Hemkomstseminarium för A Caballero, M Pasquini och K Sandbekk Norsted

Engaging Vulnerability-seminariet och Forskningsseminariet i kulturantropologi

Hemkomstseminarium för Adelaida Caballero, Mirko Pasquini and Kristian Sandbekk Norsted


Three of our PhD Candidates, enrolled in the Engaging Vulnerability research programme, have recently finished their fieldwork for their respective dissertations and are currently in the phase of “writing up.” On this occasion they will present ethnographic glimpses, post fieldwork reflections and thoughts on anthropological writing.  

Adelaida Caballero
The making of «la información»: Social responsibility and civil engagement among elderly female street vendors in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea ||
The very nature of street vending (public contexts, contact with peers, symbolic exchanges, everyday interaction across the socioeconomic spectrum) is conducive to the development of socially critical types of personhood. Among the most relevant objects toward which elderly female street vendors in Malabo direct their criticism, the national media occupies a prominent position. The ethnography shows, on one hand, that the women exhibit an open mistrust toward institutionalized versions of truth which they do not think portray social reality as it is (i.e. as they experience it on a day-to-day basis). On the other hand, they also exhibit a need to regulate the flow of alternative information that constantly reaches their tables in the form of rumors and gossip. This paper sketches on the concept of «la información», a type of public knowledge that originates and circulates beyond the fringes of official discourse. A complex phenomenon, «la información» has an ambiguity to it: it travels as gossip but its contents are often believed to be conveyed by people who are in a ‘position of knowing’.  Mamá Esperanza, a fruit seller from the barrio of Ela Nguema, is critically aware of the importance of keeping things as close to the truth as possible —the average Malabo citizen depends on «la información» to get word of things that could never be broadcasted on the heavily censored national media. Therefore, Mamá Esperanza has developed her own methods for assessing the veracity of the stories that are told any day at her table. Mamá Esperanzas’s practices of information regulation denote a degree of self-ascribed social responsibility and speak about non-liberal forms of civic engagement enacted by older women who, despite being commonly perceived as marginalized and vulnerable, find themselves playing an unsuspectingly important role in shaping the social dynamics that structure, in turn, the communities they live in.

Kristian Sandbekk Norsted
Feminism, and Anthropology as Fiction || If contemporary feminism is partly imagined a revolutionary project seeking to radically transform structures of power that effect sexism, racism, transphobia, class, ableism, heteronormativity, mental illness, and carnivorism, would it be fair to write about feminism in a conventional manner? That ethnography is fiction is today an old disciplinary insight. During the postmodern era of anthropology, issues of textuality, representation and authority were raised and dealt with, but are we not, despite now-conventional attention to reflexivity in our writing–often reduced to rather dull sections on positionality, as well as a positive sanctioning of the first-person singular narrative (problematically assumed to be isomorphic with the ethnographer on the one hand and what Roland Barthes would call the Author on the other)–largely doing business as usual? I shall attempt to think more practically about anthropology as fiction and what it could mean to take this insight (even more) seriously. If writing is also one of our self-referencing strategies, I argue that a way forward is to further open it up (pace Marilyn Strathern). Admittedly, what I wish to discuss runs the risk of becoming somewhat abstract, and I have therefore decided to provide a short text (please find it enclosed) that I hope you will skim through. It is intended as an experiment in which I try to illustrate some of the ideas I shall allude to in my presentation.

Mirko Pasquini
Looking Vulnerable. The strange case of the ‘ugly’ Mr. Stefano trapped in the Emergency Ward ||
“I do not like him, he is ugly” (è brutto) - this expression is often used by Triage Nurses, irrespective of sex, after spotting an incoming patient. What they mean is that the patient ‘doesn’t look right’, and that there might be something urgent going on with him. In ward jargon, this quick, on spot, judgment is called ‘first look’ (colpo d’occhio), and it plays a major role in the process of assessing clinical urgency (i.e. triage). It is a way to immediately ‘sense danger’, matching patients’ appearances with possible biological threats. This visual judgment focuses on signs shown by people’s bodies, clothes, smells, and attitudes, which are believed to reveal the working conditions, pain endurance, severity of suffering, habits, and chronic conditions that affects the patient – thus setting providers’ minds on certain possible risks. But what happens when the patient’s appearance, together with the visual judgement that emerges from it, does not match what they actually say? How do providers walk the line between what people say and how do they look like? What if a person looks extremely vulnerable, but desperately claims to feel ‘just fine’? This is the story of an elderly man in no need of medical help –a man who, despite making a case against it, got caught by an ambulance crew and was stuck in the Emergency System, trying to escape the risk of having ‘something urgent’, of being ‘somewhat’ in danger.