RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016

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10 Ethnographic methods in economic geography: Applications and potentials (1)
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 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
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 (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Calculating away disciplinary boundaries in an ethnography of African vegetable markets
Imogen Bellwood-Howard (Georg-August University Göttingen, Germany)
This study uses ethnographic case studies of Northern Ghanaian women vegetable wholesalers, showing the mechanisms though which social, economic and ecological realms blend together in the lived experiences of market actors. Participant observation, interview and conversation data were analysed using tools derived from the anthropology of economics and ANT, in particular the notion of 'calculation' debated by Michel Callon, Daniel Miller and Don Slater in their examinations of various market forms. Traders in the town of Tamale harvest vegetables from urban farmers, selling them to retailers and consumers, who are sometimes connected to them by kinship or neighbourhood. Individual transactions coalesce into short-and long-term alliances. These exchanges and bonds are iteratively constructed or 'calculated' into existence at nested temporal scales, as actors try to maintain their livelihoods across seasons when goods may be scarce or abundant. This shaping of market processes is framed not as decisions of human actors, but a characteristically urban constellation of entangled constructs, often interchangeable to the actors concerned, involving seasonal variability, quality, value, trust, credit, profit and reciprocity. Disciplinary distinctions thus fall away, as the analytical tool of 'calculation' provides a way to describe not only the socio-ecological-economic entanglements of real markets, but how such entanglements emerge.
Neoliberalising migrant finance? The financialisation of remittance
Vincent Guermond (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
It is now a well-­‐established fact that financial flows from migrants and their descendants to countries of origin are at the core of the migration-­‐development nexus. A number of policy initiatives have been proposed and implemented, notably by international financial institutions, in order to harness the developmental impact of remittances. Those initiatives, ranging from maximizing the productive use of remittances to encouraging the financial inclusion of migrants and their families, provide a particular depiction of what remittances represent, i.e. 'a sum of money with mainly positive characteristics and a strong potential for poverty alleviation' (Kunz, 2011:51). However, what is striking and not much acknowledged in the mainstream literature is how current migration-­‐development discourses and policies around remittances can be understood in the light of critical analyses of the global neoliberal socio-­‐economic phenomenon of financialisation. Whilst it has been demonstrated that microfinance financialises the poor and produces entrepreneur-­‐type of subjects (Roy, 2010), this paper argues that remittances are the most recent site used by financial institutions to advance the poverty industry (Soederberg, 2014), leading to the integration of migrants and remittance recipients into processes of finance-­‐led capital accumulation. However, despite the fact that the literature on the financialisation of the everyday life – mostly focusing on the global North -­‐ can without a doubt be connected to the recent development policy push around remittances, I argue in this paper that it is also highly needed to explore 1) the different ways in which financialisation processes take place in different places and social, political and economic contexts, and 2) how people (remittance recipients, in this paper) experience and respond to financialisation processes. I intend to do so by developing a mixed-­‐method approach inspired by some of the principles and practices of the extended case method (Burawoy, 1998, 2009). This, I argue, will enable the empirical investigation of everyday lived experiences of financialisation processes amongst remittance receivers in the context of a theoretical analysis of the political economic structures supporting the financial inclusion agenda.
Negotiating Rapport in Fieldwork: Researching Transnational Petty Entrepreneurship
Allen Xiao (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)
Transnational business networks are not only statistically recorded in yearbooks but also implicitly deployed in everyday practices. To better understand linkage between peoples, places and transnational processes, economic geographers doing ethnographic fieldwork are inevitably involved in the web of social relations. By reflecting on my multi-sited fieldwork on transnational petty entrepreneurship between China and Nigeria, I will address myths and ethics of positionality vis-à-vis multiple interest groups in the field. This paper suggests that close relationship with businesspeople I researched goes beyond superficial exchange of business interests and academic data. Not only do researchers have authorities to "write cultures", but informants also have power to influence researchers, further to affect the writing outcome. In this sense, the researcher and the researched are complicit in constructing "partial truth". Instead of passively and evenly interacting with those businesspeople who are involved with conflicts of business interests, I maintain that researchers should actively convince their informants of their moral personality that does not ethically hurt informants' interests, and strategically incorporate informants into the production of knowledge. In other word, researchers can utilize activist methods to obtain positivist results, which might transcend binary dispute of subjectivity and objectivity in the "cultural turn" of economic geography.
"Placing" the researcher in a translocal space: the impact of researcher identities on fieldwork in Guangzhou's African markets
Jessica Wilczak (The GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Germany)
Since the early 2000s, the visible presence of African businesspeople in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou has attracted attention from journalists and academics alike. Certain areas of Guangzhou have been transformed by Chinese entrepreneurs seeking to accommodate the needs of the often transient Africans. In the process, they have helped create distinctive zones of contact between various translocal groups that include not just Africans (itself a diverse group), but also businesspeople from the Middle East, South Asia, and Western China. Yet despite the fact that Guangzhou's "African" markets have been subject to intense scrutiny, and are moreover spaces of complex racialization, scholarly papers on the topic do not address how the researcher's own identity influences their ability to conduct research in this setting. Influenced by feminist approaches that recognize how knowledge production is situated and embodied, this paper aims to initiate a more reflexive discussion about researcher positionality in "African" markets in Guangzhou. The paper draws on my own experience as a (white, female) researcher in Guangzhou, as well as discussions with other scholars in the field conducted online and in person, to explore a number of questions. How does our identity (gender/ethnicity/age/class etc.) influence how participants respond to us in this setting, and what impact does this have on our research findings? How is our reception in these spaces linked to broader political and economic forces? Has the growing presence of researchers and journalists affected these areas, and what does this mean for the political and ethical dimensions of our research? Finally, how might more explicit attention to reflexivity improve our research in this context?
Discussant
Heidi Østbø Haugen (University of Oslo, Norway)
Discussant