ASA05: Creativity and cultural improvisation

4th - 7th April 2005, University of Aberdeen, UK

Postgraduate forum:
Creative modes and media in anthropological postgraduate research and dissemination

Forum organisers: Rachel Harkness & Anna Järpe, Aberdeen University;


Social Anthropology is a discipline with a strong defining tradition both in the ways that research is carried out (prolonged fieldwork with participant observation and in-depth interviews) and disseminated (the ethnographic monograph). However, it is also a social science with an emphasis on contemporary – if historically informed – social life, and its particulars are as susceptible to change and adaptation as are the contexts and environments in which the anthropologist works. It is important for us, and particularly post-graduates, to actively build upon our traditions, to challenge them, ourselves, and the discipline, and, in doing so, to help develop an anthropology equal to the world that we, and those that we work with, live in.

The modes and media of anthropological research and communication are the core of this forum topic. That is, we ask how social anthropologists gather and record their fieldwork experiences, observations, and their informants’ stories, and how they then, in turn, communicate their research and analysis to audiences. The session is envisioned as a place for multi-media exhibition and free-flowing and lively discussion, which, although open to all, will focus mainly on post-graduate experience and issues.


Owing to the nature of the topic, the format of the forum will allow forum participants to browse a number of visual, material, and aural exhibits covering a range of different approaches towards both ‘data’ gathering and subsequent dissemination – from apprenticeship, via technological aids, to popular writing. This will present an opportunity for participants to consider some of the different techniques, methods and technologies that are already dominant in the exhibitors’ own works of ‘collection’ or dissemination. Prompted by the exhibits, and by their own research and experience, participants are then encouraged to join a round-table discussion on issues such as what should determine an anthropologist’s chosen medium, and what bearing the general topic has on understanding Anthropology as a creative practice. Do skills shortages and institutional settings stifle imagination when it comes to experimenting with different ways of gathering research ‘data’ and of communicating findings? Or is the dominance of the written (academic) word simply a consequence of it being the best medium we possess for recording and communicating life, knowledge, ideas, and experiences? Other issues to consider are the importance of intended audiences, the purpose of post-graduate research, and the influence of other disciplines’ preferred media of research/communication.

We hope that this forum will inspire future anthropological practice that is both creative and dynamic, and which breaches the boundaries set by the traditional formats for postgraduate research and dissemination, thereby ensuring a rich and varied future for a discipline that deals with the richness and variety of human life..