Preprint / Version 1

The Ethnographic Quest in the Midst of COVID-19


  • Luis Gregorio Abad Espinoza University of Milan-Bicocca


COVID-19 pandemic, ethnography, anthropology, shuar, anthropocene, mnemonic devices, spatio-temporal realities, technology


The outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 has threatened ethnographic inquiry, undermining its quintessential characteristic. Participant observation, then, has been thoroughly dismembered by the radical measures implemented to prevent the spread of the virus. This phenomenon, in short, has dragged anthropologists to a liminal state within which ethnography is paradoxically caught in an onto-epistemological unstable vortex. The question of being here and not there, during the pandemic, is epitomised in the instability of different spatio-temporal contexts that overlap through technological mediations. Reflecting on previous fieldwork experiences and current virtual inquiries with the Shuar of the Ecuadorian Amazon unfolds how COVID-19 has thoroughly reshaped how the author approaches subjects' socio-ecological settings. Against this background, the article argues that corporeal immersion remains a necessary condition for the anthropological scrutiny of multispecies relationalities amidst the challenging times of the Anthropocene. The article nevertheless demonstrates that the intellectual efforts to grasp the different material temporalities of virtual spaces embrace the ethical principles concerning the renunciation of fieldwork with vulnerable communities. Furthermore, a reflective and speculative stance is proposed to actualise the snapshots of faraway physicalities linking them to past embodied and multi-sensory experiences. It is ultimately theorised how these mnemonic devices operate as creative forms of inquiry that overcome the pandemic consequences, extra-stimulating our cognitive capabilities to reflect on prior and possible socio-material interactions.


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