Ethnographic Fictions: Figure and Ground in Encounters with Place

Location: Humanities Gateway 4000 | Time: April 27, 2017 2:30—4:30 PM

In this talk, UCHRI visiting scholar Barbara Yngvesson (Hampshire College) and Susan Bibler Coutin (UC Irvine) present key themes in their book project, Ethnographic Fictions.  Drawing an analogy to legal fictions as devices that allow for the production of legal truths, Ethnographic Fictions explores the conventions that enable ethnographies to convey social realities.  One such convention is the grounding of ethnographies in encounters with place.  Such grounding privileges certain experiences as “data” while distinguishing these from the swirl of “background” activity that is not.  Yet, it is precisely this taken for granted or even imperceptible background that gives “data” meaning.  To explore these processes and relationships, Yngvesson and Coutin will lead an interactive discussion, featuring clips from the award winning documentary, Fire at Sea directed by Gianfranco Rosi.  Fire at Sea presents seemingly ordinary life in an Italian fishing village that has also become the site of an unfolding refugee crisis.  As the film lingers in landscapes, seascapes, and human interactions, Fire at Sea provokes an ever shifting encounter with place while gradually bringing into focus the crisis of the migrants.  Experiencing this encounter provides an opportunity to reflect on the complex relationship of figure to ground within ethnographic practices and the potential of ethnography for distinguishing “data” from the flux of experience that surrounds it.