29 March 2021

Seguridad Privada: ethnographic poetry from Guatemala

Matthew Blanton

I lived in Quetzaltenango for five years, where I worked for a non-profit organization. My colleagues and I consciously employed ethnographic methodology to better understand the communities in which we worked. One day, I was slowly observing and wandering through the streets of a neighborhood where we were beginning a new clean-water project. I was struck by a (relatively normal) image—a man on a motorcycle in a security guard’s outfit with a shotgun and lunchbox secured behind him. It was evening and I presumed that he was on his way for a night shift guarding some shop, restaurant, or hotel. The image had an impact, and I sat there for a few minutes considering the gravity of such a job. I sensed I was not alone and looked down to see a street dog sitting at my feet and also looking in the direction of the motorcycle. I was struck by the similarities between them—both facing daily risks in an environment where they had fallen through the cracks of poverty and failing bureaucracy. This is a poem I wrote to capture that moment, a moment of ethnographic empathy, a sacred moment of considering the lives of those who we observe…

10 March 2021

Caught in the cyclone: Why ethnographers must break the law, sometimes

Ståle Wig

Walking out with her bag full of jeans would make myself directly complicit in breaking legal regulations, right under the eyes of the police. According to my formal research guidelines, I was on thin ice. Yet in retrospect, I think I instantly knew what I had to do, not only in the name of maintaining the trust of my study participants, but more acutely out of concern for the wellbeing of my interlocutor. Like other vendors who stood on the lowest rung of Cuba’s private sector, Luz was already scrambling to get by. If she were caught selling contraband, she faced a potential fine of several hundred dollars, and could lose not only the bag of jeans, but also her job at the market and her license as a vendor…

11 February 2021

(No) Place of Work

Saumya Pandey and Pooja George

What would we do if we experienced harassment in our workplace, but others didn’t see it happening? We know from history that this happens. We also know about it because as women at some point it has happened to us. By asking nine early-career women from different walks of life, including ourselves, we examine what abuse in the workplace is like, particularly when it is too subtle to be noticed, deeply gendered, and socially embedded as normal in the work culture…

3 February 2021

A Place at the Table

Nicholas Bascuñan-Wiley

As researchers, we often ask a lot of those who participate in our studies without offering much in return. We ask participants to let us into their spaces, to tell us about their histories and realities, and to take time away from their busy lives to do so. Many of the people that I met during my interviews broke down the social distances between us through acts of hospitality—inviting me to eat, showing me around their restaurant, or offering me something to drink. Conversations were often facilitated by black tea or thick Turkish coffee. On one memorable occasion, a restaurant owner brought out some complimentary Arak, an anise-based liquor, as an after-dinner top off as we conversed…

13 January 2021

“Country” and “Colonialism”: ethnographic poetry from Kashmir

Ruhail Andrabi

These poems are set in the context of Kashmir which is a disputed territory occupied by India. The author-poet demonstrates through his ethnographic poetry how normal life looks under the gaze of settler colonial occupation through which the indigenous people are rendered homeless and their identity reduced to the rubble of coloniality. The metaphors in the poems take a reader through the cities of colonialism, occupation and indigeneity…

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