Slow Ethnography: A Political and Methodological Manifesto

This talk expands on what “slow ethnography” is

Erving Goffman once remarked that many of the methodological statements that we read are often after-the-matter rationalizations for what the writer has done and what has happened in a particular research setting. There is undoubtedly a certain retrospective justification for the argument I want to make regarding my own methodological approach that perhaps falls somewhere between what the social anthropologist Dennis Rodgers has referred to as “dual synchronic” and “diachronic” ethnographic studies. Drawing upon my own “discontinuous longitudinal ethnography” of a black Caribbean community in Chapeltown, Leeds, over a twenty year period, in this talk I make a methodological and political argument for “slow ethnography”. If the ability to trace meaning-making only emerges after countless interactions over time, then the longer the time spent in the field, the deeper the immersion, the better chance we have of mapping cultural change. Just as the slow food movement issues a challenge not just to the model of consuming fast food but to the underlying production processes that lie beneath, so “slow ethnography” might similarly provide a necessary corrective to the McDonaldiziation of the neo-liberal academy and the concomitant bureaucratic evaluation culture that pose a direct threat to the ability of universities to remain spaces of critical enquiry. This talk’s broader goal, then, is to claim slow ethnography (and related, the idea of a slow sociology) as not just central to the ethnographic enterprise, but as a necessary political move in defending academia as space able to produce deeply embedded forms of (slow) knowledge that challenge the compressed temporal demands of (fast) capitalism. 


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