Ethnography and Global Politics: Engaging International Relations from Below

Authors: Cetta Mainwaring*, University of Glasgow
Topics: Migration, Political Geography
Keywords: International Relations, Ethnography, Methodology, Anthropology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Studio 7, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the promises and pitfalls of using ethnographic methods to analyze global politics. The promise of ethnography has not gone unnoticed by scholars of International Relations, but the method remains at the fringes of a discipline still dominated by positive and quantitative studies. Feminist scholars spearheaded the use of ethnography in IR, and some scholars note an ‘ethnographic turn’ as early as the mid-1980s. Ethnographic method and methodology have recently received renewed interest across political science. Acknowledging a long tradition of ethnographic research in IR, this paper brings together research across diverse issue areas, ranging from humanitarian intervention to transnational migration, to ask about ethnography’s larger contribution to understanding global politics: What kinds of knowledge does ethnography produce about international relations? In what ways might ethnography challenge top-down approaches to the study of IR, potentially informed by local perspectives? How might ethnographers, who have developed relatively rich understandings of their reflexivity and positionality in their research, contribute to the evolving ethics of the discipline? We will explore these questions, as well as the impediments to dialogue between ethnography and other methods in the discipline: Has ethnography already lived up to its potential, and if not, why?

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