Prof. Janet Carsten Thursday, 21st April House-lives as ethnography/biography

Thursday, 21st April (5pm Seminar Room)

House-lives as ethnography/biography

Prof. Janet Carsten (University of Edinburgh)



My presentation considers the intersection of biography and ethnography through an anthropology of the house. If ‘good ethnography’ is the outcome, at least in part, of long-term familiarity with the people and places that are its subject, the sense of being in a proper house rests on a comparable feeling of familiarity. Because both of these rely on long-term engagement, and are in this sense inherently biographical, focussing on the house provide a way to probe the intersection of biography and ethnography. To unpack what this might involve, I begin with my own engagement with Malay houses over several decades before discussing houses as ‘biographical objects’ (Hoskins 1998) and also as persons. I then examine some of the connections and disconnections between houses and biography through a consideration of some less obviously ‘house-like houses’. Pursuing the analogy between ethnography and houses further, in the final part of the talk I will suggest that, if houses provide a productive opening for ethnography, they might also offer a starting point for a particularly anthropological kind of biography.