Audio presentation: Ethnography of living discourse - Entering the field with a Foucauldian gaze

In July, ESR Johannes Renders presented a paper at the International Society for the Sociology of Religion conference with the theme Cooperation and Conflict in Diverse Societies. Read about it and find a link to the audio in his report.

2017.09.14 | Birgitte Bøgh

Entering the field with a Foucauldian gaze - ISSR conference in Lausanne

This summer I had the opportunity to present a position paper entitled “Ethnography of living discourse: Entering the field with a Foucauldian gaze” at the 34th ISSR conference, hosted by the University of Lausanne. This year's theme was Religion, Cooperation and Conflict in Diverse Societies. Lausanne is beautifully set on the shores of Lake Geneva, and I enjoyed the city, the lovely climate, and the inspiring conversations with colleagues from disparate disciplines and countries. 

In my paper, I tried to tackle some theoretic-methodological issues I encountered during my first year as a PhD, and offered a reflection on the benefits and limits of a “Foucauldian gaze” in an anthropological-ethnographic study of religion. The insights I’ve gained, and outlined in this paper, have been key to the progress of my project, “The discourse on human freedom among Muslim Danes”. 

First, I briefly commented on the use of Michel Foucault in the social sciences. Then I outlined certain aspects in Foucault’s work, his conception of the constituted subject, the identification of enouncements and discourses, the production of subject positions in systems of power. Finally, I argued that the value of a Foucauldian gaze for ethnography does not lie in applying his archeological/genealogical method or specific analytical tools, but rather in creating the conceptual conditions to engage a “living discourse” while maintaining its strangeness and complexity. I concluded that an awareness and understanding of the discursive production of knowledge provides insight into the ethnographer-interlocutor dynamic and of ethnographic writing as a nonrepresentational practice. 

Although I have been advised to refine my presentation skills (talk slower, tune down the pretentiousness), the paper has been well received, and some fruitful conversations came out of it. I am looking forward to the next challenge, which will be at the Ischia International Festival of Philosophy, where I will present the paper “Parrhēsía contra perfectionist liberalism: Muslim Danes on human freedom”. 

The recording of the Lausanne presentation is available on Soundcloud here or via the direct link

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