Paperland, or why I chose to write ethnographic fiction

Þann 9. október kl. 12:00-13:00 flytur Anu Hirsiaho fyrirlesturinn „Paperland, or why I chose to write ethnographic fiction“ í stofu 104 á Háskólatorgi. Fyrirlesturinn fer fram á ensku.


In this lecture, I will focus on the challenges of doing ethnography amongst minorities in small countries. The key dilemma seems to revolve around the two contrary notions of anonymity and recognition as a person with a full name and history. From a research ethical perspective, both notions carry risks to the researched, the researcher and the study itself. However, risks are also always possibilities. Nothing new can ever emerge in research without risk-taking. The challenge is how to take risks without causing harm to the communities and individuals studied. In countries that have only recently begun to receive migrants in larger numbers, such as Iceland and Finland, there are few fixed policies on how to discuss sensitive issues related to migration in the public sphere, in the media, and also amongst professionals in their everyday work. The code of anonymity often causes situations in which the migrant disappears behind his or her social security number. Following Stuart Hall, I am interested in the poetics and politics of “the recently arrived”, but the case could also be reversed to concern the poetics and politics of “the recently receiving”. In the case of “the recently receiving” countries, everything is still in process and there is also scope for creating innovative ways to solve commonly felt problems. Migration research, as an academic endeavour, cannot in such circumstances be detached from the level of policy-making, but should be in close dialogue with the everyday life of migrant work.

In the lecture, I will introduce my own research project dealing with literacy, migration and adult education from the perspective of “vulnerable subjects”. I will tell about messy methodological choices, orbiting around participatory research and grounded theory. The story ends in the question of how I chose ethnographic fiction as a possibility to write about deeply felt socio-political issues with their real names, while not exposing the researched to the kind of publicity they do not desire. I will be discussing different aspects of the possibility, but I am reluctant to present fiction-writing as a solution. Perhaps there is no solution. Perhaps there are just stories waiting to be told.

About Anu Hirsiaho

Anu Hirsiaho has a PhD in political science and works as a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Tampere. She is staying at Háskóli Islands for the autumn term 2008 as a visiting scholar in a NordForsk-funded Nordwel researcher exchange programme. Anu’s current research project focuses on politics of migration, adult literacy and citizenship in Finland. She is also interested in the merging of creative and scientific writing, postcolonial theory and literatures, and particularly South Asian studies.