ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

Panel 18

Methodological Approaches to Cosmopolitanism – Mark-Anthony Falzon

Rooms: 1 -CBA 0.005x32

Panel abstract

Cosmopolitanism is essentially a device that enables migrants, diasporas, individuals, and political projects to understand and live some form of translocalism. As such it represents anthropologists with a methodological challenge, namely that of working in more than one place while preserving the ‘fine-grain’ approach that has provided us with so much rich localised data ever since Malinowski stepped off the verandah. It also presents us with a set of practical-logistical questions of method.

‘Multi-sited’ or ‘transnational’ research has in the last decade or so established itself as a legitimate, albeit somewhat experimental, way of studying translocalism. Both theoretically and empirically, a number of leading anthropologists have dealt with it. As the cosmopolitan universe expands, anthropologists will need seriously to think about it or risk becoming painters of disconnected vignettes.

This session has two aims. First, to take stock of the developments in the field by discussing the theoretical and empirical contributions that have been made to date. Second, to draw upon field experiences in order to explore new methodological perspectives for the future.


Dr. Mark-Anthony Falzon


Arbitrary Locations: In defence of the bounded field-site

Matei Candea, University of Cambridge

The paper offers a sympathetic critique of the original formulations of multi-local/multi-sited ethnography. The "multi-sited imaginary" values unboundedness and promotes methodological freedom, but it also implies a problematic reconfiguration of holism (on a grander scale). Whereas these formulations were extremely productive in straining against certain methodological rigidities, their very success in breaking down "boundaries" has given rise to new problems in the doing and writing of ethnography. Written from the perspective of a recent PhD graduate and first-time fieldworker, the paper suggests we reconsider the value of self-imposed limitations, of boundedness as a methodological tool. What role did the bounded fieldsite play for its so-called “traditional” practitioners in social/cultural anthropology? What role could it play for anthropologists who have taken on board the precepts of multi-sitedness? Based on a case study from my own fieldwork in Corsica, I argue that we could think of boundedness (paradoxically) as a productive way of challenging holisms (both ‘old’ and ‘new’) and deferring closure. The bounded fieldsite rethought as an "arbitrary location", becomes an explicitly 'partial' and incomplete window onto the places and traces, confinements and evasions of a world both rooted and cosmopolitan.

Multi-sited fieldwork with diasporic groups

Mark-Anthony Falzon, University of Malta and Clare Hall, Cambridge

This paper draws on research with Sindhis, a worldwide diaspora of Indian traders, to explore some aspects of multi-sited ethnography. There is no doubt that in-depth anthropological fieldwork as established by Malinowski has produced some wonderfully rich data. At the same time, it has tended to make large-scale contextualization of these detailed vignettes difficult. Multi-sited ethnography should be seen as an attempt at finding some sort of compromise. It retains the fieldwork paradigm and applies it to ‘translocal’, ‘global’, and/or ‘cosmopolitan’ contexts. This is not a straightforward process, and this paper looks at some of the issues involved and suggests possible solutions.

Mapping the multiple sites in people’s minds; how multi-sited ethnography makes you change perspective

Ingie Hovland, SOAS, University of London

The paper will explore the method of multi-sited ethnography through using the example of policy in a Norwegian Christian church and development NGO, the Norwegian Mission Society (NMS). I will use the concept of ‘the heathen’ – one of the significant Others of the particular organisational world of NMS – as an interesting prism through which to examine how policy is differently sited in the amorphous, transnational and imaginative field that constitutes the organisation. By actively being aware of and engaging with different organisational sites in relation to policy on ‘the heathen’, new spaces and associations become visible for ethnography. Most importantly, I think, this brings out associations that tell us something about (1) the people under study in NMS, their own continuous ‘site and system awareness’, and their attempts – not dissimilar to mine – to sort out their policy field; (2) me as ethnographer and my attempts to site myself and my discipline in relation to the non-heathen policymakers of NMS; and (3) the nature of development policy itself: from such a multi-sited perspective, policy, clearly, is shown to be important – but not for the reasons one would think.

Conflicting views from the destination: Cosmopolitanism and parochialism at the tourism site

Donald Macleod, University of Glasgow

This paper explores the experiences of people in spaces that are described as cosmopolitan, destinations that are attractive to tourists. People from particular groups will be examined: the indigenous population, visiting tourists and foreign settlers. Areas explored concerning these three groups include attitudes towards regional and national identities, stereotypes of the ‘other’, political and economic behaviour, notions of cultural differences and cultural capital. By exploring these topics and examining the material we should be able to analyse the concept of cosmopolitanism and its relationship to our findings which have suggested that parochialism remains in various settings. This leads us to question whether ‘cosmopolitan’ is a concept which is valid, rigorous or even useful when describing people and ascribing characteristics in these situations: perhaps a new lexicon is required. The examples used in the paper are based on two field research locations: 1. Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera, Canary Islands. A rural coastal community experiencing backpackers and latterly package tourists, which has a growing community of foreign settlers, predominantly German. 2. Bayahibe, Dominican Republic. A small coastal village which is nestled next to a national park and surrounded along the coast by large all-inclusive hotel resorts. Bayahibe has foreign settlers from outside the Caribbean and has had a rich history of immigration from Puerto Rico and Haiti.

Development Disjuncture: The Power of Multi-Sited Ethnography in Exploring Divergent Relations of Power, Culture and Environmental Cosmologies in the Central Highlands of Madagascar


This paper describes how multi-sited ethnography is an invaluable yet complex approach in revealing the power relations and dynamics arising from the deployment of development projects from the multiple ethnographic perspectives. It is powerful in exploring the disjunctures, disconnects and lack of interface between development practitioners and rural farmers. At the same time, it also gives rise to dilemmas and challenges in the practice of fieldwork itself, and in writing the multiple realities of actors who live incredibly different social, cultural and material lives, who engage in extraordinarily different cosmologies, and have different access to development resources from extreme positions of power. By engaging in field work experiences from the Central Highlands of Madagascar, this paper makes commentaries and raises questions about the methodological opportunities and challenges of carrying out field work that engages on an equal footing with development practitioners and rural farmers. The research engages in fine-grained, in-depth research with both domains of actors – using the same methodology, methods and approaches. It also investigates the interface situations between them (or lack thereof). This gives rise to several fieldwork and epistemological dilemmas. Most problematic of all, is not the ‘traditional’ anthropology of Betsileo women and men living in villages, but the exploration of ‘free-floating’ development practitioners, who are highly mobile, unfixed to any geographic context and explode our notions of space and culture. They are the quintessential cosmopolitans: transient travelers who defy notions of the nation-state and a stable idea of ‘culture’. Other issues arise in the study of interfaces, which rarely occur in a congruent or deep manner, as two very different cultures seem to by-pass each other totally within the practice of development. Power, it would seem, is at the heart of development encounters – or more aptly, development disjuncture - as farmers (as non-elite “targets” of development) encounter development practitioners (as cosmopolitan elites who are doing the “targeting”). More importantly, the development interface, full of disjuncture, is a cosmopolitan space, which brings together local, national and global relations of power, and continually reminds us of the paradox of ‘development’.

Back to the page listing all the panels