Introduction: Experimental collaborations

Tomás Sánchez Criado* & Adolfo Estalella**

* Munich Center for Technology in Society, TU Munich, Germany
** Spanish National Research Council, Madrid, Spain

Anthropologists conducting fieldwork in distinctive sites of the contemporary, such as public institutions, activist collectives, artistic spaces and laboratories, have recently engaged in intense reflexive examination of their epistemic practices and methodological engagements. This book presents a series of ethnographic accounts in which authors share their methodological anxieties and reveal the creative inventiveness emanating from fieldwork practices that challenge what they had assumed to be the norm and form of ethnography. Populated by activists, artists, designers, public servants and scientists, these ethnographic sites appear to compel us—or provide the opportunity—to reconsider not only the epistemic practices, types of relationships and forms of engagement in our fieldwork, but also our accounts of the field. Taking on this challenge, contributors explore a descriptive approach to their projects, narrating the intimate relationships established with their counterparts and the interventions devised as forms of epistemic collaboration in the field that open venues for experimental interventions in ethnography.

Our discussion resonates with recent reflections contending that contemporary ethnographic fieldwork ‘is not what it used to be’ (Faubion and Marcus, 2009). We echo debates on the place of ethnography in the production of anthropological knowledge (Ingold, 2008) and the transformation of the norm and form of fieldwork in a series of projects that have injected an experimental drive (Rabinow et al. 2008). The reflections of Douglas Holmes and George Marcus (2005, 2008) are particularly relevant: their ethnographic projects led them to argue that if anthropology was to enter into domains populated by subjects that shared anthropologists ethnographic-like practices, or in their idiom, ‘para-ethnographic’ practices, it was essential to ‘re-function ethnography’ (Holmes and Marcus, 2005). In these ethnographic sites, collaboration would be the cornerstone from which to undertake fieldwork.

In the accounts compiled in this book, ethnography occurs through processes of material and social interventions that turn the field into a site for epistemic collaboration. Through creative interventions that unfold what we term as ‘fieldwork devices’—such as coproduced books, the circulation of repurposed data, co-organized events, authorization protocols, relational frictions, and social rhythms—anthropologists engage with their counterparts in the field in the construction of joint anthropological problematizations. In these situations, the traditional tropes of the fieldwork encounter (i.e. immersion and distance) give way to a narrative of intervention, where the aesthetics of collaboration in the production of knowledge substitutes or intermingles with the traditional trope of participant observation. Building on this, we propose the concept of ‘experimental collaborations’ to describe and conceptualize this distinctive ethnographic modality.


Adolfo Estalella, PhD is an anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). His two fields of research are Anthropology of Knowledge and Science and Technology Studies (STS). His recent work is focused in the study of digital cultures and forms of grassroots urbanism. He is interested in civic projects and activist initiatives that intervene in the city, more specifically I investigate two aspects of this forms of urban experimentation: the material infrastructures mobilized to refurnishing the public space and the epistemic practices and learning contexts through which knowledge circulates. Two other topics of his interest are the methodological innovations of ethnography and research ethics.




Tomás Sánchez Criado, PhDBWAd6uEQ is a social anthropologist with specialization in STS. Senior Researcher at TUM’s Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS). Since 2007 he has  been working ethnographically on the more-than-human transformation of care practices, through an analysis of the prototyping, installation, maintenance/repair, and re-design of different corporate, institutional & activist ecologies of support in Europe, with a focus on Spain (telecare for older peopleopen/DIY technical aids for independent-livingurban accessibility arrangements and interventions). Currently developing ethnographic research on urban accessibility struggles and the creation, implementation, maintenance and supervision of sidewalk democracy projects as well as inclusive urbanism practices in Barcelona (in comparison with similar transformations in Europe).