Session 24

E5 Ethnography as Spatial-Temporal Method for Research on Urban Public Space

One whole century has gone by since Bronislaw Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific firstly publicized ethnography as the distinguishing research method of the anthropological discipline. In the meantime, this essentially interactive and qualitative way of approaching peoples, groups, institutions, and individuals for the sake of a kind of knowledge strictly forged from within the researcher’s search for a ‘real dialogue with the other’ – as Eduardo Viveiros de Castro summarized in an interview in 1999 – underwent uncountable disciplinary applications and interdisciplinary developments. Especially in the wake of the so-called linguistic turn in the social sciences amidst the spread of globalization, there emerged methodological trends spatially as diverse as multi-sited ethnography – coined by George Marcus in 1995 – and the autoethnography proposed by Carolyn Ellis and Arthur P. Bochner in 2000. The approaches imply ethnographic dialogues in spaces ranging from multiple geographic sites to the researcher’s subjective conscience. This spatial versatility clearly supports the assessment that ethnography is a research method especially sensitive to both the social and relational dimension of space—hence, a spatial method. Therefore, ethnography is also a temporal method. Conceived as a social product/construct (depending on the theoretical stance), space and time are sets of relations between living beings and material/symbolic goods: what varies is the logic underpinning these relations—respectively simultaneity or sequence. Hence, due to its sensitiveness to relational space ethnography also allows us to understand the multiple temporalities comprised in social processes and in space as such. The ethnographic gaze discloses the way in which spatialized practices are also practices that bear multiple temporalities. Based on the assessment that the empirical and theoretical gains arising from critical reflections on the sociospatial and sociotemporal dimension of ethnography remain conceptually underexplored both in the social and spatial sciences, this session addresses the methodological relevance of space and time for ethnographic research particularly on the social dimension of urban public space – i.e, for research about the social production and/or reproduction of urban public space. At least in theoretical terms, public space is characterized by an unavoidable anonymity. This is the other side of the coin of urban public space as a sociological abstraction that comprises the whole range of empirically given places such as streets, squares, parks, etc., which stand out in cities due precisely to their broad range of social accessibility – whether in legal, physical-material, or informational terms. Precisely this twofold trait poses a set of challenges to ethnography as method. Since its historical inception in 20-century anthropology, ethnography has been strongly dependent on the possibility of overcoming anonymity via face-to-face interaction. Against this backdrop, the session addresses the methodological contributions that space and time may offer to ethnographic research in/on urban public spaces. We expect papers that contribute empirically or theoretically to ethnography as spatial-temporal method for understanding the multiple (inter)actions, practices and processes by means of which urban public space is brought about.