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Spring 2022

Wednesday, April 13 | 4 - 5:30 p.m.

Sons, Daughters, and Sidewalk Psychotics: Madness and Inequality in Los Angeles

Neil Gong, Assistant Professor of Sociology, UC San Diego



This talk compares public safety net and elite private psychiatric treatment in Los Angeles to show how inequality shapes the very meanings of mental illness, recovery, client choice, and personhood. In Downtown LA, the crises of homelessness and criminalization mean public safety net providers define recovery as getting a client housed, not in jail, and not triggering emergency calls. Given insufficient treatment capacity, providers eschew discipline for a “tolerant containment” model that accepts medication refusal and drug use so long as deviant behavior remains indoors. For elite private providers serving wealthy families, on the other hand, recovery means normalization and generating a respectable identity. Far from accepting madness and addiction, providers use a “concerted constraint” model to therapeutically discipline wayward adult children. Turning theoretical expectation on its head, I show how “freedom” becomes an inferior good and disciplinary power a form of privilege.

Sponsored by: ISSI's Center for Ethnographic Research, ISSI's Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, School of Social Welfare

Fall 2021

Wednesday, October 27 | 4:00 - 5:30pm PT

Scammer’s Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica

Jovan Scott Lewis, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley



This talk explores the possibilities for repair and reparations through a discussion of Jamaican lottery scammers who use the framework of reparations to rationalize their scamming of elderly, white North Americans. Their framework challenges the terms and mechanisms of reparation by looking beyond the commonly accepted notions of what stands as the basis of injury, namely the history of slavery and colonialism. Instead, it identifies chronic contemporary poverty as warranting more considerable attention and recognition. The result is an appreciation for a radical determination of repair and reparation through unique racial and geographic permutations of debt and blame.

Sponsored by ISSI's Center for Ethnographic Research

Co-sponsored by ISSI's Center for Research on Social Change

Fall 2020

Friday, December 4, 2020 | 12:00 - 3:00pm PT
For speaker bios and more information, visit the event webpage:
How do ethnographers engage in comparison? Do their comparative logics align with or diverge from the methodological foundations of other forms of social scientific research? And how do the current historical ruptures in the era of COVID-19 shape the present and future of ethnographic comparison? Drawing on central themes from Beyond the Case: The Logics and Practices of Comparative Ethnography (Oxford University Press 2020), this event provides a venue for researchers from various ethnographic approaches to share their thoughts on these topics. The speakers, including many of the book’s contributors, represent a host of ethnographic traditions ranging from phenomenology, to interpretivism, to the extended case method, to various “post-positivist” forms of scientific realism. It is our hope that this discussion will reveal not only points of divergence, but also synergies with other empirical methods, and between competing approaches to ethnography. This parallels the book’s call to leverage the field’s epistemic variation in order to expand opportunities for meaningful comparisons and conversations on a broad range of substantive topics - including the convergent crises of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sponsored by Center for Ethnographic Research
Co-sponsored by Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley; School of Sociology, University of Arizona

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020 | 12:30pm - 2:00pm PT
Emine Fidan Elcioglu, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto
Divided By the Wall: Progressive and Conservative Immigration Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border (University of California Press 2020) ethnographically mines the meanings of this contentious topic for people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Set in Arizona, one of the most important points of entry for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, the book combines the insights of political sociology and race studies to shed light on why and how ordinary Americans collectively mobilize to change immigration and border policy, even when they don't necessarily believe that their actions will make a difference.
Sponsored by Center for Ethnographic Research
Co-sponsored by Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative

Fall 2019

Wednesday, November 6 I 4:00-5:30pm

Center for Ethnographic Research Colloquia Series:

Exploring Plantation Worlds: Towards Ethnographic Collaboration

Tania Murray Li, Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto



Plantations are huge institutions; not one field site but many. They are rigidly hierarchical, segregated by gender and ethnicity, and they have complex relations with the surrounding society.  It is difficult for a single researcher to become familiar with multiple plantation worlds, suggesting the need for a team approach.  In this talk Tania Li describes the rewards and challenges of team-based ethnographic research drawing on work she carried out in Indonesia’s oil palm plantations together with her collaborator Pujo Semedi and around 100 students from their two universities (Toronto, Gadjah Mada).

