Ep. #51: Newsworthy stories, Becoming projects, Ethics of danger & Balancing values: This month on TFS

Jodie [1:26] begins our panel this month with a recent incident in Canberra, Australia, where a woman was shot by a ‘random’ gunman. Luckily her wound was not life-threatening. This story was HUGE here, but at the same time the story was released, Australia was (and currently still is in some places) on fire. Jodie asks us whether we should care so much about one person being shot, when the world is – literally – burning. How do we decide what stories are “newsworthy”? Should we be focusing on the local stories or should we be broadening our focus to the bigger picture, or global-focus, particularly in times of crisis?

Kylie [6:13] then reflects on something she’s noticed during these early stages of her PhD – that she is becoming her project. That is, it is becoming a part of her identity, in a way that she had not anticipated. She asks, particularly in instances like this, “how can we as researchers draw the line between life and work; what you DO and who you ARE?” Jodie shares from her own experience that “If you are somebody who identifies strongly with your work – irrespective of whether or not you’re doing a PhD – then I think the longer you spend with a particular type of work, the more you’re going to embody that work and draw that into your identity.” Simon suggests that it comes down to commitment, and that PhD’s themselves are transformative. Where do you draw the line? Is there a line that can even be drawn?

Next Simon [12:16] questions the ethics of doing anthropological research in a place or context that is considered “dangerous”. If you don’t know, Simon did his fieldwork in Iran, where there has been recent attention given to the arrests on dual citizens. Kylie suggests that we should not shy away from researching these places, especially for anthropologists, otherwise we limit the knowledge that could be gained about them. Alex suggests that maybe we need to re-frame our question of “should we research dangerous places?” to “to whom are we ethically responsible to and why when doing this kind of research?” Is the fact we are even discussing this question a sign of privilege?

Lastly, Alex [17:40] ends our conversation with a touch of institutionalisation – or rather, he questions the reality of ANU’s recent announcement to cap numbers of undergraduate students coming into the university. According to Alex, Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor of ANU, said that this will allow ANU to focus on the strong link between research and teaching, however … in practice is this how it will really play out? If we look closer, does academia really value education equally to research?


You can read about the shooting in Canberra that Jodie mentioned here: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-05/woman-shot-in-canberras-inner-south-gunman-fled/11672138

For more on the Australian bush fires, the ABC has been providing lots of coverage: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-22/queensland-bushfire-crisis-nsw-fires-cost-insurance-damage-bill/11725920

If you’d like to know more about the changing disciplinary concerns of anthropology, check out Chapter 3 of Harrison’s book Ethnography: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/ethnography-9780199371785?cc=au&lang=en&

The BBC collated some information about the dual citizens arrested in Iran, which can be read here: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41974185

Simon mentioned one person who has done qualitative research on detained ISIS fighters, but there have actually been multiple. Here are a few and the kinds of information that researching dangerous places or contexts can offer:
– Lydia Wilson looked into reasons why people are drawn to ISIS: https://www.thenation.com/article/what-i-discovered-from-interviewing-isis-prisoners/
– Vera Mironova shares her insights about the types of fighters in ISIS:
– and Ali Al Tuma sought to understand the wider views on Iraqi Shia punishment of ISIS fighters:

“If we don’t do that research, and we’re not in those dangerous places, we run out of that information” and understanding about those places and the people within them.

The ABC has reported on the capped enrollment decision by ANU, and can be read here:

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Deanna Catto
Podcast edited by Matthew Phung and Kylie Wong Dolan

Feature image ‘Danger’ by oatsy40 (2017) from Flickr

Image of fire crews battling the Tinnibar and Deepwater bushfires from ABC News (2019)

‘Abacus’ by Will Jackson (2008) from Flickr

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