Call for Participants: Sensorial Excess

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The Ethnography Studio presents SENSORIAL EXCESS

With Dr. Dawn Nafus (Intel Labs) and Dr. Patricia Alvarez-Astacio (Rice)

We want to invite you to join the Ethnography Studio for its next workshop: SENSORIAL EXCESS. We will spend the morning attending to sensoria around Rice University’s campus. The event will take place on March 10th, 2017, from 10am to 2pm (lunch will be provided). Undergraduate and graduate students are welcome to join.

The workshop will have three parts. We will begin with a provocation by Dr. Patricia Alvarez-Astacio (Rice) and Dr. Dawn Nafus (Intel Labs). During the second part of the workshop each participant will navig

ate our immediate environment at Rice by attending to a specific form of sensorial perception and data-making  (focusing on touch, sight, sound, smell, etc.). Participants will memorialize their experiences by gathering notes, pictures and artifacts. They will “create” data for further analysis. Finally, participants will convene over lunch to discuss their impressions and build sensorial maps of campus.

The workshop will encourage participants, especially those of us who engage in fieldwork, to hone their sense of perception, pushing it beyond familiar ways of seeing and writing down the spaces we inhabit. It will also query the meaning of data creation as an embodied practice. We will pay attention to how other senses beyond sight, and their interplay, can open up new worlds of inquiry. We will also remain aware of what is impossible to grasp through our senses as a way to not forget about the limits of bodies as sensing machines. We expect this workshop to be of use to anyone currently engaged in scholarly research, especially research that demands an ethnographic perspective.

To join us please RSVP at by March 2nd so that we can have enough food and materials for all.

Micro-Installations 2016

Karl Sims - Galapagos - ICC
By Dave Pape (Own work) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Join us on November 22, 4.oo pm (Sewall Hall 570) for our ES Class micro-installation exhibition!

Amber-Bradley-Elizabeth-Jasmine-Jessica-John-Katie-Magen-Mel-Michael-Zantia will be sharing their work, we’ll have light refreshements for you!


Movement Flashbacks!

About a month ago we spent a morning with Kim Fortun discussing graduate student research projects and movement. The workshop was designed to collectively explore a shared analytic that might, or might not, have been central to the participants’ projects. Our conversation was extremely generative and rich. Unexpected threads connected projects and in some cases required their separation. We took about half an hour to explore each student write up and to discuss the excertps they brought to the table.

Its been about a month since we had Kim visitng Rice. After this time, what stayed and what receded? Below you’ll find four flashbacks of the workshop. Next to each participant’s entry you will also see links to the texts they submitted in parallel to their reserach description. Those texts were selected by particiapnts because they moved their own thinking and ethnographic practice and not because they are representative of the students’ own work, theoretical identifications, or regional interests.

Rather than create a solid history of what transpired in the event, this post is a memento for participants and a token for those of you who were not there but are interested in what might have unfolded. It is a  placeholder for detailed notes, sketches, brilliant connections and lingering questions that will continue their lives through each of the projects we discussed.

Helena: Thinking collaboratively with Prof. Fortun, Prof. Ballestero and my peers opened up new ways of attuning to the past as a historical and ethnographic object. Which pasts come to matter and for whom, how can we see the past not as a self-evident point in time, but as brought into being, diffusely distributed, an inherited remainder of sorts, are key provocations that I will carry with me as I think through the ethics and of politics of refugee wellbeing in Australia.

Baird: I left the workshop with new understandings of how a seemingly broad analytic like “movement” can produce unexpected connections between my own project and seemingly unrelated projects on other topics.

Marcel: Lately, I’ve been seeing Kim’s 2012 article “Ethnography in Late Industrialism” cited everywhere, and it was exciting to think with her about the sky as a space for labor organizing, perhaps even a new factory floor.

Eliot: Thinking about ‘movement’ helped me conceptualize the movement between my two field-sites, which are 6,000+ miles apart. What scales directions, and artifacts produce novel movements worth following?

