The main goal of this Erasmus+ strategic partnership Encounters is to collaboratively develop critical methodologies for student research at the intersection between the practices of ethnography, arts, and education.
The core of this partnership is shaped by joint explorative student summer courses in Lesvos, Greece, held each summer during the project period. Through the joint lens of ‘the encounter’, MA students will explore how the different, yet overlapping traditions of ethnographic fieldwork, arts-based research and critical pedagogies can produce situations and new ways of knowing, experiencing and engaging with the physical landscapes, social situations, institutions and people – ranging from the local population, tourists or refugees.
The rationale is to find ways of engaging with such local communities, agents and situations in a non-representative way, which means not just representing local cultures, but to explore the practices of arts, research and education as ways of engaging ‘with’ rather than making a study ‘of’.
Lesvos offers a rich cultural and political landscape where students and researchers will explore questions of what this methodology is able to contain and produce, in terms of (re)presentation, documentation, arts-practice, social engagement, educational potential, and research outcome.
Since 2018, University of Agder, Norway, has developed and offered a pilot summer MA course in Lesvos exploring the above topics, in dialogue and collaboration with parts of the existing partnership. The experiences from these courses have then formed the core principles of this new project, inviting other institutions to form an Erasmus+ partnership around an updated summer course, which will act as a hub for developing and exploring the connections between artistic practice, ethnographic research, and pedagogy. Through these approaches we aim to get a deeper understanding of the multi-layered site itself; Lesvos.
The partnership connects international partners who, from different angles and in different contexts, have been developing innovative approaches to arts, research, and education in relation to questions of place, interdisciplinarity, migration, and social engagement;
University of Agder, Faculty of fine arts (Norway)
University of the Aegean, Dept. of Social Anthropology and History (Greece)
Athens Ethnographic Film Festival – Ethnofest (Greece)
Arts Cabinet (UK)
University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Institute of social science research (Netherlands)
Jennie Gubner, University of Arizona
Summer courses in Lesvos
The summer courses will be open to students with a BA or equivalent in music, visual and performing arts, anthropology, sociology, and related fields. The practical part of this course – the ‘fieldwork’ or encounter – will take place on the Greek island of Lesvos. The ‘home base’ will be UiA’s Metochi Study Centre.
After the encounter, student research may lead to producing outcomes such as films, podcasts, soundscapes, performative art, webpages, public scholarship or social action. Our goal is thus to develop a methodological approach that informs every stage of student research from conception to outcome. The long-term benefit of this innovative methodology range from allowing a broader set of outcomes from student research, to ways of bridging the gaps between everyday forms of knowledge and formal education.
Using Metochi and the town of Kalloni as a home base, student participants will develop projects that engage different sites, institutions or networks from within and beyond the local community of Kalloni.
We are applying the term ‘arts-based ethnography’ to describe the innovation in this project: a methodological fusion of approaches to student research that are both experiential and participatory, as they draw on both contemporary artistic practices and recent developments in ethnographic research methodologies, as well as educational perspectives. We are interested in the ways these approaches overlap in the exploratory fieldwork phase of research, in the experiential outputs that emerge from these practices, and in their impact on the contexts that are engaged.
The crises of ethnography – the representational crisis, the decolonizing efforts (Smith, 1999) – demonstrate the importance of a critical stance towards the power of the researcher – even the student-researcher – entering into the ‘field’ to describe the local, using local agents as material for their own research. The same critical debate has surrounded site-specific and social arts (Foster, 1996, Bishop 2004) in their encounters with ‘the local’ and ‘the real’ – such as in utilizing or exploiting other people’s lives and narratives as artistic material. However, these critical debates also demonstrate the potential of ethnography and artistic practice to engage with local communities and to shed light on and interact with and produce new narratives, situations and agencies that are rooted in everyday experiences and challenges. In these participatory and community-oriented approaches to research and mediation, critical pedagogy has been both a significant medium and field of practice to frame and discuss how education is not necessarily merely ‘knowledge production’, but may provide ways of interacting with, and – potentially – changing society rooted in forms of shared practice (Freire 1970, Lave & Wenger 1991, Biesta 2012).
Details on activities throughout the partnership
Other activities in this strategic partnership include a new student programme at Athens international ethnographic film festival, Ethnofest, where students from the partnership and beyond will be invited each November to present and discuss their arts-based ethnographic and educational work in novel formats. The student programme will include exhibitions, performances, film screenings, critical discussions on ethnographic films, and also a symposium with lectures and discussions of the works and topics presented. Also, the project includes three multiplier events that reflect the project experiences outside Greece, in order to disseminate the project results and also underline the transferability of the methodology.
The intellectual outcomes, or deliverables from the project, include:
- A methodology of “arts-based ethnographic student research as socially engaged practice”, the main outcome and focus of the collaboration
- A curriculum that sets up the site of exploration for developing and testing the methodology
- A digital platform to extend ways of collaboration and dissemination before, between and after periods of real-life encounters (i.e. ‘fieldwork’) in student research, and the overall project experiences as such
- A series of experimental exhibitions or showcases of student works during the annual Athens international film festival (at Ethnofest each November)
- A special journal issue as an open, online and multi-modal dissemination where students and instructors (artists, researchers, educators) share their reflections and experiences and work
Bringing together an international group of students and instructors in Lesvos for the summer courses, then to Athens for a student exhibit and programme, and then to the other partner countries for multiplier events that ‘mirror’ the methodologies and topics developed in the Greek contexts, it not only becomes a study of a particular and intense space, but an innovative methodology that is developed and tested to engage local contexts, societies and agents. Conceptualizing the intersections of our practices will also develop new approaches to teaching these concepts in the context of higher education.
 In collaboration with Panos Panopoulos from University of the Aegean, Jennie Gubner, University of Arizona, and in dialogue with Svetlana S. Costa of Arts Cabinet. Financed by DIKU / Norgesuniversitetet.