Call for Papers for Swiss Anthropological Association 2021: Empathy in the Field. Can the Affective be Transformative?

In the framework of SEG Jahrestagung Colloque Annuel de la SSE Annual Meeting of the SAA, this year with the theme of Re-viewing the field: Contemporary debates and approaches to fieldwork, which will take place at Monte Verità (Ascona), 22-24 April 2021, along with Dr Eda Elif Tibet, I am convening the following panel:

Empathy in the Field: Can the Affective be Transformative?


Dr Eda Elif Tibet, Institute of Geography, University of Bern,

Dr Estella Carpi, Migration Research Unit, University College London,

In this panel we would like to explore the inter-space between academic intellectuality, ‘research excellence’, and human sensitivity. On the basis of our own emotional intimate experiences, in the academic environment, the interconnection between these factors is left undiscussed and, emblematically, is not seen as necessary. This omission in the intellectual debate even makes such an interconnection unlikely.

Western scholarship is largely a product of an educational system based on the Cartesian division between “rational thinking” versus “emotions” that are associated with “irrationality”: such binaries are being challenged in today’s reformations of fieldwork, especially for those who work on issues related to vulnerability, displacement, and poverty.

Throughout the disciplinary history of Anthropology, un-empathetic approaches to vulnerable subjects have been documented to have negative and even dangerous effects on a personal, societal and policy level. As many anthropologists have ended up instrumentalizing “the ethics” and the “impact value” of the science itself for intellectual benefit, they have often been criticized for being “insensible”, “unemphatic”, “biased”, “doctrinated”, “colonial”, “cynical”, “hostile”, “discursive”, “categorical”, “exclusive”, “racist” and “ethnocentric”.

In light of these emerging discussions, this panel intends to discuss if and how “sentimental education”, as introduced to western scholarship by Richard Rorty, can serve as an affective tool to sensitize scholars whose research issues relate to diverse forms of vulnerability (E.g. economic, political, and social).

In more detail, the questions we would like to explore are: Can “sentimental education” help to produce empathic research? If so, can empathic research lead to fairer scientific representations and a stronger transformational potential for vulnerable people and settings?

While Anthropology has long sought to challenge the need to “clean” theories and methods from emotionality, yet it has not approached emotionality as a transformative tool. In this panel, we rather aim to engage with emotionality as an intellectually honest road to scientific knowledge and transformative research. We invite papers discussing epistemological approaches and fieldwork tools that guide ethnographers in moving from the discursive to the affective, from the apathetic to the empathetic, from the colonial to the decolonial, in terms of theory and methods.

Engagements through multimodal media and auto-ethnographies are also encouraged.

We kindly request prospective participants to submit their paper proposals using our digital forms at:

Thank you very much!

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