The Call for Papers to the 2018 Edition of the Bergamo Conference will be published soon



Bergamo (Italy) – June 8-11, 2016


Organized by:

University of Bergamo

Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa (ERQ) / Ethnography and Qualitative Research

il Mulino

Since 2006, the Bergamo conference of ethnography has become an increasingly recognised and established scientific meeting for social researchers at the Italian national level. In 2014, the conference has been opened to international participants adopting English as second working language. The 2016 Conference aims to preserve and renew the rich intellectual discourse engaged in the previous editions. Researchers from across the disciplines of sociology, anthropology, political sciences, arts & humanities, education, social work, geography, cultural studies, science and technology studies, and gender studies are invited to present their research and discuss their findings in a lively, relatively informal environment. The mission of the conference is to:

  • foster scholarly exchange and facilitate collaborative research among senior and junior scholars based at different universities and research centres in Europe and abroad;

  • support the dissemination of fresh research;

  • encourage PhD students at different stage of their research career to share and present preliminary findings and fieldwork experience;

  • welcome graduate and under-graduate students as audience to the conference and active participants in the discussion.

The conference embraces and endorses a broad, ambitious view of ethnographic research. Ethnography is understood as an inquiry into the processes, implications, and meanings of social life and culture in groups, organizations, and institutions across diverse social spaces and settings. Accordingly, contributions to the conference can be based on a variety of methods, including but not limited to participant observation, in-depth interviews, focus group, auto-ethnography, visual ethnography, discourse studies, video-based research and other forms of inquiry inspired and informed by ethnographic sensibility. The Conference welcomes theoretically informed and methodologically sound proposals that contribute to the substantive knowledge of the social world.The format is based on 3-hour sessions with 5 paper presentations per session, leaving as much room as possible to open discussion.


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Organizing Committee

Chiara Bassetti, University of Trento & CNR ( / )

Elena Bougleux, University of Bergamo ()

Andrea Mubi Brighenti, University of Trento ()

Luca Carollo, University of Milano ()

Nick Dines, Middlesex University ()

Giolo Fele, University of Trento ()

Elena Fontanari, University of Milano ()

Paola Gandolfi, University of Bergamo ()

Pier Paolo Giglioli, University of Bologna ()

Marco Marzano, University of Bergamo ()

Gianmarco Navarini, University of Milano Bicocca ()

Francesca Pasquali, University of Bergamo ()

Domenico Perrotta, University of Bergamo ()

Federico Rahola, University of Genova ()

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Fieldwork as location of politics

Convenors: (EHESS – Centre national de la recherche scientifique),  (EHESS – Centre national de la recherche scientifique) & Mariella Pandolfi (Université de Montreal)

Human sciences generally tend to look at engagement as taking sides with the disadvantaged, sometimes risking uncritical praise. Patterns of engagement with dominant actors, whose social interests are not shared by the researcher, are rarely taken into account. These fieldwork situations are much more frequent today. On the one hand, ethnographers venture into territories that had not been acknowledged as pertinent until recently. On the other hand, they are often led to defend their work within a reticent, if not outright hostile, social environment.

Ethnographers discarded the idea of a dominant point of view and intangible othernesses, and opted for a bottom-up approach that is necessarily positioned. Some ethnographers are therefore led, throughout their meetings, to conduct specific studies in order to develop diversified forms of engagement.

The ethnographer is constantly pushed into social configurations that she cannot fully master, and on which she has equally unpredictable effects. Her presence questions her respondents, who ultimately find her a place, even if the latter is not necessarily the object of an explicit agreement. On the field, the ethnographer is caught into power relations that are destabilizing, and at the same time are destabilized by her own presence and questions. She always feels uncomfortable, and at the same time it is exactly this unease that produces critical knowledge. Each field condensates a singular political question that the researcher will try to focus on through reflective working. The point is to clarify the way this critical knowledge is elaborated.

