Talk by Professor Lesley A. Sharp Barnard College, Columbia University

Absence as Methodological Practice

The anthropological probing of human experience often illuminates traces of otherwise obscured categories of persons, animals, and things. Indeed, ethnographic engagement might well be imagined as an ongoing effort to detect otherwise overlooked evidence of that which is absent, invisible, or erased in contexts where associated knowledge or memories nevertheless persist. In response, I ask, of what significance are such traces in advancing anthropological understandings of social life, if such traces rest front and center in our research? That is, what sorts of methodological negotiations does recognition entail? What, in turn, are the consequences of the failure to recognize what remains elusive in plain sight? How, too, might associated actions translate from mere practice to deeper forms of political engagement, or praxis? In an effort to wrestle with these conundrums, I offer examples from my own research, involving projects marked by the entwinement of care, suffering, and death. I draw inspiration from M. Strathern, M. Jackson, A. Gordon and others who strive to integrate alternative ways of seeing and knowing within the bedrock of ethnographic engagement, especially in contexts involving marginalized, overlooked, devalued, or erased categories of humans, animals, bodies, and things.

Lesley A. Sharp is a medical anthropologist and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Wellcome Medal. Her work centers on moral premises, conundrums, and contradictions inherent in affliction and healing, biomedicine, and the moral underpinnings of experimental science.