If Truth Be Told

The Politics of Public Ethnography

Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: Published: June 2017

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Sociology > Social Theory

What happens when ethnographers go public via books, opinion papers, media interviews, court testimonies, policy recommendations, or advocacy activities? Calling for a consideration of this public moment as part and parcel of the research process, the contributors to If Truth Be Told explore the challenges, difficulties, and stakes of having ethnographic research encounter various publics, ranging from journalists, legal experts, and policymakers to activist groups, local populations, and other scholars. The experiences they analyze include Didier Fassin’s interventions on police and prison, Gabriella Coleman's multiple roles as intermediary between hackers and journalists, Kelly Gillespie's and Jonathan Benthall's experiences serving as expert witnesses, the impact of Manuela Ivone Cunha's and Vincent Dubois's work on public policies, and the vociferous attacks on the work of Unni Wikan and Nadia Abu El-Haj. With case studies from five continents, this collection signals the global impact of the questions that the publicization of ethnography raises about the public sphere, the role of the academy, and the responsibilities of social scientists.

Contributors. Jonathan Benthall, Lucas Bessire, João Biehl, Gabriella Coleman, Manuela Ivone Cunha, Vincent Dubois, Nadia Abu El-Haj, Didier Fassin, Kelly Gillespie, Ghassan Hage, Sherine Hamdy, Federico Neiburg, Unni Wikan


"[A] must-read for every student of anthropology, policy maker and administrator trying to understand the complexities of the social world we inhabit."  — Sarbani Sharma, Anthropology Book Forum

"A stimulating collection of articles that illustrates, examines, and generates important questions about the project of public ethnography, and about public social science more generally. It deserves to be widely read." — Martyn Hammersley, Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Recommended to all students and scholars who conduct ethnographic research—the questions related to the utilization of ethnographic knowledge and researchers’ responsibilities to wider society and to the people they study and work with concern all." — Pilvi Hämeenaho, Sosiologia

“Fassin’s collection shows that anthropology and ethnography matters. Public responses may at time be frustrating, painful, gratifying or inspiring; however, the fact that people respond to ethnography demonstrates that anthropology need not be marginal as a discipline and that studying public responses to ethnography is a worthwhile endeavor.” — Karen Mogendorff, Journal of Science Communication

"If Truth Be Told offers thoughtful, reflexive accounts of the public afterlife of ethnography that will surely spark a range of productive exchanges among scholars invested in the public reach of social science research." — Colin Hastings, Leigha Comer, & Eric Mykhalovskiy, Forum: Qualitative Social Research

"In presenting some of the possibilities and challenges that 'going public' entails, this volume is essential reading for researchers embarking on public ethnography, and for departments and funders who encourage engagement beyond academia. If Truth Be Told is equally important for those who do not see their work as being particularly public-facing; any published work can take on a public afterlife beyond the author’s intentions." — Laura Haapio-Kirk, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"In this important new collection,Didier Fassin and his colleagues stake a powerful and innovative claim on the diverse landscape of anthropology’s history of public engagement." — Alyshia Galvez, American Ethnologist

"[This] book is a wonderful contribution that further helps to reflect upon the role of ethnography, and the constant challenges it must face when trying to go beyond academia and engage with wider audiences." — Sebastian Rojas Navarro, Sociological Research Online

"Didier Fassin, known for his elegant writings on the possibilities of a contemporary 'public anthropology,' has brought together a collection of fascinating, diverse, and well-written accounts of anthropologists whose research either unexpectedly reached the public's gaze or had ambitions for making a public impact. This volume dramatically and effectively exposes the critical edges and binds of the uses of ethnography in a variety of public circumstances. In so doing it makes a major advance." — George E. Marcus, coauthor of Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary

"This excellent and important collection sensitizes its readers to the highly varied contexts of the practice of public ethnography, taking a step toward making it more fully integrated into comparative anthropology. The essays go beyond the mere approval of public ethnography as a matter of principle while showing that its concrete practice can be a difficult and sometimes frustrating one." — Ulf Hannerz, author of Anthropology's World: Life in a Twenty-First-Century Discipline


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Price: $28.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Didier Fassin is James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, a Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and the author and editor of many books, most recently, Prison Worlds: An Ethnography of the Carceral Condition.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction: When Ethnography Goes Public / Didier Fassin  1
Part I. Strategies
1. Gopher, Translator, and Trickster: The Ethnographer and the Media / Gabriella Coleman  19
2. What Is a Public Intervention? Speaking Truth to the Oppressed / Ghassan Hage  47
3. Before the Commission: Ethnography as Pubic Testimony / Kelly Gillespie  69
4. Addressing Policy-Oriented Audiences: Relevance and Persuasiveness / Manuela Ivone Cunha  96
Part II. Engagements
5. Serendipitous Involvement: Making Peace in the Geto / Federico Neiburg  119
6. Tactical versus Critical: Indigenizing Public Ethnography / Lucas Bessire  138
7. Experto Crede? A Legal and Political Conundrum / Jonathan Benthall  160
8. Policy Ethnography as a Combat Sport: Analyzing the Welfare State against the Grain / Vincent Dubois  184
Part III. Tensions
9. Academic Freedom at Risk: The Occasional Worldliness of Scholarly Texts / Nadia Abu El-Haj  205
10. Perils and Prospects of Going Public: Between Academia and Real Life / Unni Wikan  228
11. Ethnography Prosecuted: Facing the Fabulation of Power / João Biehl  261
12. How Publics Shape Ethnographers: Translating across Divided Audiences / Sherine Hamdy  287
Epilogue: The Public Afterlife of Ethnography / Didier Fassin  311
Contributors  345
Index  349
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6977-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6965-3
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