Society for Humanistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: This panel is inspired by the idea of film "outtakes" -- the scenes that never made it into the final cut. Our panelists will present a collection of "outtakes" from ethnographic fieldwork. We define "outtakes" as conversation fragments, vignettes, or longer-term phenomena that remain vivid in our memory but just don't seem to fit anywhere. These are the ethnographic "scraps" that ended up on the cutting room floor -- they never made it into the dissertation, journal article or book. And yet, they continue to linger in your mind. You find yourself returning to them again and again.
This panel addresses debates on how anthropologists create knowledge by asking what we can learn from the experiences that lie outside what we define to be "relevant." It is not the intention of this panel to serve as a repository for wayward fieldwork fragments looking to be published. Rather, this panel focuses on a specific kind of fieldwork fragment: those "outtakes" that continue to linger in our minds weeks and years after they happened. Our hunch is that we can learn something important about how anthropologists produce knowledge by reflecting on what we declare “irrelevant”—and why it comes back to haunt us. What is it about these unprocessed (and often unwritten) fieldwork experiences that makes them stay with us?
By presenting a series of ethnographic "outtakes," this panel seeks to ask the following questions: How do we determine what is "interesting"? How might we train our "ethnographic eye" to be open to experiences that may not be immediately relevant to our topics? What can anthropologists gain from choosing not to write down certain episodes from their fieldwork, instead letting them linger, in a more raw, undigested form, elsewhere in their memories?
Anthropology has long been mired in debates about how we might attempt to present fragmentary knowledge in a semi-comprehensive (and comprehensible) way. This panel takes these debates one step further to ask: how do we train our faculties of attention to remain attuned to seemingly peripheral things? And how can we hold on to these incongruous episodes without categorizing them right away?