Creating space to see the Self through the lens of the Other

July, 3rd, Leipzig, first day of the summer school

David Kananizadeh

The first day of the Summer School “Seeing the Self Through the Lens of the Other” was dedicated to the topic “Ethnography as Dialogue and Culture Critique”. The Lecture & Seminar-Session gave fruitful inputs to develop some thoughts on how anthropologically informed research methods create a space for “Seeing the Self through the lens of the other”, which I like to share here.

In setting a Dialogue with the people we study, anthropologically informed research methods (or: participant observation) aim to let our encounter with those people direct the way we – as researchers – think of them. This intersubjective relation in our research requires moments in which we engage with these encounters reflexively – “thematiz[ing] our participation in the world we study”[1]. This requires the introduction of another level of observation, for which we keep a journal. Here, we express our fieldwork encounters and study our Selves’ engagement with the world. In this sense, anthropologically informed research creates spaces for “seeing the Self through the engagement with the Other”. Untangling the intersubjective encounters allows us to understand these encounters as moments, in which the Self and the Other conflate – i.e. understanding the moments of our socialization into those formerly foreign contexts.

While still thinking about this, the Lecture & Seminar-Session ended. In the following we discussed with our tandem-partners our individual research projects that we brought with us to the summer school for further development. The strong connections of these projects and the session on “Ethnography as Dialogue and Cultural Critique” were highlighted by the comment of a fellow participant:

“I am thinking about my research questions again and again, reframing them according to different theoretical assumptions, but at the end of the day it can be reduced to a single question – what are the people with whom I want to study actually doing?”

“What are the people actually doing” – or in other words: “What is really at stake?” – requires an understanding of the Other, a mode of seeing the world through their eyes. But as the Other is only knowable through our experience of encountering it, understanding the Other can only take shape through intersubjective encounters. This brings me back to my initial thoughts during the Lecture & Seminar-Session: Understanding the Other requires an understanding of the “filter” through which we perceive it – that is: the Self.

What came out clearer at the end of Day One of the summer school is, that neither can we understand the Other without understanding the Self, nor can we understand the Self without encountering the Other. Only the interruption of our common sense can confront us with our own perspective and its limits. So letting our encounter with the Other direct the way we think of it requires an active engagement of allowing these interruptions to happen.

[1]Burawoy, Michael. 1998. „The Extended Case Method.“ Sociological Theory 16 (1):4-33, p. 5.