From secrecy to transparency and back again: sharing anthropological data in the age of Open science

Journées d’étude

Mardi 13 Septembre 2022 10:00 Fin : Mercredi 14 Septembre 2022 - 17:00
MSH Mondes (bât. Weber), amphithéâtre (rez-de-chaussée)
200 avenue de la République, Nanterre


Convenors: Jessica De Largy Healy and Monica Heintz (ANR Anthropen)

Ethical and scientific principles concerning the transparency and accessibility of the field data that informs published ethnographies have varied greatly over time – from an early ideology of transparency associated with salvage ethnography at the beginning of the 20th century, such as in the Yale Human Relations Area Files, to the emergence of ethical concerns over the security and preservation of the privacy of informants after WWII and more recently with the controversial Human Terrain System in the US military, as well as to an increasing awareness of local sensibilities towards the preservation of secret knowledge. At the turn of the 21st century the impetus for increased accountability and transparency in public organisations was immediately followed in Europe by new data restrictions with the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018. While the anonymization of research participants, going well beyond a mere pseudonymization process, has long been the rule in anthropology, a parallel drive for naming and identifying the subjects of anthropological enquiry in the wake of the Writing Culture critique (see Crapanzano’s Portrait of Tuhami, 1983) and Indigenous scholarship is now accepted as a form of empowerment and recognition of shared cultural and intellectual property rights over ethnographic data and knowledge.

In European institutions, the Open science movement has gained momentum in the past decade with the digitization of much of our professional practice. Aiming for an increased accountability, inclusiveness and sharing of the benefits of science with society at large, it translates into a series of policies and recommendations to open scientific data. But what does this “openness” imply for a discipline such as anthropology? Who are social scientists accountable to? With whom lies the responsibility and authority to make the collected materials available, in what form and to whom? The research project we have conducted since 2019 at the Laboratoire d’ethnologie et de sociologie comparative, at Nanterre University, “The frontiers of anthropological knowledge”, was specifically designed to question the application of these open access principles to anthropological materials. Through a set of case studies of ethnographic corpuses (sound recordings, photographs, video, fieldnotes) collected at various times in various places, it sought to understand the limits of transparency or of openness that these materials can tolerate without compromising or being counterproductive to the conduct of research.

It is with the idea of pursuing these interrogations and analysing further the implications of the Open data movement on our anthropological practice that we would like to consider limit ethnographic cases that shed light on the conundrums, and the solutions anthropologists have encountered and devised over time to respond to empirical field situations or the additional questions that have to be raised and taken into account before the opening of such material could be envisaged. Thus we would like to invite anthropologists who practice undercover ethnography or ethnography in sensitive, violent, forbidden or illicit contexts, ethnography whose data is confidential or whose data once displayed could harm or distress individuals and collectives, ethnography whose data is too intimate to be shared, or, on the contrary, anthropology whose data needs to be urgently disseminated for political or economic purposes.

Download program and abstracts

DAY 1: Tuesday 13th of September 2022
9h: Morning tea & coffee
9h30: Welcome and Introduction: Jessica De Largy Healy and Monica Heintz

Panel 1:  Secrets
Chair: Anthony Stavrianakis (CNRS)
10h: Isabelle Rivoal (CNRS) – Aporia of trust: between respect for sources and the administration of proof. Managing data in the context of religious secrecy (Druzes, Middle East).
10h40: Martin Lamotte (CNRS) – Finding a secret, Keeping it secret! Operation of knowledge and acknowledgment within the gang Los Ñetas
11h20: Coffee break
11h35: Sam Williams (MPI Halle) – Too intimate to be shared? Sex, ethics, and ethnographic “data” in an era of open science
12h15: Discussion
13h00: Lunch buffet

Panel 2: Decolonising ethnographic practices
Chair: Damiana Otoiu (University of Bucharest)
14h00: Haidy Geismar (UCL) – Collecting the World
14h40: James Rose (University of Melbourne) – Real-time Repatriation: Data Governance for Social Anthropology in the 21st Century
15h20: Break
15h35: Theodoros Rakopoulos (University of Oslo) – Decolonising secrets: Of silence, masks, guns, and Cyprus as a Problem            
16h15: Discussion
17h: End of the first day 

DAY 2: Wednesday 14th of September 2022

Panel 3: Authorships
Chair: Valentina Vapnarsky (CNRS-EPHE)
10h: Leandro Varison (mqB) – Contesting anthropological authorship: Indigenous Peoples’ critiques of intellectual property rights
10h40: Aimar Ventsel (U. of Tartu) – Doing the underdog: ethics, trust, friendship
11h20: Coffee break
11h35: Cyril Touboulic (UPN) – The ethnography of navy special forces: between adequacy and negotiation of research results in the era of open data
12h15: Discussion
13h00: Lunch buffet

Panel 4: Revelations
Chair: Jessica De Largy Healy
14h00: Carolina Kobelinsky (CNRS) – Testing the Endurance of the Ethnographic Relationship
14h40: Elissa Helms (CEU) – Pseudonyms, social media, and the criminalization of solidarity: Research dilemmas in a Bosnian border community along the Balkan Route of migration
15h20: Break
15h35: Julie Cayla (CAK) – Ethnologist, spy and apprentice. Secreting the data produced on the African art market in Burkina Faso
16h15: General discussion
17h: End of the conference

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