Publications 2019

In Secrecy and Methods in Security Research: A Guide to Qualitative Fieldwork, edited by Marieke de Goede, Esmé Bosma und Polly Pallister-Wilkins. London/New York: Routledge, 80-96.

This chapter seeks to shed some light on the difficulties that ethnographers and other field researchers are likely to encounter in the study of bureaucratic state agencies. State agencies constitute a specific cultural and social space due to their bureaucratic structure and their self-image as representatives of the state. But state agencies do not only consist of piles of paper; they are populated by human actors with agency. It is a necessary precondition for ethnographic researchers to get acquainted with state structures, such as, organization charts, official documents, and legal acts. However, state structures alone are not sufficient to understanding how state agencies actually operate, what everyday life within state agencies looks like, and which power dynamics inform them. In this contribution, I introduce the metaphor of the ’difficult terrain’ to illustrate the specific obstacles, challenges, and pitfalls that the ethnographer is likely to encounter in bureaucratic fields. Particularly, the agencies’ inherent secrecy poses a problem for field access. Often, ethnographic and other studies tend to omit these difficulties in their written accounts. Implicitly, assuming that actual fieldwork only starts after field access has been accomplished. 

Alexandra Schwell

Thelen, Tatjana, and Coe, Cati. Political belonging through elder care: Temporalities, representations and mutuality.

Anthropological Theory 19 (2): 279-299.

In this article, we examine the ways that elderly care generates political belonging. Our approach builds on studies which argue that nurture and care create kinship, but takes that argument further by suggesting that care generates membership in numerous social formations, across scales. We suggest that elderly care helps illuminate key aspects of political belonging, particularly the temporality of political membership, because elderly care entails mutuality and reciprocity over a long period of time. In addition, elderly care is an interactive process in which older persons, their caregivers, the state and other actors negotiate modes of political belonging that entail affect as well as rights. Furthermore, elderly care has been used to construct representations of ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ families which are ideologically connected to particular political formations. These representations generate difference and ‘Othering’ of internal and external populations. Ultimately, we argue that a focus on elderly care collapses domains that are usually kept artificially separated, like kinship and the state, and private and public, in ways that are productive for social analysis as a whole.

First published 2017:

Chinese translation 2020: 养老带来政治归属:时间维度、表征形式以及相互性. Journal of Qinghai Nationalities University, Social Sciences 46, no. 4 (2020): 9-21.

Tatjana Thelen

Thiemann, André. Moral Appreciation: Caring for Post-Socialist Cows in Contemporary Serbia.

Etnofoor 31 (2), 2019, 13-31.

André Thiemann

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