Moses Hall, Room 223

Co-sponsored by Institute of East Asian Studies, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Institute of International Studies

Spring 2019

Thursday, April 11 I 4-5:30pm

Center for Ethnographic Research Colloquia Series:

How to Do Ethnography When You Dislike Your Research Subjects? Fieldwork Within Right-Wing Groups in Italy

Martina Avanza, Senior Lecturer, Political Sociology, University of Lausanne, Switzerland



Ethnography does not seem to be suited for situations in which the ethnographer dislikes the group she or he studies. Some fieldworkers even think that ethnography without empathy is almost impossible to achieve. That is why scholars tend to do ethnography of left-wing or subaltern group mobilizations and to study the right from a distance, with an etic perspective.

Building on my experience as an ethnographer working on right-wing groups in Italy (the Lega Nord party and the “pro-life” movement), I will talk about the challenges of this kind of fieldwork and also about possible contributions not only to the field of right-wing studies, but also to the ethnographic literature. In particular, I will address issues of ethics and reflexivity that are particularly acute in this kind of fieldwork.

Co-sponsored by: Center for Right Wing Studies

Wildavsky Conference Room, 2538 Channing Way

Fall 2018

Tuesday, October 9 I 4:00-5:30pm

Center for Ethnographic Research Colloquia Series:

The Biopolitics of Beauty: Cosmetic Citizenship and Affective Capital in Brazil

Alvaro Jarrín, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, College of the Holy Cross



Beauty is considered a basic health right in Brazil, and plastic surgery is offered to working-class patients in public hospitals in exchange for becoming experimental subjects. This talk will trace the biopolitical concern with beauty to Brazilian eugenics, and will explore the raciology of beauty that allowed plastic surgeons to gain the backing of the State. For patients, on the other hand, beauty has become affectively linked to citizenship and national belonging, and becomes a form of capital that maps onto and intensifies the race, class and gender hierarchies of Brazilian society. It is by examining the interplay between biopolitics and affect, therefore, that one can understand how beauty becomes a visceral reaction to oneself and others.

Wildavsky Conference Room, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies.

Spring 2018

Thursday, April 19 | 4:00-5:30pm

The Contested Logistics of Racial Capitalism: How Global Commodity Chains Transformed Southern California’s Spatial Politics

Juan De Lara, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California



The subprime crash of 2008 revealed a fragile, unjust, and unsustainable economy built on retail consumption, low-wage jobs, and fictitious capital. Economic crisis, global commodity chains and finance capital transformed Southern California just as Latinxs and immigrants were turning California into a majority-nonwhite state. In Inland Shift, Juan D. De Lara uses the growth of Southern California’s logistics economy, which controls the movement of goods, to examine how modern capitalism was shaped by and helped to transform the region’s geographies of race and class. The book uses logistics and commodity chains to unpack the black box of globalization by showing how the scientific management of bodies, space, and time produced new labor regimes that facilitated a more complex and extended system of global production, distribution, and consumption. While logistics provided a roadmap for capital and the state to transform Southern California, it also created pockets of resistance among labor, community, and environmental groups who argued that commodity distribution exposed them to economic and ecological precarity. 

575 McCone Hall

Sponsored by the ISSI's Graduate Fellows Program, UC Berkeley

Co-sponsored by Center for Ethnographic Research, Division of Equity and Inclusion, Center for Latino Policy Research, Department of Ethnic Studies, Center for Race and Gender, Department of Geography, UC Berkeley

Thursday, March 8 | 4:00-5:30 pm

“Thank You For Your Service”: Gratitude, Silence, and the Production of Militarized Common Sense on College Campuses

Ellen Moore, Visiting Scholar, ISSI



In this contemporary period of prolonged undeclared wars, where lethal-force conflicts are waged not against designated nation-states but against rhetorical abstractions (Terror) in the name of other rhetorical abstractions (Freedom), speech and language are important loci of power. On contemporary college campuses, the needs of student veterans, veteran support programs and veteran identities have become instrumental in the quest to produce “military friendly” institutions and the valorization of military projects in everyday life, through mandated silence about the current wars and ritualized gratitude as expressed in the phrase "thank you for your service." This presentation draws from ethnographic research on U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as they shift from combat to community colleges and university classrooms. It traces the deployment of silence and praise in veteran support organizations, in trainings, and in college classrooms, as they become, in the words of Comeroff and Comeroff, ‘the animating vernacular around which the discursive flow is organized.’  This study finds that processes of silencing are not only produced though large-scale public displays of military prowess and patriotism; they are also produced in small, everyday classroom practices and through affiliative speech acts. Veterans have highly variable and often contradictory responses to public displays of gratitude and develop ways of using their iconic status to contest mythologies surrounding imposed veteran identities.

