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Thursday 25 January, 1.00 pm

Fear and Epistemic Murkiness: Fieldwork Under the Possibility of Fire

Sandro Simon, University of Cologne

Free, but booking advised https://sandrosimon.eventbrite.co.uk 

In late Summer 2017, around the time of Kenya’s general election and when I was about to engage into longterm fieldwork on water related work practices, the Tana Delta was shaken by numerous deadly attacks ascribed to Al-Shabaab, which altered and finally let me terminate my research. In this paper I will recollect my efforts to make fieldwork work against the odds and ultimately letting it go and try to explore and bring together the volatility of deltaic lifeworlds and the personal and epistemological challenges of navigating through different methods, (self-) perceptions, emotions and experiences in trying to access a ‘field’ that is embroiled with the unpredictable and ephemeral. The socio-ecological volatility of deltas is caught up in different forces that reach across scale, yet the management of the implications, such as flooding, travel warnings or military interventions, is often organized top-down with ‘imported’ tools and accompanied by discourses that render deltaic volatility as something contained and from within. Doing research with/in the delta meant to engage quite ‘viscerally’ with its denotations and demarcations. Consequently, the delta started to stretch its spatio-temporal as well as its sensational boundaries: ‘The preparation’ and ‘the being in the field’ as well as ‘the aftermath’ all contained the analytical and the emotional, the shifts between the emic and the etic or the oscillation between (self-) trust and (self-) alienation and entangled me in a sort of ‘nervous system’ (Taussig 1992).

Sandro Simon is a PhD Student and member of the DELTA team at the University of Cologne. He obtained an MA in African Studies with the main modules Social Anthropology and Environment & Human-Wellbeing from University of Basel and has been undertaking research on human-environmental relations (and ‘involuntarily’, on violence) in Cameroon, Kenya and Senegal.

“Research in Progress” is a special seminar series of presentations by PhD candidates, Post-Docs and Early Career researchers. Its aim is to share work, get feedback in a supportive environment, and build new networks that cut across universities, sub-disciplines and hierarchies.  Seminars are chaired by peers on a rotational basis and take the form of the presentation of a piece of written work followed by lots of discussion and refreshments. Seminars are free and everyone is welcome, booking advised.  Early career anthropologists from all sub-disciplines are encouraged to present their work. Please contact Gemma on gaellah@therai.org.uk for more information about the series. If you would like to present please include a title and an abstract of max 250 words.