‘Not face to face, but side by side’
Berkeley conference to bring sociologists and anthropologists together in an ‘ethnografeast’ of film and field research

By Jonathan King, Public Affairs

04 September 2002 | Anthropologists and sociologists from the U.S., Europe, and Latin America who base their work on field observation and want to strengthen their craft will gather in Berkeley for a three-day conference to examine the “practice, predicament and promise of ethnography for a new century.”

“Ethnografeast” will take place Sept. 12-14.

Ethnography is the close-up study of cultures and institutions by researchers who immerse themselves within the group they are studying. Conference organizer Loïc Wacquant, a Berkeley sociology professor, further defines it as “embedded and embodied social research,” because the investigator “becomes party to the social relations he studies, using his own body as the chief instrument of inquiry.”

According to its program, the conference will allow participants to examine the “empirical and theoretical (im)possibilities as well as the changing politics and ethics” of ethnography. In so doing, they will clarify ethnography’s “relation to fiction, philosophy, medicine, statistics, political economy, feminism, history, and theory.”

Fostering intellectual exchange across disciplinary divisions is a primary objective of the weekend.

“The main idea behind the Ethnografeast,” explains Wacquant, “is to create a venue where anthropologists and sociologists who practice and think about fieldwork can come not face to face but side by side — to get them to engage the varied approaches and productions of their twin. That was routinely done a century ago but is rarely achieved today. And it is urgently needed if ethnography is to capture the massive social upheavals of our age.”

The conference opens with a panel titled “Suspended Between Theory and Fiction.” Berkeley sociologist Michael Burawoy will pre-sent the case for theory-driven ethnography while University of Michigan anthropologist Ruth Behar will advocate a humanistic practice closer in its approach to writing and film.

Conference sessions on Friday and Saturday will address violence, social divisions and bonds (kinship, class, and gender), the ethics of fieldwork, the body and the senses, and the role of theory and history in ethnography.

The conference will also feature the U.S. premiere of “Sociology Is a Martial Art,” an award-winning documentary about the late Pierre Bourdieu, the pathfinding French sociologist and public intellectual.

Bourdieu, who was to have delivered the closing address at this conference, died last January. He regarded ethnographic social science as “a public service,” not just an academic pastime, and in many ways the conference is an hommage to his works and testimony to his influence.

“Pierre Bourdieu’s influence was profound and pervasive,” says Chancellor Robert Berdahl, who will participate in the weekend’s events. “Although his own work was largely in the fields of anthropology and sociology, his impact extended to all of the social sciences and humanities. He never retreated from the world, but offered a penetrating critique of contemporary society, tackling, as he said, ‘the hottest political issues’ of the day with the ‘coldest instruments of science.’

“He was, above all, a warm and caring human being,” Berdahl added. “My own friendship with him extended from 1972, when we first met, until the last few weeks of his life, when he wrote me a note of farewell. I owe much to him intellectually and personally.”

“Ethnografeast” will take place Sept. 12 to 14 at International House, 2299 Piedmont Ave. For information, see or e-mail Maureen Fesler at

“Sociology Is a Martial Art” will be screened at 8 p.m., Sept. 12, in Wheeler Auditorium. Director Pierre Carles, Film Studies Chair Linda Williams, and Professor Loïc Wacquant will discuss the film, beginning at about 10:30 p.m.

A screening of Ruth Behar’s film “Adio Kerida,” on the Jewish-Cuban diaspora, will take place from 9 to 11 p.m., Sept. 13, in 160 Kroeber Hall.


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