Anthropological Association of Ireland


Read more


Writing Workshop Call for Participants




Writing Worlds: Imagination and Fiction in Ethnographic Writing

Kayla Rush (Queen’s University Belfast), Facilitator 


‘Imagine yourself suddenly set down surrounded by all your gear, alone on a tropical beach close to a native village, while the launch or dinghy which has brought you sails away out of sight’. So begins Bronislaw Malinowski’s famous ethnography Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922). It is not so very different from the opening of a novel, or a drama, or a film: in all of these genres, there is an introduction to the setting – a way of drawing the audience into the writer’s world through literary techniques, including words, maps, images, sounds, or movements.

In his introduction to Writing Culture (1986), James Clifford tells us that all ethnographies are fictions ‘in the sense of “something made or fashioned”’, and in the sense of being ‘inherently partial’, seen and experienced through our own eyes and bodies as researchers in the field, and imagined into being for others through our own pens as writers. When we write ethnographies, we fashion these worlds for our readers, mediated through our own sensory experiences of those times and places. We imagine them, and we ask our readers to imagine them along with us, to follow our lead and enter into the worlds we have created.

While this act of creation, this writing of worlds, is an element of all ethnographies, many ethnographers take this aspect of their work even further, by employing literary genres, such as poetry, memoir, drama, and narrative fiction, to communicate ethnographic knowledge. Sometimes these are included alongside more ‘traditional’ or ‘conventional’ academic prose in published scholarly works; at other times, they are disseminated through separate channels entirely, published in literary magazines or performed at poetry slams. Moreover, anthropological research and training has influenced the works of such well-known fiction writers as Zora Neale Hurston, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ursula K. Le Guin, such that the line between ‘fiction’ and ‘ethnography’ as distinct genres continues to blur.

This workshop is an adventure. It embraces the fictional, imaginative aspects of ethnographic writing wholeheartedly, and encourages participants to reflect on how they themselves communicate worlds to readers. Workshop participants will share their own examples of writing worlds into being, and will receive constructive, supportive feedback from their peers.


Those interested in taking part in this workshop are asked to register in advance. Participants from all modes of study or employment, and ethnographers from disciplines outside anthropology, are very welcome. Please bring with you a writing excerpt (maximum 1,000 words) that ‘writes the world’ of your ethnography. We especially encourage works that utilize experimental writing styles or genres not typically associated with academic writing.

In order to register, please email the following details to workshop facilitator This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., by 31 August 2017:

     -       Your name and institutional affiliation

     -       A working title for the excerpt you will be sharing

     -       An indication of the genre in which the excerpt is written (poetry, fiction, narrative prose, autoethnography, memoir, etc.)

Please email Kayla with any questions you might have. We look forward to seeing you there!



Some online resources on this topic that you might find useful:

News Flash

 Anthropology at Queens gains international support

International Organisations have come together in a show of support for continuing Anthropology at Queens University Belfast. Links to each of the issued letters are avaiable below:


IUAES, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences Open Letter to QUB


WCAA, World Council of Anthropological Associations Open Letter to QUB


letters open in a new window