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CUSAS Talk: Professor Janet Carsten

When Apr 21, 2016
from 05:00 PM to 06:30 PM
Where Seminar Room, Social Anthropology
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Prof. Janet Carsten (University of Edinburgh)

House-lives as ethnography/biography

My presentation considers the intersection of biography and ethnography through an anthropology of the house. If ‘good ethnography’ is the outcome, at least in part, of long-term familiarity with the people and places that are its subject, the sense of being in a proper house rests on a comparable feeling of familiarity. Because both of these rely on long-term engagement, and are in this sense inherently biographical, focussing on the house provide a way to probe the intersection of biography and ethnography. To unpack what this might involve, I begin with my own engagement with Malay houses over several decades before discussing houses as ‘biographical objects’ (Hoskins 1998) and also as persons. I then examine some of the connections and disconnections between houses and biography through a consideration of some less obviously ‘house-like houses’. Pursuing the analogy between ethnography and houses further, in the final part of the talk I will suggest that, if houses provide a productive opening for ethnography, they might also offer a starting point for a particularly anthropological kind of biography.

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