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Fieldwork Sketches: Blurring the Lines between Art and Anthropology

Workshop organised by the Anthropology of Art Committee, Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI). The meeting will take place in person on 16 February 2024 at the RAI, 50 Fitzroy Street, London.

Date of workshop: 16 February 2024

Call for Papers dealdine: 1 September 2023

Fieldwork sketches, drawings, diagrams, and illustrations have been used by anthropologists since the beginning of the discipline. From Franz Boas, to Levi-Strauss, Raymond Firth and more recently Michael Taussig and Tim Ingold among others, ethnographers have variably used or discussed them as helpful aids to the construction of anthropological knowledge.

Capitalising on examples from the rich visual material stored in the RAI collections, the present workshop intends to bring together researchers and scholars to discuss the nature, roles, and modes of communication embodied in fieldwork sketches with the aim of evaluating what kind of information can be elicited from a study of images made for ethnographic purposes.

The workshop is intended to be a first step towards recognising the significance of this much neglected area of anthropological data within its own discipline, but also with reference to cognate fields such as art history, folklore, and visual culture studies. Raising methodological and theoretical questions related to the production, use, purpose, and not least anthropology’s inattention to this vast field of enquiry, the workshop hopes to contribute to the recent ‘graphic turn’ in anthropology, a disciplinary stance concerned with the potential of images, pictures, drawings, and illustrations to elicit and construct anthropologically-rich information that complements textual based knowledge.

The RAI invites presentations focused but not limited to the following topics:

  • Production of images in fieldwork settings
  • Drawing as ethnography
  • Illustrations’ relationship to Visual Anthropology
  • Case studies (from RAI collections, from external sources)
  • Comparisons between anthropological traditions
  • Fieldwork illustrations/drawings as art
  • Fieldwork illustrations/drawings as data
  • Fieldwork illustrations/drawings between Folklore Studies and Visual Anthropology
  • Images in anthropological books
  • Illustrations and photography
  • Style, aesthetics, accuracy, objectivity, naturalism in ethnographic drawings and illustrations
  • Art with ethnographic subjects as anthropological data

The workshop will be held in form of a study day during which there will be ample time for discussion following presentations. The aim is twofold: draw the attention to the RAI collections; encourage research, discussion and further study of this important facet of anthropological knowledge construction.

Proposals should consist of a title and an abstract of 200 words (maximum) and be sent to: no later than 1 September 2023. Refreshments will be provided on the day, and there is no conference fee.