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    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:



    Predictive Texts: Imagining the Future

    September 21-23, 2017

    Queen's University Belfast


    The arts and the liberal arts have always had an eye on the future. From classical works of dystopic fiction to surrealist artistic visions, imaginings and simulations of the world’s future has always been central to humanity's hopes and fears. Works of fiction can be considered a way of dealing with an uncertain future, offering opportunities for the creator and observer to explore the unknown. 

    In the creative and liberal traditions, time, intellectual endeavour and resources have been exhaustively spent dealing with the future. Be that in countless anthropological reflections on cultural transformations, or what the future holds for enclaves of cultural traditions in the Anthropocene, or to revolutionary world simulation in digital mediums, the future has always been a central motivational cog in a spinning wheel.

    This conference will give presenters the opportunity to look back on classical fiction and non-fiction predictive texts and reflect on the accuracy of prediction. This classical beginning raises the question: in imagining the future, do we set a course for that future? As liberal and creative arts are often responsible for imagining the future, then are we responsible for that future? As anthropologists, if we use our skills as ethnographers to understand the needs of the future for the development of goods and services through long-term engagement with participants, where does our responsibility begin and end? If those in the liberal arts and creative arts have their finger on the pulse of cultural trends, what is our part in that future? 

    Through Predictive Texts presenters will have an opportunity to reflect on the creative process and ask, is it possible to imagine a world, its inhabitants, codes of behaviour, soundscapes, rationality, without simply re-imagining or pirating from the diversity of the cultures present or vanished? This conference invites those in the creative process - authors, poets, musicians, artist, gamers, role-players and others - and asks them to consider is it possible to escape the boundaries of cultural existence and create new world orders? We encourage presenters to explore a bricolage of theories and vistas from early classical fiction to contemporary creations. Within the digital age Predictive Texts will offer both academics and non-academics time to reflect on the role culture has in forming or hindering imaginings of the world.


    Papers are invited under the following themes, but not exclusively:

    • Predictive Texts: Classical Imaginings of the Future
    • Mind Box: Cultural and Philosophical Imaginings of the Future
    • Dystopic Visions: Near future fiction, ecological and surrealist visions
    • Writing anthropological futures
    • Digital Futures - big data, security, AI
    • Sound and Vision
    • Ethnographic fiction
    • Writing anthropology 


    Participants are invited from all disciplines. Traditional presentations are invited, but new modes of showcasing your work can be accommodated with advance notice. Please give advance notice of the technologies needed to present non-traditional formats.

    Traditional presentations: please submit a 350-word abstract of your presentation. Non-traditional presentations: please submit a brief description of your project, and any other multi-media format - recorded oral presentation, videos, graphics, photographs, games, etc.

    Please submit your abstract or description to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. as soon as possible, but no later than July 23rd, 2017. Please address any queries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


    Any vacancies for the Irish Journal of Anthropology will be listed here:

    Seeking Deputy Editor - closed

    Seeking Website Editor



    Seeking Website Editor for the Irish Journal of Anthropology


    Due to increased volume of submissions and activity within the Irish Journal of Anthropology we hereby invite applications for the role of Website Editor. This is a new position in a reformulated Editorial Team. Expressions of interest will be shortlisted and those shortlisted will receive an outline of the exact duties and requirements before interview. Interviews are likely to take place in Late August/ Early September '16 in Dublin but can be conducted via Skype to facilitate applicants who cannot travel to Dublin. Applications should include a short expression of interest together with a C.V. highlighting any editorial experience. Applications can be sent in confidence to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    Job Description

    Website Editor [WE] maintains the Anthropological Association of Ireland website under the supervision of the Editor in Chief of the Irish Journal of Anthropology and the Social Media Coordinator of the Anthropological Association of Ireland.  The WE is a website specialist who will advise the journal and the association on any website requirements and prepares all material for uploading.

    S/He is the custodian of AAI and the Journal’s websites and will devise procedures for working with both. S/He is responsible for maintaining the website and digital archive of the Irish Journal of Anthropology.

    This is an unpaid position that requires 2/3 hours work per week during busy periods (twice a year).

    Person Specification

    The IJA is looking for someone with experience of the joomla (2.5) and website design (introductory training can be given and the existing website and procedures will be explained). The IJA will welcome new and innovative ideas from the Website Editor so this is a chance to make a mark on an international journal that is transitioning to a new place in the print and digital realms in a highly competitive environment.

    The Journal

    The Irish Journal of Anthropology is a biannual publication serving the Anthropological Association of Ireland and wider international community of anthropologists. The journal is undergoing a period of expansion both in print and digital formats. The journal commands an international audience with roughly 1/3 International, 1/3 UK and 1/3 Republic of Ireland. The journal is available free online with members receiving a print copy twice a year. The journal includes 4 regular sections – Comment, Articles, Interview and Book Reviews and offers an annual AAI conference issues and a general issue alternating with special issues each year.


     Quarterly Newsletters of the World Council of Anthropological Associations

    Please click on an issue and newsletter will open in a new window


    Issue 3 - Jan 2015


    Issue 2 - Dec 2015


    Issue 1 - Aug 15



  •  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