We start from the principle that fieldwork position is never defined once and for all. On the field, the point of view of the ethnographer evolves according to the encounters she makes, and those that define her. Very often, she is led to endorse stereotypes she disagrees with, she is called names, she feels lost, she constantly feels her limits. The ethnographic relations that are the backbone of her fieldwork are never crystal-clear, but rather shifting and charged with tensions. There are phases of identification and disidentification. There are emotions that are put to test in the analytical effort. Each time, it will be a matter of finding the correct distance in order to describe what is at stake in these encounters, and seize what is intrinsically political.

We welcome all proposals that can grasp this dimension, irrespective of the research area. We are not only addressing those who usually work on institutions and analysis of political power.

Thinking at the ethnographical fieldwork as a “location of politics” has metaphysical, epistemological, and methodological consequences at the same time. We strive to explore these three domains in order to better grasp what the engaged ethnographies of the 21st century will be like.

Ethnographies of social sciences as a vocation

Convenors: (University of Milano Bicocca) & (University of Milano Bicocca)

Nowadays in circles of youth there is a widespread notion that science has become a problem in calculation, fabricated in laboratories or statistical filing systems just as “in a factory”, a calculation involving only the cool intellect and not one’s “heart and soul”. First of all one must say that such comments lack all clarity about what goes on in a factory or in a laboratory.[1]

Max Weber, Science as a Vocation.

The approaching centenary of the well-known lecture by Max Weber (Munich, November 1917) constitutes both a rite and an opportunity to shed light on how  we now practice and produce “social science”.

The rite is the conference’s panel: a small gathering of researchers who undertook ethnographic research in and on the settings in which social science is produced, or on types of “products”, in different disciplines (sociology, anthropology, economy, pedagogy, history et al…), devoting specific attention to:

- the relationships between, on the one hand, everyday practices in the settings of researchers’ ordinary work and, on the other hand, the broader frame in which such practices take place and which is subject to recent institutional, administrative, bureaucratic and political shifts.

- the implications deriving from the logic (or rhetoric, narration, “doxa”, ideology) of academic “evaluation”, grasped in their concrete outcomes and in the everyday social organization of doing research.

The afore-mentioned opportunity implies setting out from Weber in order to move beyond the German sociologist, also thanks to researches carried out on the two themes – the relationships and the implications – before singled out.  The quotes that follow suggest, but do not exhaust, further ethnographic research topics to be discussed in the panel:

  • «To let “facts speak for themselves” is the most unfair» method. That is to say, how are “facts” used in research reports, writing practices, scientific arguments and public debates?
  • «The concept, one of the great tools of all scientific knowledge». What is the practical use of categories (as a marker of belonging or as a way of thinking) in projecting, doing, analyzing, defend, legitimize and reporting social research?
  • «Only by strict specialization can the scientific worker become fully conscious, for once and perhaps never again in his lifetime, that he has achieved something that will endure». What is now at risk  because of this rigorous specialization?
  • «To raise this question is to ask for the vocation of science within the total life of humanity. What is the value of science?» What and who is social science – particularly ethnography – for? What can ethnographies tell us about the general reception of social research? How and in which circumstances does social research, particularly ethnography, have something to offer to people’s “practical life”?

[1] Quotes from Max Weber in this page are taken from the English translation made by H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills: From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946; Routledge 2013)


Convenors: (University of Bologna) & (University of Padova)

