Yesterday I came home from some intense conference days at the VIII Ethnology Days 2014 in Helsinki. The theme of the conference was the elusive thing we call analysis and how it is coupled to processes of interpretation. How is analysis really conducted in the practices of ethnology?
This is how the theme was described on the conference website:
The theme of the VIII Ethnology Days is interpretation and analysis. We invite researchers and museum experts to reflect on the way they go about analyzing and interpreting their data. What kinds of concepts do ethnologists use in their analysis? How do we incorporate our informants into the process of interpretation? How to do interpretations that are in line with research ethics? And what kinds of interpretations do museums offer to the wider public? The question of analysis and interpretation concerns both academic research and cultural institutions as well their interactions with their audiences.
Interpretation and analysis is at the heart of ethnological practice. But it is not often discussed as explicitly as issues of data collection and how to write up results. We have to communicate more about the methods and irregularities of analysis and interpretation and how it is enmeshed in ethnological processes as a whole.
Since ethnology is done in several different contexts, through various collaborations and with different stakeholders involved, ways of working (with analysis) also differ. Some commentators have called ethnology a centrifugal discipline, meaning that we can find practices of ethnology spinning away in different directions. Depending on where it is heading the requirements, challenges and opportunities also differ. A conference like this gives a good chance to examine the trajectories and velocities of ethnological practice moving towards often very shifting goals.
The conference took off with a keynote by Anu Koivunen, who spoke intriguingly about her analysis of the film Auf Wiedersehen Finnland. Here we could see how a close examination of moving images, sound and narrative can give us insight into issues of national identity, gender and the politics of memory. The day continued with Jörg Niewöhner‘s talk on co-laboration and the challenges and potentials of ethnographic practice. Jörg stressed how co-laboration (a kind of laboring together) open up possibilities to analyze with different stakeholders, instead of just seeing analysis as a one-way endeavor.
During the afternoon it was time for a number of parallel sessions. Me and Tom O’Dell were chairs for Rendering Culture – New Openings in the Micro-Practices of Ethnography. Here’s the abstract for the session:
The past 15 years has seen an unprecedented expansion of the accessibility of new digital technologies to people in their daily lives. The possibilities created by this digital expansion have even direct consequences for the manner in which cultural researchers think about, collect and process empirical materials, as well for how research is assembled and communicated. Unfortunately, the consequences and potentialities these developments have for the methodological micro-practices through which cultural processes can be studied as well as represented and rendered has not been systematically studied to a sufficient degree.
This session welcomes papers that critically discuss the latest advances that are occurring in the collection, processing and presentation of ethnographic materials. New digital technologies have paved the way for new and intensified micro-practices for gathering and composing ethnographic materials, however, we see these advances as intimately linked to the developing field of sensory ethnography. Digital technology is not simply an artifact of some disembodied “cyberspace”, but is very much grounded in corporeal activities that activate and draw upon the senses.
Here we encourage contributors to re-think the manner in which digital and sensory methods can be understood as being implicated in new modes of “Rendering Culture”. By using the concept “Rendering Culture” we mean to indicate an approach to ethnographic practices that is both an analytical and creative endeavor capable of touching and moving those exposed to it on both a cognitive as well as a corporeal/emotional plane. As part of the session we welcome contributions which are experimental in nature and which push our way of thinking about ethnography and ethnographic practices in a direction which moves us further away from discussions about writing culture and challenges us to test the boundaries of what it can mean to render culture.
During the sessions we could see different takes on potential ways of working with ethnography and of rendering culture. The conference was rounded off with the keynote by Tom O’Dell, based on our research on composing ethnography, rendering culture and multi-targeted ethnography, followed by a panel on ethnology and its uses of new technology. All in all it was a wonderful time in Helsinki, with great discussions, upcoming collaborations and great hospitality. Thanks to everyone organizing and making this possible.