Association of American Geographers, 22-27 March 2009, Las Vegas.
Modest Witnesses: Fieldwork, Indigenous Knowledges, and Truth-Making
Charlotte Chambers (University of Otago)
Innes M. Keighren (Edinburgh University)
Since at least the seventeenth century, claims to objectivity in science have been linked to the presentation of the self as the modest and humble witness of nature. As Steven Shapin, Simon Shaffer, Donna Haraway, and others have shown, these affectations defined the role of the scientist as the "legitimate and authorized ventriloquist for the object world" (Haraway, 1997: 24). The conflation of modesty and objectivity was, moreover, a situated concern—linked to the socially regulated space of the laboratory, where the world was observed in abstract. What, though, of the geographer, explorer, and traveller who acquired knowledge 'in the field'? How did (and do) geographers seek to establish the credibility of their knowledge?
This session seeks, thus, to interrogate the epistemological bases of claims to truth in the context of fieldwork and travel. How is it that geographers evaluate the relative significance of direct observation, oral and textual testimonies of informants, and indigenous or 'local' knowledges? How does knowledge acquired in the field become, through a series of epistemic and material translations, established as reliable? How is it that the testimony of travellers, explorers, and geographers in the field continues to serve as the basis for understandings of 'out-of-the-way' places (Tsing 1993: 27) and, through the published versions of work, establish their accounts as
Potential topics that papers could focus upon include (but are not limited to):
- mixing methodologies in the context of fieldwork and data collection
- the social and disciplinary regulation of fieldwork practice
- evaluating 'scientific' perspectives and 'indigenous' knowledges
- historical perspectives on travel and truth-making
Potential session participants are invited to send an abstract of no more than 250 words to Charlotte Chambers
(email@example.com) by 3 October 2008 at the latest.
Haraway, D. J. (1997)
York City: Routledge.
Tsing, A. L. (1993) 'In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-way Place', Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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