The Marett Memorial Lecture 2021: The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Ethnography & Empathy in the 21st Century

Marett Memorial Lecture 2021

Fitzhugh Auditorium, Cohen Quadrangle, Exeter College, Walton Street, Oxford

Friday 15 October, 5pm
Followed by a drinks reception at 6pm

Guidance: The event is in person and not streamed. Therefore, please take a lateral flow test before attending and, whilst not mandatory, please wear a face covering during the lecture and sign in to the track and trace service available.

The Ground Beneath Our Feet:  Ethnography and Empathy in the 21st Century

Dr Christopher (Kit) Davis (Emeritus Faculty, SOAS University of London)
Her acclaimed monograph, Death in Abeyance: Therapies and Illness among the Tabwa of Zaire/Congo, was published by the International Africa Institute in 2000 and won the Wellcome Medal in 2002)

working with muzombwe or

‘Working with Muzombwe’, copyright Christopher Davis and Allen Roberts

Abstract: In the 18 months since I first visualised this lecture, the world has completely changed.  Or we can, perhaps more accurately, say that the 21st century has come into its own.  We are presented with a barrage of devastating effects with complex and entangled causes that seem impossibly remote or inaccessible.  These are crises that affect all forms of life.  They exist and can be met only on a global or species-wide basis, the very basis on which they were and are created.  It’s a disaster!

We are clearly on the brink of a change in human consciousness, not in the neurological but in the social, moral, political, and economic senses of the term and the direction of the change is unpredictable.  This is precisely the time when anthropology is most challenged and most needed.  As practitioners, we are most challenged because ours is a slow-moving field science.  Fieldwork just takes time. Yet, ethnography is most needed because it is a documentary art.  As a genre, it links the specificity of individual lives, locations, and perspectives to the wider range of populations, policies, and principles.

What I want to do in this lecture is make our most cherished and durable element – our method – into a mental base camp for a few forays into different social and intellectual locations.  I take the view that our method itself is a disciplined empathy and, as such, is a type of political process; one operating at the most basic level, the level of everyday life.

Since it comes from and returns to everyday life, the glory of our discipline is that everything new is somehow old, yet everything old is made new again by shifts in time, language & location.  So, this will be both commemoration and commencement. My hope is that by the end of it, we’ll be ready to begin.  Again.  

This event was postponed from May 2021.