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53570-01 - Forschungsseminar: Seeing and Imagining 3 KP

Semester Frühjahrsemester 2019
Angebotsmuster einmalig
Dozierende Till Förster (till.foerster@unibas.ch, BeurteilerIn)
Inhalt Since Bronislaw Malinowski, participant observation is the hallmark of anthropology as a social science. Yet, its epistemological foundations are still a neglected field. More of-ten than not, participant observation is labelled as a coherent method that one either learns in social encounters that are constructed as ‘the field’ or does not learn at all. Historically speaking, observation was a practice of the police of absolutist 18th century France to prove someone guilty of a crime – and it is still practiced in this sense by po-licemen today. Observation as a legacy of positivist anthropology is a very special and narrowly framed way of seeing.
In many textbooks, participant observation’s two main components – participation and observation – are lumped together as if there were no tensions between the bodily and sensory involvement in the social lives of others and the distanced gaze at their lives as an object of study. Kathleen and Billie DeWalt, Michael Jackson and a few others were among those who questioned the naturalness of the term: indeed, participant observa-tion is an oxymoron. It calls for a deeper, epistemologically informed debate that cur-rent discussions of anthropological methods and methodologies rarely offer. Both the body as the existential ground of all participation and seeing as a basic sensory en-gagement with the life-world are still neglected topics in methodological reflections.
However, seeing has many more dimensions, and it is practiced in many different ways by anthropologists. Seemingly inattentive ways of seeing allow the anthropologist to become aware of hidden structures and transcripts – just as Walter Benjamin’s flaneur ‘discovers’ the textures and fabrics of an unknown city. Semantic attitudes may domi-nate ways of seeing that put the life-world of others first, learning through the eyes of others how they order their visual environment and how they bestow it with meaning. Pragmatic ways of seeing engage with the relevance of visual experience for the agency of the actors, for instance, when craftsmen look at the material that they have at hand to accomplish their piece of workmanship. Depending on the situation, such diverging ways of seeing overlap, but they can also be distinct and exclusive. From an anthropo-logical point of view, the epistemological challenge is to conceive them as a shared practice through which the anthropologist learns about how others practice such ways of seeing.
In addition, the unmediated sensory experience of seeing overlaps with what the an-thropologist is already familiar with and how he or she imagines other social practices and life-worlds. Very much as the sociological imagination enables its possessor to un-derstand the larger historical and social ‘scene’ (C. Wright Mills), the anthropological imagination is an act of making sense of the life-worlds of others and their inner mean-ing for those who create it in their daily lives. One the one side, they are locally con-strued by the people, and on the other, ethnographically by the anthropologist who will want to construe a wider, anthropological picture of that life-world (Paul Willis). Very much as ways of seeing, ethnographic and anthropological imaginings may overlap – and yet, they are epistemologically distinct. How the sensory experience of anthropolo-gists relates to their imagining of foreign life-worlds is a question that runs through the discipline’s entire history – a question that is not easy to answer.
To outline this basic field of anthropological thinking, the seminar raises four questions:
• Why has anthropology not sufficiently reflected on the epistemological founda-tion of its central method?
• What ways of seeing are practiced in anthropological fieldwork?
• How do different modes of seeing affect the anthropological imagination of the social?
• How do seeing and imagining relate to each other?
Literatur Reading material for the seminar will be accessible on the seminar’s workspace on Adam, the online resources system of the University of Basel. All students are expected to start with the excerpts accessible on Adam, but are also expected to search themselves for further publications in the field.

Basic Reading (mandatory for all students):
Burawoy, Michael. 1991. Ethnography unbound. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
DeWalt, Kathleen and DeWalt, Billie. 22011. Participant observation. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press.
Jackson, Michael. 2005. Existential anthropology. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.
Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The sociological imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Okely, Judith. 2012. Anthropological practice: fieldwork and the ethnographic method. London: Bloomsbury.
Stoller, Paul. 1997. Sensuous scholarship. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Willis, Paul. 2000. The ethnographic imagination. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.