Qualitative studies have played a crucial role, in the last century, in producing a critical view on total institutions. These empirical studies have revealed the paradoxes and contradictions among the criteria of legitimization of such institutions, the practices through which they reproduce themselves and the individual, and the social effects they produce. Key concepts and theoretical frameworks have been developed with reference to the complex interaction between institutional cultures and inmates subcultures, the dynamics of identity redefinition (processes of institutionalization and prisonization), the -often hidden- strategical horizons of penality, incarceration and detention in general. When, in 2002, Loïc Wacquant wrote the article titled “The curious eclipse of prison ethnography in the age of mass incarceration”, his worries were mainly related to the conservative shift in criminology and prison studies. A “political” shift oriented to reinforce, inside the university and the criminal justice system apparatus, the perspectives of an administrative criminology, finally useful for the war on crime and coherent with the ideological and juridical assumptions of Zero Tolerance and Actuarial Justice. At the times, mass incarceration was imagined by sevaral authors and scholars as a common tendency (or destiny) strictly linked with the expansion of Neoliberalism, even outside the so called western world. Such a homogeneous growth in the rates of incarceration did not take place. On the contrary, trends about detention show interesting levels of ambivalence with reference to the specific socio-economic and political conditions of the involved states and societies. Moreover, at least in the last decade, prison ethnographies and qualitative studies on detention seem to have gone through a sort of revitalization. The changing social composition of people kept in state of detention along with the central role of the different detention centers in managing new and old forms of marginality and human mobility (see the administrative detention of migrants as a form of carceral expansion) call qualitative researchers for “having a look inside” once again, observing whether these institutions adapt to the challenges they face, and how they do so. This panel is intended as a space for comparison, discussion and reflection on the perspectives of detention and incarceration. Papers are welcome with reference to the following areas of study:

  • prison ethnographies
  • systems of relations inside the total institutions
  • detention as a biographical experience
  • qualitative research on probation and alternative measures to detention
  • inmates point of view and convict criminology
  • understanding prison staff
  • qualitative analysis on recidivism and re-entry
  • institutional cultures and subcultures
  • penal treatment in its practices

Rethinking ‘Europe’ through an Ethnography of its Borderlands, Peripheries and Margins

Convenors: (University of California, Berkeley), (University of California, Berkeley) & (University of California, Berkeley).

The past year has been a tumultuous one for the south/eastern borderlands of Europe. From the failed attempts to resist austerity in Greece against the backdrop of its possible exit/expulsion from the Eurozone, to the ongoing ‘refugee crisis’ that reverberates from Germany to the Mediterranean, old patterns of exclusion at Europe’s socio/spatial ‘margins’ are being reinforced, and new ones are being created. The production of categories of exclusion – the insolvent debtor, the economic migrant, the refugee – are also moments of redefinition of what ‘Europe’ may mean, and who or what may be ‘European’.

This panel seeks to bring together areas that are usually studied separately – the Eurozone crisis and ‘austerity’ on one side, and migration and the ‘refugee crisis’ on the other – in order to challenge the notion that it is migration alone (and a supposed ‘difference’ embodied by migrants, or citizens of non-European descent) that is calling into question a stable notion of ‘Europe’. Instead, the panel seeks to analyze the multiple ways in which ‘Europe’ (as a ‘geo-body’, a ‘historical construct’, a symbol, a relation) is currently being produced and reproduced through patterns of inclusion, exclusion and constant renegotiation of belonging at its borderlands, peripheries and margins.  Understanding the present moment as part of a longer history of the making and remaking of Europe, the panel seeks to understand what is particular about how Europe is being produced at the present conjuncture, and how this is occurring in multiple arenas of everyday life.

In order to hold this conversation, the panel welcomes ethnographically-grounded papers that study how, through everyday forms of interaction, people from different socio-geographical positionalities produce ‘Europe’. Papers can be grounded in ‘obvious’ border-making spaces such as Lampedusa, or peripheries such as Greece, but also in those traditionally conceived as ‘centers’ such as Berlin, as well as outside of Geographical Europe. Possible topics include, but are not limited to: mobility, migration, and the ‘refugee crisis’; life with, and resistance to, austerity measures; rethinking ‘Fortress Europe’, the Eurozone, the Schengen Area, and the meaning of the European project through everyday material practices. We welcome works in progress as well as finished studies.

