Walking Together — Perils of Participation in Anthropology and Philosophy of Action. A Case Study in Post-Apartheid South Africa.

Abstract

The act of walking together is a seemingly trivial everyday shared practice most human beings are familiar with. At the same time, its particular manner of performance depends on context-specific norms for interaction in public space. My project explores local modes of walking together in highly racialized social settings of post-apartheid South Africa. I seek to show how specific styles of walking together embody and answer to the legacy of racial suppression and division, but also how they function as shared acts of resistance and occupancy of segregated public space. Walking together with black Xhosa women residing in the townships of Makhanda (formerly known as Grahamstown), I study the pressure and tension of interracial interaction through participating in a habitual everyday practice. Empirically, I explore epistemic benefits of misunderstanding and reflect on power dynamics of racialized positionality between my research partners and myself. On a methodological level, I question the status of white testimonial evidence often building the foundation of anthropological fieldwork. Dwelling on the philosophical action theory of G.E.M. Anscombe, I plead for an implementation of a holistic conception of shared intention into anthropological theory and method building.

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Till Förster
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hans Bernhard Schmid (Vienna)


 

Bio

Anna is lecturer and PhD student at the Institute of Anthropology, University of Basel. From 2016-19, she was research fellow of the Graduate School “Das Reale in der Kultur der Moderne” at the University of Konstanz (DE). She holds a Master's degree in Philosophy from the University of St Andrews (UK) and a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and Social Sciences from the University of Basel. In her master thesis “What is it to Engage in a Shared Action?”, Anna identifies, analyses and historically situates two different conceptions of shared agency. She hence pleads for a concept of collective intentionality that is grounded in practical, not theoretical thought. Starting her PhD work in Anthropology, Anna has since moved on to empirically study the act of walking together as a paradigmatic example for a shared action in both philosophy of action and anthropological research practice. She is currently preparing her post-doc project, which will revolve around questions concerning human habits of attention.

 


 

Focus in Reserach 

Anna is interested in the foundation of ethnological methodologies, especially in what is often lumped together as “participant observation”. Separating “observation” and “participation”, she explores their common grounds as well as their particular merits for anthropological fieldwork practice. Anna is also interested in the history of anthropology as a scholarly discipline and the (post)colonial development of different schools of thinking that continue to shape how anthropologists go about their work. In this sense, Anna’s focus in research is “the anthropologist”.  She has done research on feminist modes of anthropological writing, bodily ways of sharing knowledge, the status of testimonial evidence in qualitative research and the idea of “the field”. Regionally, she specializes in (post-)apartheid South Africa, with focus on racialized division and communal dwelling.

 


Publications

In the Slipstream of Participation: Attention and Intention in Anthropological Fieldwork. In: Porr, M. and  Weidtmann, N. (eds.): One World Anthropology and Beyond. A Multidisciplinary Engagement with the Work of Tim Ingold. Forthcoming. Routledge.

Epilogue: What Makes a Good Vignette? In: Kesselring, R. (ed.): Ethnographic Vignettes: Social Change and Social Encounters in Solwezi, Northwestern Zambia, Basel Papers on Political Transformations 20/21. Basel 2020: 53-54.

Ethnocentricity in Academic Philosophy. On Reading Different Texts and Reading Texts Differently in Swiss and South African Philosophy Departments, Tsantsa. Journal of the Swiss Anthropological Association, 24, 2019: 39-47.

Review: Drews, K. et al. (eds.): Die Frage in den Geisteswissenschaften. Herausforderungen, Praktiken und Reflexionen. Berlin  2019. In: H-Soz-Kult, 04.11.2019, <www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-28708>.


Further Links

Portraitfoto Anna Christen

Anna Christen 
Ethnologisches Seminar   
Münsterplatz 19  
4051 Basel
anna.christen@unibas.ch