Teilnahmebedingungen The number of participants is limited to 30 people. The places are assigned according to date of enrollment and subject of study. Priority will be given to the subjects listed under "modules".
Unterrichtssprache Englisch
Einsatz digitaler Medien kein spezifischer Einsatz


Intervall Block
Datum 03.05.2019 – 11.05.2019
Zeit Freitag, 08.30-18.00 Ethnologie

Two blocks of two days, May 3 to 4 (Basel) and May 10 to 11 (Freiburg).

Datum Zeit Raum
Freitag 03.05.2019 08.30-18.00 Uhr Kollegienhaus, Seminarraum 107
Samstag 04.05.2019 08.30-18.00 Uhr Ethnologie, grosser Seminarraum
Freitag 10.05.2019 08.30-18.00 Uhr Institut für Ethnologie, Werthmannstr. 10, D-79085 Freiburg i.Brsg.
Samstag 11.05.2019 08.30-18.00 Uhr Institut für Ethnologie, Werthmannstr. 10, D-79085 Freiburg i.Brsg.
Module Modul: Fields: Knowledge Production and Transfer (Master Studiengang African Studies)
Modul: Fields: Media and Imagination (Master Studiengang African Studies)
Modul: Interdisciplinary and Applied African Studies (Master Studiengang African Studies)
Modul: Research Skills in Social and Cultural Anthropology (Master Studienfach Anthropology)
Leistungsüberprüfung Lehrveranst.-begleitend
Hinweise zur Leistungsüberprüfung The seminar is organised in four parts along these questions. The first two parts will be taught in Basel on May 3 and 4, the other two parts will be the subject of May 10 and 11 in Freiburg i.Brsg.
1) The first part looks at how participant observation was practiced in different strands of modern anthropology. This part is mainly based on reading the respective, today classical literature and addresses MA students. Expected are short presentations of 25 to 30 minutes and a handout of about two pages, which should be submitted a week in advance of the respective class. Handouts will be made accessible to all students on the seminar’s workspace on the seminar’s website. In-between the first and the second part, the students are introduced to the interdisciplinary literature that examines ways of seeing as (social) practice.
2) The second part goes beyond the settled reading of classical ethnographic literature and aims at reading it from an alternative perspective, trying to identify different ways of seeing in the above-mentioned ethnographies. Some knowledge of anthropological theory is required for this part. Advanced MA students and PhD candidates are invited to contribute to this discussion. Besides the themes and literature that the syllabus suggests, they can choose other strands of discussion if they relate to the overall topic of the seminar. Presentations can be longer but should not exceed 45 minutes.
3) The third part looks at the literature on imagination and imagining as practice. PhD Students who want to present their reflections here should have some ethnographic experience and a thorough knowledge of anthropological theory that relates to the questions that they will want to raise. They are free to choose a subject of their choice and link the discussions in class to problems that arose during their own fieldwork.
4) The fourth part aims at bringing the two strands of theorising together and to devel-op a more comprehensive understanding of seeing and imagining as social practices. Contributions to this part should only be considered by advanced PhD students. The seminar has two open slots where advanced PhD candidates may present and discuss the theme of the seminar on the basis of their own research. The length of presenta-tions depends on the complexity of the subject.

All students who want to write a seminar paper should do a presentation of about 45 to 60min., followed by a discussion of 30 to 45min. It is expected that the presenters writing a seminar paper will complement their reading of relevant literature after the presentation, based on the discussions in class. Papers should be c 8000 words long (approx. 20 to 25 pages, 12pt, 1.5 line spacing). Registration for papers is open until May 31, 2019. They are due on June 31 for those who will need the credits this semes-ter. All others may submit their papers until the beginning of the fall term 2019, i.e. by September 15, 2019. All papers should be submitted as word- or pdf-files via e-mail to till.foerster@unibas.ch.
An-/Abmeldung zur Leistungsüberprüfung Anmelden: Belegen; Abmelden: nicht erforderlich
Wiederholungsprüfung keine Wiederholungsprüfung
Skala Pass / Fail
Wiederholtes Belegen nicht wiederholbar
Zuständige Fakultät Philosophisch-Historische Fakultät, studadmin-philhist@unibas.ch
Anbietende Organisationseinheit Fachbereich Ethnologie