Experiencing Urban Boundaries

Convenors: (University of Trento) & (University of Genova)

As recent approaches in urban sociology and critical geography suggest, current urbanization processes do redefine contemporary city as an essentially multiscalar site, that is, as the complex and rather chaotic outcome of different spatial and temporal dynamics revealing themselves to be un-reducible to a discrete scale. Accordingly, that which we define as «urban» is produced by a widespread multiplication and juxtapositions of scales: it is the irregular landscape defined  by a clash of scales, among scales, within scales. By focusing on this juxtaposition and on the ongoing process of rescaling it triggers, we may detect a whole series of frictions materializing themselves in terms of boundaries. Urban boundaries are thus conceivable and recognizable as the material translation of the frictions redefining urban territories. Rather than borders, they are signals of border. And they can be both spatial and temporal, visible and invisible, physical and immaterial, reflecting and at the same time reproducing and crafting balance of power, social relations, and everyday experiences. Under this perspective, the very act of experiencing the city can be assumed as a way of experiencing urban boundaries, amidst processes imposed from above, lived situations from below, plans conceived on a large scale and subjective maps, explicit conflicts and latent everyday tensions.

It comes from here the idea of a panel on “Experiencing the urban boundaries”. It aims to focus on these specific “border signals”, their phenomenology, genealogy, and possible evolutions, on the assumption that they represent the quintessential “site” of/for urban ethnography. After all, ethnography itself is a kind of social practice that is essentially played on boundaries, on a threshold, in the friction triggered by an encounter among differences. Its “site” is not only defined by frictions and boundaries, but is itself a friction, and a boundary.

Starting from these assumptions, the workshop will address a number of issues to explore the many facets of experiencing the urban boundaries, including:

Which are the shapes  taken by the contiguity and interruptions occuring in urban territories? How you can identify them and understand how they are materially produced, crossed, fallen, contested or reconstructed? What are the thresholds that identify discontinuities and breaks among the different atmospheres settled in space? In which way these same thresholds identify contexts where certain behaviors are considered usual and therefore unnoticed, while others are perceived as idiosyncratic and often stigmatized? How the signals of the discontinuities in the urban space are perceived, represented and lived? In which way the physical segmentations of such discontinuities produce economic, symbolic, political, emotional values, generating other frictions or intermittent fluidities?

This call is addressed to everyone who, from different areas and approach in urban studies (sociology, anthropology, critical geography, visual studies, architecture) may find in the ethnographic practice a useful tool to situate and explore urban boundaries, as well as, in the very act of experiencing urban boundaries, the inner meaning of urban ethnography.

Ethnographies of Waste Politics

Convenor: (Middlesex University)

Today the multiple ways in which different kinds of waste (municipal, industrial, hazardous, digital, human, etc.) are produced, circulated, destroyed and transformed constitute an established field of inquiry in the social sciences. Waste is studied both as a topic in itself and as a lens through which to examine broader processes in contemporary capitalist societies, be these emergent forms of neoliberal governmentality or alternative modes of organizing social life. At a generic level, social theorists such as Zygmunt Bauman and Ulrich Beck have adopted waste as a metaconcept to make sense of the dilemmas of late modernity, while at a more specific level, struggles against incinerators and landfills, especially in the United States, have made a fundamental contribution to debates about environmental justice. In recent years major conflicts over waste management around the world, from Naples to Beirut, Guangzhou to Bogotà, have attracted mainstream media and scholarly interest, although the political significance of these controversial cases has frequently been misrepresented and trivialized. At the same time, the politics of waste also plays out at a mundane and unspectacular level, for example in the informal collection strategies deployed by the Zabbaleen garbage recyclers in Cairo in response to the privatization of the city’s refuse system.

