31 May 2017, University of Manchester

ESRC NWDTC Postgraduate Conference

This one day postgraduate conference, supported by the ESRC North West Doctoral Training Centre, aims to explore “impact” as a set of concerns shared by those who use ethnography in their research. On the one hand, universities, funding bodies and other sponsors increasingly demand that researchers demonstrate tangible, measurable outcomes of their work. On the other hand, impact is an ethnographic object: among interlocutors for whom it orientates practice (e.g. international development) and those who try to bring about change without ever using the word (e.g. social justice campaigners). In addition researchers work with their interlocutors and their projects in ways which lie outside their strictly academic concerns, through various levels of engagement with their informants’ projects. To take a few examples: the expertise of those who work with marginalised or indigenous groups is often drawn into legal disputes (as in Stuart Kirsch’s consultation work on pollution, mining and land rights); the study of illegal practices may directly inform efforts at their eradication (Nancy Scheper-Hughes on organ trafficking); and those who study contemporary political movements may start as, or become, activists in their own right (David Graeber on the Occupy movement and his “direct action” ethnography).

Increasingly, ethnographers build forms of engagement and outcomes into the very design of their research. This may be to align with institutional agendas (such as universities, funders or NGOs), or to assist and advocate on behalf of research subjects. At times, ethnographers may be held equally accountable to their institutions and their informants. This conference seeks to take “accountability” and “activism” as ways to think through the kinds of impact that are possible, desired or demanded by a range of ethnographic scenarios. Should the main role of ethnography be to critique “impact” as a floating signifier, or do we need a new ‘impact anthropology’? Does ‘thinking through impact’ have anything to offer or is it a lapse of critical social science? Is it possible to embrace engagement and advocacy without falling into old debates of the applied vs. the theoretical? Rather than dismiss either side of the coin, the conference invites papers from a range of experiences with “impact culture” in order to take this term and its various applications seriously.

No fee for participation in this conference. Limited funds may be available for speakers’ travel expenses only.

Deadline for abstract submission, of no more than 250 words, as well as proposals for panels and film screenings is 31st March 2017. Please address proposals to ManchesterImpactConference@gmail.com or submit through the conference website, http://manchesterimpact2017.weebly.com/.