Ethnographic Imaging

Martha Blassnigg and Hannah Drayson

Hannah Drayson will give a survey on writers who have used ethnography in studies of medical technology to highlight the strengths of this method for studies of science and technology. This will include a brief overview of the historical background to these studies in medical ethnography and Sociology of Science (Latour). This exposition will open up questions around the issues of writing as practice to communicate ethnographic knowledge/data, ethnography as epistemology, the criticism of ‘ethnographic realism’, etc. with a specific focus on the specific quality in the kind of knowledge that ethnography seems to convey and communicates, in that reading these texts sometimes gives the impression of ‘being there’ or ‘seeing for yourself’, being a spectator of some kind – which is a powerful rhetorical strategy but also open to criticism. The aim of the seminar is a critical assessment of ethnography as a tool and to reflect on the range of qualitative research methods that can be found mixed together in the interdisciplinary literature of technology.

Martha Blassnigg will contextualise this exposition and give a brief historical overview from the field of cultural anthropology whose disciplinary distinction roots in the method of ethnography, which has ever since been repeatedly subject to critique and revision. She will highlight some of the core aspects and problematics of this method, such as the inclusion and impact of the observer in the fieldwork context, the limits and necessities of self-reflexivity and critical self-consciousness in ethnographic writing, ethnography as interpretive method rather than ‘objective, quantifiable science’, and the central issues of how to understand, communicate and interpret the ‘other’ through a shift from the study of behaviour and social-economic structures to symbols, meanings and mentality. This will include a brief discussion of recent models of ‘experimental ethnographies’ and ‘ethnographies of experience’ through the convergence of cross-cultural aesthetics, epistemology and psychology at the thresholds of social science, art and literature, and in particular the uses of audio-visual media as vehicle for a participatory ‘anthropology of consciousness’.