Combining a focus on the institutional, agonistic and everyday politics of waste, this panel aims to explore how ethnography can enrich our understanding of the contested material and symbolic place of waste in contemporary societies. Proposals are welcome that draw on original ethnographic research and that engage with the wider political and social dimensions of waste. Possible themes include, but are not limited to the following:

  • the governance and bureaucracy of waste systems
  • the politics of waste ‘crises’ and ‘emergencies
  • urban waste and the right to the city
  • anti-incinerator and anti-landfill campaigns
  • organised labour in the refuse sector
  • counter-strategies to living and working in localities stigmatised by waste
  • the production of professional and popular knowledge about waste cycles and management
  • the disciplinary regimes of alternative waste management (e.g. zero waste)

States of imagination/Imagined states. Performing the political within and beyond the state

Convenors: (University of Oxford – Université libre de Bruxelles) & (University of Zurich)

Political anthropology has succesfully defended the idea that government (as the conduct of conduct) cannot and never has been the monopoly of an executive, unitary state. Instead it raises awareness about the marginal spaces, where de facto public authority is constantly constituted, performed and reproduced. Within this realm, ethnograpy has arisen as the method of choice to actively engage with the ways such public rule is qualified and established –by demarcating, imagining and mediating the contours of contemporary citizenship, for example, but also to investigate how fieldwork itself can be performative of the state and its constituent fields of power. By immersing ourselves into the states of imagination, the values and symbolism that underpin political legitimacy in a given time and space, we are able to track down the social processes that help to constitute, transform and resist public authority beyond mere assertions of (violent) sovereign rule.

In this panel, we are interested in exploring more in-depth the use(fulness) of ethnographic method to investigate government practice from a broad perspective of institutional and spatial multiplicity. Domains of interest include both the grounded analysis of social relations and discourses that shape public authority –from either a practice-oriented or governmentality perspective, as well as more performative investigations into the repetitive, ritualized acts that write the possibility of a securable state. Priority will be given to contributions that actively engage with the issue of scale, i.e. the question how political knowledge is mediated and taking shape through a network of interconnected technologies, actors and instutions.

The Chicago School and the study of conflicts in contemporary societies

Convenors: (University of Cagliari) & (Uniwersytet Warszawski)

the nortons

Conflict is a social phenomenon that has been present in theoretical reflections and empirical studies since the beginnings of sociology as a discipline. However, in the numerous manuals of sociology, it seems that some theories remain prominent while others are forgotten. Our aim here is to draw the attention of the sociological community to the particular relevance of the Sociological Tradition of Chicago (Chapoulie, 2001) in the study and general understanding of conflicts.

We are looking for theoretical studies concerning the Chicago School of Sociology and the sociological analyses of conflicts as well as for empirical studies dealing with conflicts present in different areas of human activity (professional, educational and societal). Our aim is to focus on the Chicago School’s intellectual legacy in order to awaken sociological imagination and revive some of the ideas and scientific approaches for gaining a better understanding of our contemporary societies.

The contribution that the Chicago School made to the study of conflicts seems to have been somewhat overlooked by contemporary sociological “accounts” of the history of our discipline. Nonetheless, this Tradition made successful use of the concept of “conflict” and produced different variants of the definition of conflict. Various types of conflicts were studied at different levels and in various environments (society, institutions, organizations, groups and face to face interactions). Their inquiries enhanced understanding of macro, meso and micro levels of conflict phenomena.

Two of the most recurrent elements present in studies of conflict in the Chicago School tradition are the focus on interactions, which emphasizes the dynamics of social relationship, and the use of qualitative methods. In particular, observation seems particularly suited to the investigation of conflicts within daily life in different areas of human activity.  Numerous levels of analysis emerge: from the negotiation of identities through the political/institutional level to the interracial relationships in urban space.

We are looking for fresh and innovative papers in order to foster an original debate on the Chicago School’s intellectual legacy on the theme of conflict. In particular, we would like to encourage submissions dealing with the study of current migration processes, organizational life, group relations and processes, focusing on identity negotiations, conflicts and/or stigmatization processes. The aim is to explore the legacy and establish dialogue between the sociological theory of the traditional and contemporary Chicago Schools of Sociology.

