As a form of inquiry, ethnography is often associated with the art of making differences and similarities matter. At its best, it is a mode of knowledge production that has the capacity to unsettle the ground upon which its own comparative practices take place, to disturb a status quo by bringing into existence the invisible dimension of a concrete situation and, potentially, to make us think that which was yet unthought or even unthinkable. With its commitment to empirical immersion, ethnographic analysis can offer a unique form of analysis which allows us to think of method/concept in terms of singularity “whose mode of generality is different from that of comparison between different objects or cases” (Das, 2018). It is this unique movement between the ethnographic work and the act of thinking, the creation/invention of concepts as singular variations that emerges through an experiential encounter with concrete situation that we would like to explore in this group.
The ethnographic variations group is centered around two interwoven sets of questions: the first interrogates the relation between the empirical and the conceptual, and asks what it means to think with ethnographic encounters. The second focuses on the manners in which this process takes place, the various and singular practices behind each ethnographic analysis or, to borrow the notion of Annemarie Mol (2002), the praxiography of ethnographic analysis. As conveners with the Ethnography Lab, we will engage the academic community around these questions through two initiatives that will run between November 2021 and May 2022): a monthly online speaker series and a reading group. Some themes we wish to weave into both the speaker series and the reading group include: creativity and experimentation in practices and methods; generative conceptuality; immersion, attunement and noticing; mess-making and sense-making; multiplicity and pluriversal possibilities; being affected and thinking collaboratively; new forms of thinking that might emerge through ethnography; modes of translation and dissemination.
Loren March is a queer and trans geographer and PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and Planning. Their work focuses broadly on queer urban ecologies, examining affective relations in contexts of urban redevelopment and the bio/necropolitics of urban greening initiatives in Toronto. Loren engages with the possibilities of queer affective ethnography as a style of doing research that pays attention to marginalized relational lifeworlds, experiences and stories. They are interested in the generative possibilities of research, in experimenting with representational possibilities, and in using creative methods that can take academic work beyond the university and conventional written forms.
Gregoire Benzakin is a PhD candidate in the department of Geography and Planning. At the intersection of infrastructure studies, more-than human geographies and philosophy, his research explores the pluriversal dimensions of digital infrastructures. Focusing on the controversies surrounding Sidewalk Toronto, a smart city project which was abandoned in May 2020, Gregoire combines ethnographic methods with speculative philosophy to recast the project’s failure, and deploy an alternative narrative of Sidewalk Toronto as an unsettled trajectory. He is interested in exploring methods of dramatisation that reframe what it means to inherit failed infrastructure projects and nurture the possibility of other stories, other worlds and other futures, on the basis of what is already here but often unperceived, the latent virtualities in the cracks of our modern ground.