Wildavsky Conference Room, 2538 Channing Way, ISSI, UC Berkeley

Sponsored by Center for Ethnographic Research, UC Berkeley

Co-sponsored by Graduate School of Education, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley

Fall 2017

Wednesday, October 11 | 12:00-1:30pm

Center for Ethnographic Research presents:

Who is Your Neighbor? Caste, Dignity, and Dalit Lives in Central Kerala 

Sharika Thiranagama, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Stanford University



The talk asks how does one live, or rather imagine, a life with others that meaningfully recognises one’s worth? Based on fieldwork with Dalit (formerly known as Untouchable castes) and non-Dalit agricultural laborers, and their landlords in communist party strongholds in Kerala, I explore the transformations of rural localities from workplaces to neighborhoods. I will discuss the rural neighbourhood as a historically emergent site and project: a “public/private” residential life emerging from work relations where caste continues to permeate interactions. I ask how does one manage neighbourly relations within continuing histories of deep caste inequities? What does this mean in an Indian state which has a long history of communist messages of emancipation, liberation and freedom from inequity? I suggest that the transformation of localities of workers and landlords into neighbourhoods under conditions of formal equality but deep structural caste inequality provides for new forms of sociality as well as a continuing reflexive conversation about those forms. How is one a neighbor in these circumstances? Based on this fieldwork in India, I hope to discuss how people live with and negotiate long histories of subordination, inequity and humiliation.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by Institute for South Asia Studies, UC Berkeley

Spring 2017

Wednesday, March 15 I 4:00-5:30pm

ISSI Graduate Fellows Seminar Series: 

"Geographies of Activism: Cartographic Memory and Community Practices of Care"

Juan Herrera, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ethnic Studies, School of Language, Culture, and Society, Oregon State University 

Chris Zepeda-Millán, Assistant Professor and Chair, Center for Research on Social Change, UC Berkeley as a respondent



Less visible than 1960s Chicano Movement protest politics of sit-ins, marches, and boycotts are the Mexican American activists who created community-based organizations by enlisting residents in neighborhood improvement projects. Drawing from oral histories of 1960s activists from Oakland’s Fruitvale district, Professor Herrera shows how they consolidated a robust politics of place—establishing institutions that transformed the urban landscape and fashioned lasting commitments to social justice. He argues that the work of remembering 1960s activism is a cartographic process that draws attention to the social movement production of space. His concept of cartographic memory is a practice deployed by activists and an analytic to interpret how and why they defined their activities though the invocation and graphing of space. Activists’ cartographic recollections were fundamentally political claims to power that operated through space. Their memories served as a central device to bring into focus the transformative and experimental aspects of the Chicano movement, and its enduring impacts.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by Center for Ethnographic Research, Department of Ethnic Studies, Institute of Urban and Regional Development and Center for Latino Research Policy, UC Berkeley

Friday, April 28 I 12:00-1:30pm

Center for Ethnographic Research presents:

"Learning and Legislating Love: Family Inequality and U.S. Marriage Education Policy"

Jennifer Randles, Assistant Professor, Sociology, CSU Fresno

with Jill Duerr Berrick, Zellerbach Family Foundation Professor, School of Social Welfare, UC Berkeley as respondent



The U.S. federal Healthy Marriage Initiative has spent almost $1 billion since 2002 to fund hundreds of relationship and marriage education programs across the country. Randles spent three years attending healthy marriage classes and interviewing the couples who took them to understand what marriage education policy reveals about political understandings of how romantic experiences, relationship behaviors, and marital choices are primary mechanisms of inequality. In this talk, she will take the audience inside the marriage education classroom to reveal how healthy marriage policy promotes the idea that preventing poverty depends on individuals’ abilities to learn about skilled love, a strategy that assumes individuals can learn to love in line with long-term marital commitment by developing rational romantic values, emotional competencies, and interpersonal habits. She will ultimately show how the teaching of skilled love is a misguided political strategy intended to prevent risky and financially costly relationship choices and to provide the ostensible link between marriage and financial stability. 