Ethnography of labour chains

Convenors: (University of Bergamo) & (University of Padova)

on bosse ici

One can start from a crumbling shack occupied by seasonal farmworkers in one of the rural areas of the Mediterranean, and arrive, via the packinghouses or the canning plants, to the retailing giants in one of the main European cities. Or else, one can start from the branded laptop with which we work on a daily basis back to an enormous factory where electronics are produced and to the dormitories provided to its workers. One can keep on moving to the miners who extract coltan, the essential raw material for the electronics industry. Is it possible for social scientists to study these connections, these chains, with ethnographic methodologies?

Over the past twenty years, the expansion of the global production systems and of transnational mobility has deeply transformed the forms of labour and the ways of life of the people involved in them. Globalization has appeared to be not a unique and holistic process, but rather a multiplier of different labour situations. Production is articulated among a number of countries and is characterized by processes of standardization as well as strong differentiation. The construction of production chains localized in different areas gives ample space to management to adopt different labour conditions within and outside the workplace. Along these chains of the global economy, an intense process of fragmentation of the forms of labour has spread, whose main feature is the increasing casualization of labour-power. The traditional trade unions, which were already declining, found themselves under pressure. On the other hand, precarious workers have tried new strategies of organization, which remain in most cases territorially limited.

The literature on the so-called global value chains and global production networks has grown substantially over the last years; nonetheless, topics such as workplace relations and individual and collective agency of workers within these chains have remained understudied.

In fact, in order to analyse these transformations, new fieldwork methodologies and a new sociological imagination are required. For example, we aim to discuss how to extend the ethnographic study of one productive site to other links in the chain, to the whole production networks and to the forms of government of the workforce. This panel welcomes ethnographically grounded papers focused on the diverse working and living conditions as well as on social and labour conflicts within the global production chains. Presentations based upon collective research projects are particularly appreciated. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • intersectionality at work: the role of gender, nationality and skin colour in the productive processes
  • forms of casualization and informalization of labour
  • externalization, subcontracting and delocalization processes
  • the relationships between production and reproduction processes
  • global production networks and forms of resistance on the workplace
  • union strategies and new forms of labour organization
  • forms of government of global labour chains, among State authorities, supranational bodies, power-unbalanced business relationships, and labour market regulations
  • ethnographers in the labour chains

Diffracting Ethnography in the Anthropocene

Convenor: (University of Bergamo)

The theoretical framework of Anthropocene has quickly spread across several disciplinary areas, from Anthropology to History, from Ecology to Economics, as a critical tool for the investigation of the contemporary, in the attempt to provide a multidisciplinary context where to confront and compare different sensitivities and competences on the issues of environment, shared responsibility, public interest and common visions about the future.

The concept of Anthropocene provides a sort of metascenario where a multiplicity of separated critical aspects of the contemporary crisis acquire common and mutually depending meanings: climate refugees, food insecurity, energetic crisis, restrictions to water accesses. These are all independent signs converging to assemble a severe criticism of the dominating paradigm of development, based on markets and profits, that has been imposed as a unique model and that has largely contributed to generate all the mentioned criticalities.

The discourse on Anthropocene tries to promote the enhancement of a global awareness of shared belonging, emphasizing the invisible and indirect connections between human actions and their environmental consequences, connecting large and micro scales, superposing individual causes and global effects. The pluri-semantic figurations of diffraction and transversality are powerful metaphors borrowed from disciplines such as philosophy and natural sciences that describe at best the new network of meanings, both theoretical and material ones, needed to grasp all these mutual dependencies.

The panel seeks to discuss this framework characterized by instabilities with the support of ethnographic description and case studies discussion, focussing in particular on:

  •  the mutual relations between small scale (human) actions and large scale (environmental) effects, many of which still need to be accurately understood, in their multidisciplinary dimension
  • the new social unbalances emerging as consequences of the environmental exploitation, worsening existing gaps and unbalances among genders, classes, communities; in particular documenting poor housing, decreasing education, worsening of health conditions
  • new environmental sensitivities originated with the crisis and generated by the inadequate managing of resources, producing new patterns of engagement and collective behaviours; in particular documenting social movements, their environmental commitment, their strategies of aggregation and claim