08–09 Nov 2019

Jumping Scales and Embedded Archives: Interrogating the ‘Global’ in Everyday Histories

Panel at the Annual Conference of the Swiss Anthropological Association, Graduate Insitute, Geneva.

Adityia Kiran Kakati (convenor), Martin Saxer (discussant)


This panel will engage the issue of scale, particularly in its global manifestation from the methodological vantage point of historical inquiry, while interrogating the same from the ‘various degrees’ of ethnography as an empirical basis. We seek to converge parallel and divergent debates on scale, and method in historical studies with similar concerns in the anthropology of globalisation and reflect upon the two key themes: a. the ‘global’ as a method and b. ethnographic scales; from the disciplinary platform of history in order to enrich the conversation across disciplinary boundaries. The ‘global’ as a scale of enquiry has been part of extensive historical debates and methodological interventions. The result of these historiographical approaches have also produced related scalar cousins such as ‘transnational’, ‘international’, ‘regional’ forms of history. Whether explicitly stated or not, historians have heuristically engaged the issue of scale, allowing scope to compare and converse about these approaches with the field of anthropology. This is also arguably linked to the methodological approaches and nature of sources and access to the latter that have determined research approaches. Much like in the unique form of ‘globalisation’ that we witness in the 21st century, historians have treated the production of fragmentary worlds, through connections to global phenomenon such as empires, colonialism and warfare across a variety of scales. A long tradition of debates within anthropology of globalization has examined how ‘global’ processes continue to fragment and ‘localise’ worlds. While some boundaries and institutions were thought to be ‘eroded’ by global flows, we largely witness that sovereignty, power and agency are further disjointed and operate more rhizomatically. Nations and nation-states dominated historical-writing, and even in their apparent de-centring as loci of history-making, these institutions along with new epicentres of power are only re-entrenched. While these issues have been widely discussed, there is a need to broaden the scope of conversation across these disciplines fruitfully, not the least because historians have a. differently navigated scales without a binary global/local distinction b. have grappled with components of ‘ethnography’ in its broadest sense, (which may include interviews, oral histories or alternative readings of ethnographic archives), informed by the ‘reflexive’ turn in anthropological inquiry c. deal with ‘time’ differently than anthropologists. This selection of approaches may add to charting avenues for debates in anthropology, including greater recognition of shifting, unclear and unstable nature of centre-periphery, North-South, Global-Local binaries. Additional possibilities to interrogate and expand the scope of what is ‘ethnography’, and how ‘archives’ may be identified and interpreted across locales will emerge from this interdisciplinary discussion. The panel invites and proposes papers that interrogate global processes and fragmentation of space, community and time and ‘culture’ in its peculiar manifestations in the 20th-21st century. The panel seeks to further the conversation between historians and anthropologists by illustrating alternative and complimentary possibilities to traverse scale may emerge. This may be coupled with the adoption of methodological flexibility, in being able to utilise components of ‘ethnography’, and read the historical ‘archive’ in forms that are dispersed and embedded in everyday life or in seemingly banal situations. These approaches broaden the scope of ‘ethnography’ and ‘archive’, beyond its usual sense.

The panel will simultaneously engage advantages and limitations of these approaches, while offering methodological possibilities for re-ordering time and scale, as concepts that may contribute to and are very much part of concerns for anthropologists and ethnographic theory. Knowledge and scale as methodological frameworks can thus be useful for interpreting the past and de-constructing the present. The panel papers will draw upon various thematic and regional studies, and contribute towards better understandings of memory, history, knowledge, representation and meaning making processes.


  • Oksana Myshlovska (The Graduate Institute, Geneva): Redefining the meaning of the past during the moments of change: “decommunization” and contested politics at the local level in Central Ukraine
  • Aidan Russell (The Graduate Institute, Geneva): Talking through Change: Speech, Scale and Decolonisation in the African Great Lakes
  • Emmanuel Dalle Mulle (The Graduate Institute, Geneva): “The Positive Other": an exploration of triangular identity-construction processes in Catalonia, Northern Italy and Scotland
  • Mélanie Vandenhelsken (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asian Cultural History, Vienna): Constructing cultures, dividing tribes, making borderland citizens: delimiting Nation-States in the 19th century eastern Himalayas

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany
martin.saxer@lmu.de | +49 89 2180 9639

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