Provocations of European Ethnology Twenty Years Later: Probing the Limits of the Ethnographically Knowable

November 11, 2017

116th AAA Annual Meeting

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017, 2:00 pm - 3:45 pm

Roundtable Session with: Armanc Yildiz – Harvard University; Cynthia J. Browne – Harvard University; Naor Ben-Yehoyada – Columbia University; Michael Herzfeld – Harvard University; Jane Schneider – CUNY, Graduate Center; Banu Karaca – Mercator-IPC, Sabanci University; Jessica Greenberg – University of Illinois; Noelle Molé Liston – New York University; Paul Silverstein – Reed College; Susan Gal – University of Chicago


        The anthropology of Europe, as ambiguous as it is, marks a geography which long remained distant to the discipline as ethnographically knowable. The post-WWII shift towards Europe in the anthropological gaze coincided with not only decolonization but also with the advent of the Cold War dividing the "East" from the "West," later diversifying itself in the north-south axes. The emancipation of the colonies and the mass movement of labor migrants and peoples from the colonies to the European metropoles opened up new horizons of inquiry as the "objects" of anthropology moved into the epistemological terrain of sister disciplines, such as sociology, human geography, and migration studies. In a way, "the field" came home. The "savage slot" and the "elsewhere" (Trouillot 1991), the discursive categories through which anthropology established itself as a discipline was shaken, re-emerged within the field of European ethnology as the immigrant subject (Silverstein 2005). The "immigrant" as a figure blurs the lines of the asylum seeker, refugee, and the labor migrant, which came to be generally read as non-white European, thereby serving as a cipher for studying historically shifting forms of racialization in the cultural construction of Europe.

       The seminal publication of Provocations of European Ethnology in 1997 (Asad et al. ), a series of short essays by anthropologists of Europe, drew attention to how "anthropologizing" one of the homes of the discipline can lend itself to uncovering the persistence of "covert racism" and colonialism (Herzfeld 1997), and disrupting the "unitary images" (Verdery 1997) of liberal democracy, modernity, and the state. Such bodies of scholarship have shown how hegemonic ideas about the market, the state, and private property are enabled and maintained through the "work" of culture. In the past twenty years, further work has been done on European Union policy (Holmes 2000; Karaca 2010; Shore 2013), humanitarianism (Fassin 2011; Ticktin 2011), hate (Shoshan 2016), post-socialism (Verdery 1999; Berdahl 1999; Greenberg 2014; Razsa 2015), science, counterterrorism, and intellectuals (Boyer 2005; Taussig 2009; Maguire 2014), immigration and citizenship (Fernando 2014; McIntosh 2014; Silverstein 2004;) regional-formation (Ben-Yehoyada 2017), gender and sexuality (Brown 2005; Partridge 2012; Gal and Kligman 2012), neoliberalism (Mole 2011; Muehlebach 2012), social movements (Schneider and Schneider 2003), and urbanism (Herzfeld 2009). Although these works, among many others, expanded the limits of the ethnographically knowable, the extent to which the anthropology ofEurope has managed to "anthropologize" Europe in the last twenty years remains unanswered. How does the "savage slot" continue to reverberate in the epistemological foundations of the anthropology of Europe? Who is considered ethnographically knowable? What are the qualitative differences in the ethnographic thickness of the works on 'immigrants' and on white European subjects? Whose life worlds do we assume to be familiar to the readers, while going into pains to unfold the others? What are the limitations of anthropologizing white subjects in the current state of the discipline? This roundtable aims to start a conversation around these questions and engage with the debate opened up by the Provocations essays after 20 years of their publication.