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Word Shell

I have never lost my childhood habit of beachcombing for special rocks and shells, and I think of ethnography as involving a similar process of collecting bits of evidence. Mostly what I collect are words (interviews, quotations, or notes) that I then use to make various kinds of word compositions (descriptions, analyses, arguments, and articles). But words do also have …

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Breathing Room: Poetic Form as Resistance to Convention in the Ethnography of Suffering

Here I ruminate on recent writing experiments at the convergence of poetry and ethnography as a means to convey experiences of suffering. Recent ethnographies of suffering highlight innovative ways medical anthropologists embed themselves in their accounts of others’ suffering, as well as their misapprehensions about what occurs in this process of witnessing. Dwelling in these misapprehensions shows the obvious potency …

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Thinking pain

Care worker Annika announces that she does not want to go to Mr Moran. “He always complains.” “I’ll go”, says her colleague Robin, and turning to me he says, “I don’t have the intern today so you can come along if you want to see for yourself how it goes”. We head off to assemble the materials for the morning …

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Taking part in and being part of giving birth: Enacting participation in a midwife-led birth situation

According to her midwife Jana, Mira’s was a textbook birth: it was quite fast, even for a second birth, and proceeded without any complications. In reflecting on her attendance at Mira’s birth, which I had witnessed the day before, Jana emphasised that her task during birth is only to observe: “Observing, keeping an objective view, and recognising what the situation …

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Peripheral participants: Thinking through distortion, displacement, nullification

Warm haze

As I spoke, people looked at me worriedly. The kindness in their eyes was mixed with curiosity and concern. Rather than answering me, they turned to each other to discuss something beyond my grasp. I had aphasia and my incoherent stream of words was puzzling to the people around me. I spoke, I thought, in perfect sentences but …

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Fed up security officers and drunk policemen in Nairobi

Greenwoods is a neighbourhood in Nairobi, Kenya, dotted with diplomatic residences. At the time of my research on public-private assemblages of security provision and the reconfiguration of citizenship in Nairobi, Greenwoods’ residents association was sponsoring a security partnership between the state police and a private security company, Maximum Security.[1] The night patrol team of Maximum Security regularly hosted two …