Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Over the past several years my colleague George Marcus and I have developed a series of events intended to encourage experimental thinking in ethnographic practice (Murphy & Marcus 2013; Murphy, forthcoming). Among the sentiments motivating this project is a sense that there’s a mismatch between traditional ethnographic methods and conceptual frameworks, on the one hand, and the kinds of fieldsites and social worlds anthropologists now tend to work in. With varying degrees of success, we’ve embraced an ethos of “speculative engagement” with an eye toward expanding, or even modestly transforming, the ambit of ethnographic method. One significant aspect of anthropological inquiry that has fallen out of these exploratory ventures, though, is ethnographic data. More specifically, we’ve mostly side-stepped sustained reflection as to how the data ethnographers can and do collect allow us to make certain kinds of claims about the contemporary world. Indeed, while “forms of engagement” seem ready for experimentation, “forms of evidence” feel like much more dangerous things to tinker with — at least without some serious consideration. Building from an earlier attempt to formulate this conundrum (Murphy 2017) and some insights developed from an ongoing ethnographic project on graphic language and its caretakers, in this presentation I will work through some of these issues and detail a model of critical empiricism — that is, an empiricism centered on both data and critique — based on alternative modes of claims-making offered by creative professionals like artists and designers, whose work often functions as a jolt to common sense.