ICS Seminar Series - Professor George Marcus

Date: Thursday 27 March, 2014
Time: 11.30am - 1pm
Venue: EZ.G.23, Female Orphan School (West Wing), UWS Parramatta South campus

Professor George Marcus

Anthropological Hope and Ethnographic Opportunity in the Predicaments of Multilateral Governance at the World Trade Organization 


The core of this talk is a chronicle and report on an anthropology/art installation project that I directed at the headquarters of the World Trade Organization in Geneva, during the last two weeks of June, 2013. But it is prefaced by positing a condition, variously found among experts and technocratic elites, that encourages experiments and innovation in ethnographic method such as the WTO project. This condition is a curiosity about anthropological insight among such elites in powerful institutions that are challenged, or might even be failing, in their functions, and that have 'paraethnographic' expressions in elite or expert modes of research and methods of management. How to practically engage, communicate, with 'publics' seems to be a crucial shared concern of anthropologists and technocrats. Here there is opportunity for ethnographic inquiry and experiment. But it would be too limited to understand such an opportunity as primarily a facilitation of an ethnographic study of elites or experts. It is that, to be sure, but it is also a way to re-scale and remediate ethnographic inquiries that have their own agendas and desire for movement. The politics, conditions, and experiences of collaboration seem decisive in determining what is indeed a modality for research that aligns with found counterpart thinking, but also moves independently of it.


My projects continue to be explicitly collaborative and therefore I have become interested generally in the nature of collaborations at the core of the contemporary practice of diverse ethnographic research. I am interested in participating with others in the systematic rearticulation, and in some sense, reinvention, of the norms and forms of the classic modality of research in social/cultural anthropology: fieldwork with the writing of ethnography as outcome.

I am interested in how the marginal, incomplete, and belated specialty of the cultural/ethnographic study of elites in anthropology (subsuming the early projects of my career, in Tonga, on capitalist dynasties etc.) has become the means of pursuing an anthropology of contemporary change in most topical arenas. It is the necessity of working with experts and counterparts of various kinds as an orientation to fieldwork along with an abiding interest in the conditions of ordinary, often subaltern life that generates the complexities of multi-sited research about which I have written.

Thus, my older interest in elites has become reinvigorated by asking what kinds of knowledge and what kinds of active participations from particular elites a project of critical ethnography that exceeds this orienting focus wants. In recent collaborations, I have pursued this interest in inquiries involving Portuguese nobles, European politicians, Latin American artists, U.S. bankers, and Brazilian intellectuals.