with people that are categorized for example as ‘criminals’, ‘perpetrators’, ‘militant extremists’ or ‘terrorists’. Thereby the workshop expands on Sherry Ortner’s notion of “dark anthropology” and relates to a trend in in anthropology to pay attention to “people we don’t (necessarily) like” (Sindre Bangstad).


Under a different name: Secrecy, Complicity, Ethnography
by Nitzan Shoshan (Mexico City)

Thursday, July 11, 19:00 pm, HS 15 (Hörsaal, Forum 7)

Drawing on his research under a false identity, in this talk Nitzan Shoshan reconsiders the ethical imperative of absolute transparency and full disclosure in the transactions of anthropologists with their interlocutors in the field. Motivated by recent political developments in numerous world regions—including Europe—anthropology has recently shown a growing interest in research agendas that appear to entail the systematic violation of some of its most cherished ethical paradigms. Shoshan reflects on the significance of these disciplinary shifts by examining his evolving relationships with his interlocutors, particularly the social workers who consented to grant him access to their young right-wing extremist “clients” on the condition that he takes up an alias. Working under a different name brings into focus the intensive metapragmatic labor in which anthropologists engage as they position themselves in their respective fields, a dimension of our labor that too often remains unexplored. How do we draw our interlocutors into webs of secrecy and complicity as we withhold and obfuscate information in our transactions with them? How do we recruit them to collaborate with our dissimulations, and how, in turn, do they call upon us to reciprocate by upholding theirs? How do such complicities get mobilized interactionally and become discursively framed? Recognizing the importance of secrecy and complicity in fieldwork situations invites us to think, too, about the limits of transparency and honesty in ethnographic work more generally.