RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


41 Ethnographic methods in economic geography: Applications and potentials (2)
Affiliation Economic Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Heidi Østbø Haugen (University of Oslo, Norway)
Andrew Brooks (King's College London, UK)
Chair(s) Andrew Brooks (King's College London, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Session abstract Recent trends have highlighted the value of perspectives that treats money and economic relations as integral parts of society rather than as something semi-detached from the social world. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, even the deputy governor of the Bank of England suggested that credit markets should be understood as social constructs embedded in trust or confidence (as the etymological root of ‘credit’ suggests). Ethnographic studies of the everyday experiences and ideologies of investment bankers demonstrate that highly unstable market systems are produced and justified through practices that are culturally meaningful to the actors involved (Hertz 1998; Ho 2009). New work from developing economies shows how the emerging politics of (re)distribution can be investigated through ethnographic research with the poor (Ferguson, 2015). Furthermore, the shift in the global economic point of gravity towards countries with a larger informal sector underscores the need to take informality seriously and approach informality and formality as a structural blending rather than discrete spheres (Phillips 2011). The realities in informal environments are not captured in official statistics, annual reports, or legal rulings, and the economic actors depend on non-state solutions to regulatory challenges. There is a long tradition for applying ethnographic methods to study economic lives during ‘uncertain transitions’ (Burawoy & Verdery 1999), for example in post-Socialist Eastern Europe and African countries subjected to structural adjustment programs. Uncertainty and austerity now strongly affect many areas and groups in the Global North, and these places and communities can be put under an ethnographic microscope to enrich theories about global processes from the ground up. In this session, submissions present the results of ethnographic research in economic geography from across the global North and South.
Linked Sessions Ethnographic methods in economic geography: Applications and potentials (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
When Privilege and Austerity Meet: Ethnography as encounter in North east
Nicky Gregson (Durham University, UK)
John Morris (University College London, UK)
Esther Hitchen (Durham University, UK)
Amy Greer-Murphy (Durham University, UK)
This paper is concerned with ethnographic encounters in which privilege and austerity meet. Austerity, its effects and affects, are under ethnographic scrutiny in parts of the Global North. This is not just another instance of 'anthropology comes home'. Rather, it is argued to be an effect of ethnography's (at times problematic) transcendence of its primary disciplinary home, anthropology, and its current status, as the increasingly default method of choice for many researchers across the social sciences. That status means that ethnographers of austerity are not necessarily experienced ethnographers and that, with the growth of ethnography in undergraduate method's programmes, they may be student ethnographers. This matters, for ethnography (literally life writing) is mediated as much by the life that writes it as by the lives it records. Whilst all ethnography demands explicit recognition of the challenges of ethnographic practice, where ethnography and austerity meet then positionality, reflexivity and the politics of representation are not just ever-present but also potentially charged co-presences. The paper reflects on this point, using as its case an ethnographic inquiry-based learning module that seeks to examine North east high streets through the lens of the everyday. Many of the student-researchers enrolled on the course are undoubtedly talented and enthusiastic but, by virtue of their institutional context and its admissions policies, they are predominantly affluent, overwhelmingly white, privileged, often educated in the private sector, and from prosperous areas in the south of England. This makes the post-industrial North east, and its communities - that are increasingly being ravaged by austerity - alien to our student researchers. The module promulgates an ethnographic encounter with this unfamiliar world, of bookies, charity shops, empty shops, Wetherspoon's, salons and jobcentres, and challenges students to see this world through different eyes. Drawing on our experience of two years of teaching this module, we present the activities and techniques employed by the course leaders to prompt student ethnographers to reflect on their own positionality and politics in a way that produces sensitive ethnographic writing. In particular, the paper highlights three teaching practices: 1- Reflecting on the Everyday Life of the Student; 2-Teaching ethnographic writing using a virtual learning environment; and 3- The Class Conference. We then present some examples of thoughtful and sensitive examples of writing students produced as part of their summative assessment.
Rational reasoning: on the epistemology of case study research in economic geography
Fabian Faller (Kiel University, Germany)
Qualitative case studies are gaining ever more prominence in economic geography. Both indepth and comparative studies aim to obtain context specific evidence. While single case studies are facing challenges of generating analytical knowledge going beyond the case, comparative analyses struggle with obscuring case knowledge that does not provide comparative ground. A solid epistemological foundation can help to account for these challenges. Since most qualitative case studies draw data from interaction with people, the paper in hand aims at discussing underlying epistemological implications of working with people in economic geography. First, we will debate fundamental challenges of qualitative case studies in general. Second, we will explore some basic features of contemporary qualitative case study research in economic geography. Third, we will investigate the difference between two underlying epistemological approaches of most current studies: methodological individualism and empirical individualism. Rational reasoning is presented as analytical object demarcating the transition from methodological to empirical individualism. Fourth, we will provide evidence from an in-depth and comparative qualitative study on renewable energies in Luxembourg based on empirical individualism. Finally, we will discuss potentials for furthering our analytical knowledge through epistemologically sound qualitative case study research.
Belonging and space within the emotional economies of soft capitalism. Critical field notes from an organizational ethnography
Anna Paola Quaglia (University of Turin, Italy)
This paper aims to unfold the nexus between belonging and space in contemporary soft capitalism (Thrift, 2005) as a myth generator (Blumenberg, 1985) fueling new practices on which capitalism rests, able to generate excitement, pleasure and therefore adhesion. The argument moves from two considerations: little can be understood about "what people are" and "what people do" (Pile, 2008) without looking at the spaces they inhabit (Leghissa, 2012); and, as psychoanalysis tell us, any subject displays, consciously or unconsciously, belonging dynamics. Paraphrasing Lacan, the subject becomes vis à vis the Other. But, the connections between subject formation, belonging dynamics and the materiality of space are blurred and hardly visible to the naked eye. Recalling Taussing's I swear I saw this (2011), we know there is something about it, but methodologically, how do we rigorously account for it in order to theorize from ethnography? Drawing upon extensive ethnographic fieldwork underway in an global organization based in Milan, which is at one and the same time a co-working space, a start-up incubator and a communitybuilder, firstly I will attempt to disclose how the nexus belonging-space is a powerful mobilizer and a meaningful heuristic device to better understand emotional economies. Secondly, accounts of my own positionality and some methodological reflections on the potentialities of ethnography as a method to investigate space "as constructed out of social relations" (Massey, 1994) will follow.
Doing ethnography in banking – materiality and access to bankers
Franz Flögel (Institute for Work and Technology, Germany)
Doing ethnography allows observing the unexpected. In a research project I compared the credit granting processes of regional savings banks and supraregional big banks in Germany using ethnography. The background was to analyse whether regional banks really decide SME loans in lower distance to their customers against the background that all banks must use rating systems for risk analysis. Therefore, a two month full time internship in a savings bank was conducted and compared to a SME customer advisor team of a big bank. Whereas the initial focus was on bankers communication practices (with customers and colleges) and the implementation of the rating systems (performativity of models), participant observation revealed that the physical design of the branches were crucial. Whereas savings bank's branch under study was designed in a way that customers can and did easily access their bankers, the design of the big bank's branch restricts access. These designs impact customer relationships the ethnography indicates. Thus, whereas the materiality of place was not in the focus of the study the ethnography pointed at its importance. Hence, ethnography appears suitable to study socio-economic processes without prioritising neither the relevance of things nor thought ex ante.
Andrew Brooks (King's College London, UK)