Texts that move:



Ethnographies that Move

PLU Dance (8710344089)A Student workshop with Kim Fortun
Hosted by the Ethnography Studio
Rice Anthropology Department
October 8th: 9-11 am
Deadline for RSVP and material submission: October 2nd
Send materials to:

What does it mean to say that an ethnographic work has the capacity to move? Move theoretical discussions, geographic locations, affective registers. When ethnographic writing is praised, it is often described as “moving.” This workshop interrogates movement as a marker of “good” anthropological and ethnographic thinking and writing. We are interested in an expansive sense of movement that includes shaking things up, destabilizing and offering fresh takes on the worlds that we investigate. But movement is not limited to forward trajectories. Moving also implies taking tangents, it includes vibrations, and often comes in the form of cataclysmic shakes.

To participate, students will submit a short description of their research and will select one text that has moved their own thinking and ethnographic practice. This text does not need to be representative of the students’ own work, theoretical identifications, or regional interests. It has to have had the capacity to move, though. Submissions will be pre-circulated amongst all participants in preparation for conversation with Prof. Kim Fortun.

The workshop is open to all graduate students. Undergraduate students working on ethnographies for their theses are also welcome, just send me an email ( before submitting your materials so that we can discuss the details. All participants should submit by October 2nd:

  • one paragraph description of your project
  • one to two paragraph description of the ethnographic text selected (it can be an excerpt or a very short text, in which case please submit a pdf if available)
  • description of the kind of movement that the you see the piece performing and any relation to your thinking about your own project (theoretical, physical, affective, intellectual, scalar, stopping you on your tracks)-three paragraph max.

Please send your submissions to my email ( with “ethnographies that move” as  subject. We look forward to seeing you there!

Andrea Ballestero
Studio Convener

Baird Campbell and Eliot Storer
Student Co-coordinators


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Dr. Andrea Ballestero

My work looks at the unexpected ethical and technical entanglements through which experts understand water in Latin America. I am particularly interested in spaces where the law, economics and techno-science are so fused that they appear as one another. In recent years I have been following the paths of water pricing in Costa Rica, bureaucratic care for water in Brazil, and traveling water knowledge throughout Latin America.

I am currently involved in three interrelated projects. First, I am researching how the difference between a human right and a commodity is produced in regulatory and governance spaces that purport to be open to different forms of knowledge and promote flexibility and experimentation. I have worked with regulators, policy-makers, and NGOs in Costa Rica, Brazil and Sweden where I have been tracing how technical decisions embody these moral distinctions and pose questions about the foundations of liberal capitalist societies.

A second line of research is concerned with the different forms in which profits and wealth are imagined and regulated in Latin America. This project looks at the technical and affective making of profits (legal and illegal), their changing legitimacy, and the associated technologies involved in their production, regulation, and control.

Finally, I am developing a new line of research that takes the material qualities of water as heuristics through which the politics of the non-living can be examined. Developing in collaboration with Valerie Olson from UC-Irvine this line of research is concerned with the limits of “life” and “bio” as markers of worth. I am interested in charting what might lie beyond the living and how would anthropological inquiry shift if the horizons of value are placed beyond life. This project grows from the ubiquity with which I encountered the phrase “Water is Life” during fieldwork. Hence, it is also an experiment on divergent relationships between knowledge, informants, and ethnographer in contemporary techno-capitalist settings.

Read more:

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Baird Campbell

Originally from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I earned BA’s in French and Francophone Studies, Latin American Studies, and Applied Linguistics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, graduating in 2009. After 2 years as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Madrid, Spain, I spent one semester as adjunct Spanish faculty at Finlandia University before completing an MA in Latin American Studies at Tulane University in New Orleans. My MA thesis analyzed Chile’s mainstream LGBT movement through the lens of hegemonic masculinity, exploring its deployment at three crucial moments in the country’s modern LGBT movement.

At Rice, my dissertation research seeks to expand on my MA research, examining the margins of Chile’s LGBT movement, specifically focusing on the participation and exclusion of trans* people, lesbians, and racial minorities on the periphery of the mainstream movement. More broadly, I am interested in the portability and limitations of specifically Chilean forms of non-binary gender identities, and the work they can do in illuminating subconscious gender constructs in larger Chilean society. Additionally, I seek to understand the viability of state-centered vs. more radically queer activism for LGBT activists in Chile, especially in the case of underrepresented minorities within the movement, and aim to understand the distinctions and similarities between “traditional” activism—such as street marches and political lobbying—and more performative forms of activism and their ultimate effectiveness in bringing about social change.

