Tracing affects with sensory ethnography in transdisciplinary research

16.-18. Juni 2022, “What’s new? Innovation and Transformation in Educational Ethnographic Research” Europa-Universität Flensburg

Tracing affects with sensory ethnography in transdisciplinary research

Prof. Dr. Birgit Althans, Dr. Mirjam Lewandowsky, Janna Wieland, Fiona Schrading Kunstakademie Düsseldorf

What role do affects play in ethnographic research? And: How can they be researched as such? Within the framework of our BMBF research project „Wasteland? Rural Areas as Affective Space and Cultural Education as Pedagogy of Situating“, we are investigating ethnographically with media and cultural studies, art history as well as artistic research three cultural institutions in different rural regions of Germany and their „surrounding space“ as affective spaces. We ask: What does it mean to ethnographically research rural areas as „affective space“? How are affects embodied precisely in artistic and cultural education and how do they become visible and researchable? How are the researchers involved in this process, which relies on the affective entanglement of researcher and field instead of their separation?

The purpose of this presentation is to show how theories of affect, which are increasingly relevant in the „affect societies of late modernity“ (Reckwitz 2017), can be intertwined with ethnographic methods. Central to a cultural and social science study of affect that is informed by a relational, neo-Spinozist notion of affect (Massumi 2002, Gregg & Seigworth 2010, Slaby & v. Scheve 2019, Seyfert 2019) – rather than phenomenological (Brinckmann et al 2021) as educational science has been in relation to affects and emotions – is that it assumes that affects are not simply isolated „things“ that could be described in isolation from their circulation through and between bodies. Affects and affective practices (Reckwitz 2016), then, cannot be separated from the locus, the „affective arrangements“ (Slaby & Mühlhoff 2019), in which they operate. Affect is understood as a relational force, intensity, or efficacy that emerges between (more-than-human) actors* in a situation. Thus, if affects always operate in particular relational settings, they must be thought of and perceived with and within these settings, in which we as researchers participate. An affect theoretical approach thus questions that there are given affects that can be found and represented and therefore asks for non-representationalist and interventionist methods of research, thus connecting to the „crisis of representation“ debate in ethnography.

In our contribution we present, among others, methods of „Sensory Ethnography“ (Pink 2009) and visual (e.g. photography and video), auditory (e.g. sound) and textual (e.g. walking interviews) ethnographic methods from our field research to illustrate our processual analysis of affect spaces. Based on the material, our transdisciplinary contribution aims to explore, on the one hand, the intersections between ethnography and affect research, the potentials of a „sensory ethnography“ for affect research, but also the possible impulses of affect research for ethnographic fieldwork.

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