Short Course: Ethnography and Interpretive Methods in Studies of Belonging and Migration

Ethnography and Interpretive Methods in Studies of Belonging and Migration

Rina Verma Williams
Half Day, 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Palais des congrés de Montréal, 512H

This year’s workshop focuses on ethnography in theoretical and empirical studies of belonging and migration. Scholars at any stage of their research are welcome to attend.

Political Theory and Ethnographic Methods
Dr. Yuna Blajer de la Garza, Loyola University Chicago

Within political science, ethnographic methods are typically listed among the tools of empirical scholars. But what kind of analytical possibilities are opened by deploying ethnographic methods in normative political theory? In the workshop part of the Methods Studio, Dr. Yuna Blajer de la Garza (Assistant Professor, Loyola University Chicago) will speak to the ways in which ethnographic methods and an interpretive sensibility can serve political theory research. In particular, she will discuss the richness provided by ethnographic methods for the study of democracies and democratic theory. Ethnographic methods carve space for scholars to understand the ways in which the institutions and ideas we have imagined are (mis)translated when appropriated by ordinary citizens. Making sense of that (mis)translation can help us elucidate the ways in which democratic promises have fallen short to the expectations of those who call democracies home, and the reasons behind the disenchantment of many ordinary people with democratic institutions, a disenchantment that haunts our current historical moment.

Dr. Blajer de la Garza is a political theorist studying inequalities and oppression in democratic societies by focusing on the interactions between formal political institutions, the ideals that undergird them, and everyday practices and norms. In her first book manuscript, provisionally titled A House Is Not A Home: Citizenship and Belonging in Contemporary Democracies, Blajer addresses the interplay between the institutional and the everyday by examining the tension between citizenship and belonging in 21st-century democracies through the figure of the citizen who does not belong. The manuscript draws from insights gleaned through ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Paris and Mexico City between 2015 and 2017. Mexico and France illustrate two incomplete pathways toward democratic belonging. France boasts a strong state with a reliable bureaucracy that secures legal rights, while Mexico’s is beset by corruption, inequality, and inefficiency. The literature on state strength and democratization would expect France to fare better than Mexico in guaranteeing the equal standing of its members—and thus their equal belonging. Counterintuitively, Blajer finds that not to be the case.

Ethnography and Empirical Studies
Dr. Osman Balkan, Swarthmore College

Part 2 of the workshop will focus on power and positionality in ethnographic research. Participants will reflect upon how their own multiple social positions inform their ethnographies, from shaping the questions they ask, to the communities they engage with, to the data they collect, and the stories they share. We will discuss strategies for planning and conducting immersive fieldwork and participant observation as well as different approaches to ethnographic writing.

Dr. Balkan’s research and teaching interests cohere around the politics of global migration, borders, race, ethnicity, identity, and necropolitics. His first monograph, Dying Abroad: The Political Afterlives of Migration in Europe, explores in detail how immigrant communities navigate end-of-life decisions in countries where they face structural barriers to full citizenship and equal social standing—a phenomenon Balkan terms “death out of place.” It argues that states, families, and religious communities all have a vested interest in the fate of dead bodies and illustrates how the quotidian practices attending the death and burial of minoritized groups in migratory settings are structured by deeper political questions about the meaning of home and homeland. Dying Abroad offers insight into the processes through which relations between authority, territory, and populations are managed at a transnational level.

Expert Panel: Current Research Questions
Alongside co-presenters Dr. Blajer de la Garza and Dr. Balkan, a panel of experts on Interpretive Methodologies and Methods will take questions from audience participants regarding interpretive methods questions in their ongoing projects. This will enable fruitful discussion and audience engagement from which all participants can benefit.