This Theorizing the Contemporary series on collaborative analytics emerged from a workshop held at the Center for Ethnography at the University of California, Irvine in May 2017. The premise of the workshop was that collaboration is a lively area of imagination, intervention, and experimentation among anthropologists and their research partners today, one that is generating both analytical and methodological ideas for how the discipline can respond to changing contexts of fieldwork and ethnographic engagement. Here, we seek to capture insights from the workshop in a form that can be shared with the readers of Cultural Anthropology.
The workshop discussed many examples of collaborative practice in anthropological research and writing, including projects of curation, publication, and podcasting as well as research projects originally designed as individual interventions that later came into collaborative alignment through shared analytics and thematics. The participants discussed the politics, promises, and perils of collaboration across disciplinary boundaries and expert communities, as well as how collaborative situations impact ethnographic authority and relations with audiences. We resisted reducing collaboration to pure method and, for this reason, sought to focus on analytics—in particular, how collaboration inflects our choice of ethnographic medium and the ensuing forms that knowledge takes. We were mindful that collaborative practices of project design, research, and writing have been present in anthropology for a very long time, even if they seem to be receiving renewed attention and vitality as of late. Yet our collective feeling was that collaboration is one of the more interesting and important zones of engagement in anthropology and the human sciences today.
Collaboration has the potential to rescale and reframe the anthropological enterprise. Its processes can inspire new insights and trajectories for research and its expression. Moreover, its incorporation of research partners beyond the role of informant highlights the potential for new kinds of anthropological knowledge-making, whether artistic or activist, institutionalized or fleeting in nature.