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Eliot Storer

I am a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at Rice University. My research engages environmental management, planetary thinking, and energy systems with a particular emphasis on climate change solution projects. My dissertation research focuses on proposed land-use projects that, with varying degrees of governmental, scientific, and popular support, aim to remediate the negative effects of anthropogenic climate change through scientific engineering practices and technological innovation. Through a global, comparative ethnographic fieldwork project, I hope to highlight the scientific, political, and historical specificities between various land-use proposals.

I am a predoctoral fellow at Rice’s Center for Environmental and Energy Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS), and also help co-facilitate the Ethnography Studio, an experimental, interdisciplinary center for ethnographic research on campus. Read my recent blog essay, “Letting Rain and Making Shine: Geoengineering’s Biopolitics” on the Committee on Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC) website, here.

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Field Trip (Ethnographic Sparks)

Field Trip Notes. April 7th, 2015. By Eliot Storer.

Spark. noun. of unknown origin.

  1. A trace of a specified quality or intense feeling
  2. A sense of liveliness and excitement

The Ethnography Studio took its first field trip April 7th. Professor of Anthropology at The New School, Hugh Raffles, joined Rice’s studio participants of faculty, graduate students, and recent PhDs, for a morning visit to the Menil Collection’s new installation, entitled, The Infinity Machine, at Houston’s Byzantine Fresco Chapel. To complement to our installation visit, Raffles invited us to read a piece of fiction from German writer W.G. Sebald’s, The Emigrants, a collection of narratives about memory and trauma during World War II in Europe. We playfully titled the session, “How to find your ethnographic spark –a non-cultish conversation with Hugh Raffles”. With the installation and essay as our inspiration, we attempted to approximate our own ethnographic sparks, a difficult task given they are never quite readily available to us.

Created by artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, The Infinity Machine is a large, revolving apparatus of mirrors hanging from the windowless chapel’s high ceilings. Light from strategically placed fixtures reflects on the rotating mirrors, endlessly folding, unfolding, and magnifying itself. Intensified by soundscape recordings of solar winds interacting with the ionosphere, the installation creates an environmental totality shifting between sensoral overload and a meditative calm.

Sitting down for coffee after the installation visit, we reflected on the installation and Sebald essay with Raffles. The conversation reintroduced the continued importance of fiction in ethnography. Participants agreed that, for whatever reason, we’ve tended to neglect reading fiction. Fiction reading always seemed too time demanding, I couldn’t extract quotes from it for my papers, and it made no explicit truth claims. But for Raffles, one of the most popular writers in anthropology today, fiction is his ethnographic spark. He engages with fiction not to explain theory, but rather pragmatically, to work with the genre’s technical dexterity and evocative abilities. For Raffles, with care and expertise, fiction’s powers can be transposed into ethnography.

Raffles explained Sebald’s characteristic and profound ability to shift subjects in a single sentence. His in-sentence shifts between temporalities, places, interpretation/description, etc., is not messy and unclear, but efficient and poetic. This technique often goes unnoticed by the reader (myself included), yet captures their attention nonetheless. The spark is elusive, and working with it requires practice.

Coincidentally, it seemed like our experience in The Infinity Machine’s folding light reflections could work as a metaphor for approximating one’s ethnographic spark. The light reflections (sparks) were always present to the individual, yet only with careful and attentive engagement could one “work with” the spark: to see it reflected in another way, to understand its tendencies, to acclimate our senses to its process.

Our relationship to an ethnographic spark may be involuntary, yet we can never simply possess it, put it in a box, or name it straightforwardly. The difficulty is in cultivating this contradictory relationship with care; being-with a spark and letting it do its work on us, while opening our academic practice and our technical capacities towards them. This, I would argue, is a central task of the Ethnography Studio.

A little about us

The Ethnography Studio brings together ethnographers from a broad array of disciplines and approaches–from arts to engineering, anthropology to education, computer science to sociology–who are experimenting with ways of understanding complex social phenomena, of small and large scales, while embracing the uncertainty and ambiguities that ethnographic research affords for creative thinking. Acknowledging the usefulness and limits of research design and well established data collection techniques, the Studio takes advantage of a broad array of methodologies and theoretical approaches and values diversity and contradiction rather than cohesiveness and convergence. Members of the studio work through their project ideas, research design, and writing in a space where peer support and learning is imagined as asking each other hard questions from a collaborative and collegial standpoint