Thirty Years of The End(s) of Ethnography
October 27th, at James Gallery, The Graduate Center CUNY
5 PM - 6 PM: Patricia Clough in conversation with House of Time
6:15 PM - 8:15 PM: Panel w/ Jasbir Puar, Una Chung, Ezekiel Dixon-Román (+ video Tiziana Terranova)
8:15 PM - 9:00 PM: Reception
To register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/thirty-years-of-the-ends-of-ethnography-tickets-439736111547
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Patricia Ticineto Clough's The End(s) of Ethnography and the questions her book raised are as relevant now as they were then. Published in 1992, but conceived, thought, and written between 1983 and 1989, End(s) registers the previous decade or more of cultural criticism while also trying to "sustain the intellectual tensions [and] elaborate the possibilities they called forth" (xii). Clough expediently covers the, by then (1980s-1992), ground of multiculturalism, decanonization, and the many efforts to account for subject position, theoretical vantage points, and reflexivity–i.e. the many (inter) implications of race, gender, sexuality, class, and more, in writing, authorship, reading, disciplinary fields, and in objects of study. The text might even seem to presciently anticipate, in ways, later writing in science studies, critical university studies, decades of experiments in genre and form (in ethnography and literary criticism), and the, by now, many years of turning towards critiques of theory ("post" or "after" theory, and so on). End(s) is also remarkable in its exploration of human and non-human agencies and the logics of informational technologies long before discourses around datafication, big data, algorithmic governance, and more recent terms to describe the flow of technocapital (derivatives, cryptocurrency, social media data and capital, etc.).
End(s) is a book about methodology, science, and narrative. For Clough, every realism is transformed by a technology. Clough argues against the "defenses and compulsions of methodology in its [methodology's] futile effort to sustain the opposition of empirical science and the seduction and engrossment of all other mass media communication technologies" (137). The text raises the question about what this opposition might mean now with the increased cultural and institutional drive towards the "certainties” that are perceived to be offered by measurement, quantification, data analytics, statistics, demography, and data visualization. Clough also describes the subsumption of disciplines with the digital while registering the unconscious pull of nostalgia operating in reactionary critiques of emergent fields or methods. End(s) asks readers, then and now, to "sustain" these tensions.
Or, to approach these questions psychoanalytically, as Clough does--what are our unconscious desires, individually and socially, in our theoretical orientations? This is not a disciplinary intervention in the form of an analytic interpretation; rather, it is a matter of taking up questions of desire, experience, and transference in writing and (re)reading. End(s) moves from realism to social criticism and back to realism by speculating, at the end, about the future of ethnographic writing. Clough's reading of Toni Morrison's Beloved suggests deconstructive rereadings and a "haunted" realism without data collection or authorial unity as one possibility.
Co-sponsored by The James Gallery and House of Time, this event will explore the influence of End(s) since its publication and also consider these questions for our current moment. How do we think about subjectivity and the social now; how do we "do" social criticism; and what politics are possible? How do we think about the other than human or more than human agencies and the unconscious? Questions around writing, authorship, form, subject position, and (re)reading are ongoing. Elaborations of disciplinary, theoretical, methodological possibilities are essential.