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Annelies Moors

NIAS Individual Fellow

Project title

The struggle for the future of ethnography

Research question

This project investigates how new formats of research management, on the one hand, and new populations of researchers and their publics, on the other hand, have affected ethnography. The central question this project addresses is how ethnography has become defined as ‘trouble’, the kinds of dilemmas ethnographers face, and how these may affect the future of ethnography.

Project description

When an article I wrote with two colleagues became the subject of a controversy about the influence of Cyberjihadism on academic research, we decided to turn this affaire into fieldwork for our own auto-ethnographic research project. This NIAS proposal uses the insights we have gained to pose broader questions about the struggle for the future of ethnography.

In the course of the last decades ethnography, as an interpretative, reflexive and intersubjective approach to knowledge production, has become more broadly accepted in a variety of disciplines. More recently, however, it has also come increasingly under attack.

Ethnography has been particularly affected by the turn to new public management and audit culture. With its sensitivity to uncertainty and ambiguity and its practice of longer term immersive research, ethnography does not fit well with marketization, quantification, and the quest for certainty and quick answers. The bureaucratization of ethics, the emergence of the transparency movement, and the proliferation of integrity protocols are largely grounded in positivist approaches. Whereas these pose serious problems for ethnographers, the recent emergence of countervailing forces, such as a plea for ‘slow science’, are more promising.

If research management considers ethnographers as ‘too critical’, there is also a long history of internal criticism. This criticism has gained momentum, with the growing presence of ethnographers from the global South and from categories, previously excluded from the academy (be it on the basis of gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion and so on), who argue for the decolonization of ethnography, criticize internal hierarchies,  and raise questions about whom ethnographers are accountable to.

Selected publications

De Koning, Martijn, Annelies Moors and Aysha Navest. 2020. ‘On speaking, remaining silent and being heard: Framing research, positionality and publics in the jihadi field’, Jihadi Audiovisuality and its Entanglements: Meanings, Aesthetics, Appropriations, edited by Christoph Günther and Simone Pfeifer. Edinburgh University Press. Pp. 27-50.

Moors, Annelies, 2019, The trouble with transparency: Reconnecting ethics, integrity, epistemology and power. Ethnography 20, 2. https://doi.org/10.1177/1466138119844279

Linked to the publication above: de Koning, M., Meyer, B., Moors, A., & Pels, P. (2019). Guidelines for anthropological research: Data management, ethics and integrity. Ethnography 20, 2. https://doi.org/10.1177/1466138119843312

Moors, Annelies, 2019, ‘No escape: the force of the security frame in academia and beyond’, in Nadia Fadil, Martijn de Koning, and Francesco Ragazzi, eds., Narratives of De/Radicalisation. Critical Approaches from Belgium and the Netherlands. Bloomsbury. Pp. 245-259.

Moors, Annelies, 2017, ‘On autoethnography,’ Ethnography 18, 1: 387-389.

More about myself

Annelies Moors studied Arabic at the University of Damascus and Arabic and anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. She held the chair for contemporary Muslim societies at the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. Currently she is professor emerita at the University of Amsterdam. From 2001-2008 she has been the Amsterdam chair of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World. She has held visiting positions at the University of San’a, Yemen, and was Honorably Visiting Professor at the London School of Fashion (London University of the Arts). She was the primary investigator of an international NORFACE research program on The emergence of Islamic fashion in Europe, and of the NWO Cultural Dynamics program on Islamic cultural practices and performances: New youth cultures in Europe. Until early 2020 she was the primary investigator of the NWO program Muslim Activism in the Netherlands after 1989 (senior researcher: Martijn de Koning) and of the ERC advanced grant Problematizing “Muslim Marriages”: Ambiguities and Contestations (for more information see http://religionresearch.org/musmar2014/)

She has published widely on gender, nation and religion in such fields as Muslim family law and Islamic marriages, wearing gold, the visual media (postcards of Palestine), migrant domestic labor, Islamic fashion, and wearing face-veils. She is currently writing up the work on the Muslim Marriages project, and supervising nine PhD students.

To get a sense of my personal and academic trajectory you may want to watch my valedictory lecture: https://webcolleges.uva.nl/Mediasite/Play/cf3a6e3c9c36452c82e271d1a3c63b231d