The possibilities and limitations of capturing life through words has troubled anthropologists for decades (Clifford and Marcus 1986; Hurston 1990 ). What are the politics and the poetics of how we convey in words what we have seen, heard, and felt in the field? Can words compellingly recapture life as it was lived? How can our writing practices remain faithful to the cultural repertoires of our protagonists, their life worlds, and their ways of imagining what the world may look like? Does style matter? Ever since these troubles were first raised, many anthropologists have explored the boundaries of what ethnography might be and have experimented with bending field truths into more malleable, imaginary histories. Some have argued that, sometimes, they need other forms of writing to speak ‘truth’ to their ethnographic experiences.
Anthropology’s flagship of thick description remains central in how anthropologists distinguish their writing from other disciplines. Yet fiction, for that matter, might be able to provide more profound accounts of life than social scientific depictions of reality (Fassin 2014). We see this as part of a decolonizing agenda and of a growing dissatisfaction with publishing constraints of anthropological work. Why should we keep our words close to the so-called acceptable range of 8,000 words? Why accept technological advancements in the academic publishing industry that automatically structure texts in the journals’ preferred formats? For anthropologists working on race, indigeneity, queerness, and gender, writing against dominant academic genres is part of a larger struggle that crafts a way of writing that brings “forth the possibility for, even the necessity of, abolishing the current order and radically transforming our worlds” (McTigh and Raschig 2019). This struggle is also about recognizing the performativity of words, seeing the act of writing as a practice that shapes and transforms, rather than as merely representing, realities.
For the upcoming issue of Etnofoor, we want to explore what this kind of ‘writing otherwise’ may offer the discipline today (Elliott and Culhane 2017; Pandian and McLean 2017). We encourage alternative ways and forms of writing anthropologically, including short stories and other fictional accounts. We also aim to further develop an anthropological understanding of fiction and examine the ethical questions to which the possibilities of a literary anthropology give rise. How do we experiment responsibly with providing fictional accounts of social reality in an age of fake news, cases of fabricated fieldwork, urban legends, conspiracy theories, and disinformation? How can anthropologists who write fiction be held responsible for their imaginary activities? The claim that ‘it is just a story’ may simply not hold in all academic contexts. Or, more practically but not less troublesome: how to ask consent for such artistic undertaking that often occurs after fieldwork is completed and heartfelt goodbyes and publication promises have been shared?
Etnofoor invites authors that engage with these issues to submit an abstract of no more than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org before October 16, 2023. This issue we are explicitly open to receive creative submissions that come in the form of a short story or other literary forms, but also ethnographic case studies or essays about anthropological fiction and literary practice in general. Authors are invited to take up methodological, theoretical, epistemological, ethical, or practical questions. The deadline for authors of accepted abstracts to submit their full papers is February 1, 2024.
Clifford, James and George E. Marcus. 1986. Writing Culture. The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Elliott, Denielle and Dara Culhane. 2017. A Different Kind of Ethnography. Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies. Toronto: Toronto University Press.
Fassin, Didier. 2014. True Life, Real Lives: Revisiting the Boundaries between Ethnography and Fiction. American Ethnologist 41 (1): 40–55.
Hurston, Zora Neale. 1990 . Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Pandian, Anand and Stuart Mclean. 2017. Crumpled Paper Boat: Experiments in Ethnographic Writing. Duke University Press
McTighe, Laura and Megan Raschig. 2019. “An Otherwise Anthropology.” Theorizing the Contemporary, Fieldsights, July 31. https://culanth.org/fieldsights/series/an-otherwise-anthropology.