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ETHNOGRAPHY IN THE WAY OF THEORY

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ABSTRACT

In this article, I return to my engagements with people in the field not only to address the specific circumstances and trajectories I encountered there, but to make a case for allowing our engagement with Others to determine the course of our thinking about them and to reflect more broadly upon the agonistic and reflexive relations between anthropology and philosophy. I do so in order to suggest that through ethnographic rendering, people's own theorizing of their conditions may leak into, animate, and challenge present-day regimes of veridiction, including philosophical universals and anthropological subjugation to philosophy. I am interested in how ethnographic realities find their way into theoretical work. Using the mutual influence between Pierre Clastres and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari as a case study, I argue against reducing ethnography to proto-philosophy. The relationship, in fact, may be more productively seen as one of creative tension and cross-pollination. This sense of ethnography in the way of (instead of to) theory—like art—aims at keeping interrelatedness, precariousness, curiosity, and unfinishedness in focus. In resisting synthetic ends and making openings rather than absolute truths, ethnographic practice allows for an emancipatory reflexivity and for a more empowering critique of the rationalities, interventions, and moral issues of our times. I conclude with a literal return to the field and reflect on how the story of lives continues.

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