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by Center for Race and Gender, Deparatment of Sociology and Gender & Women's Studies, UC Berkeley

Fall 2016

 Wednesday, September 21 | 4:00-5:30 pm

"The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream"

Steve Viscelli, Ph.D., Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania



Long-haul trucks have been described as sweatshops on wheels. The typical long-haul trucker works the equivalent of two full-time jobs, often for little more than minimum wage. But it wasn’t always this way. Trucking used to be one of the best working-class jobs in the United States.  Deregulation and collective action by employers transformed trucking’s labor markets--once dominated by the largest and most powerful union in US history--into an important example of the costs of contemporary labor markets for workers and the general public.

This talk will explain how this massive degradation in the quality of work occurred, and how companies achieve a compliant and dedicated workforce despite it.  It is based on more than 100 in-depth interviews and years of extensive observation, including six months spent training and working as a long-haul trucker.  

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by Center for Labor Research and Education

Thursday, September 29 I 4:00-5:30pm

"The Neighborhood Has Its Own Rules: Latinos and African Americans in South Los Angeles"

Cid Martinez, Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of San Diego



South Los Angeles is often seen as ground zero for inter-racial conflict and violence in the United States. Since the 1940s, South LA has been predominantly a low-income African American neighborhood, and yet since the early 1990s Latino immigrants—mostly from Mexico and many undocumented—have moved in record numbers to the area. Given that more than a quarter million people live in South LA and that poverty rates exceed 30 percent, inter-racial conflict and violence surprises no one. The real question is: why hasn't there been more? Through vivid stories and interviews, The Neighborhood Has Its Own Rules provides an answer to this question.  

The talk highlights two key ideas from the book.  First, urban America can no longer be viewed in terms of black-white.   An alternative framework is introduced to begin to understand black and Latino interracial relations in urban poor neighborhoods.  Second, in the face of weak ties to the state (i.e., law enforcement and local government), alternative governance has arisen in black and Latino South Los Angeles in the response to high levels of violence.

Based on in-depth ethnographic field work collected when the author, Cid Martinez, lived and worked in schools in South Central, this study reveals the day-to-day ways in which vibrant social institutions in South LA— its churches, its local politicians, and even its gangs—have reduced conflict and kept violence to a level that is manageable for its residents. Martinez argues that inter-racial conflict has not been managed through any coalition between different groups, but rather that these institutions have allowed established African Americans and newcomer Latinos to co-exist through avoidance—an under-appreciated strategy for managing conflict that plays a crucial role in America's low-income communities. Ultimately, this book proposes a different understanding of how neighborhood institutions are able to mitigate conflict and violence through several community dimensions of informal social controls.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology  

Fall 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Motel Ethnography Revisited"

Ann SwidlerProfessor of Sociology, UC Berkeley



The usual ideal for ethnographers is deep immersion for a long period in one place – a village, neighborhood, or street corner. In stories and pictures, I describe the advantages of a more fluid, accidental set of encounters, following deepening ties over years of shorter interludes, staying in motels, not villages. Motels in rural Malawi were an ideal location for understanding the encounters of AIDS NGOs with those they sought to transform through workshops and trainings. But the “motel” is also a metaphor for a certain way of doing ethnography, revisiting people and places over many years, seeing lives unfold in surprising ways. I also highlight what one learns when one is more than a neutral observer. Analysis focuses on the aid industry, local experiences of the AIDS epidemic, the role of malice and mistrust (as well as “miracles”) in Africans’ lives, and the pervasive role of patron-client ties in sub-Saharan African societies.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Using Visual Methods to Learn about Human Rights Violations under Dictatorship"

Jacqueline Adams, Senior Researcher, Institute for the Study of Societal Issues



Researchers can use a number of visual methods, in conjunction with other qualitative methods, to yield fruitful data and findings about human rights violations under dictatorship. This paper employs a case study to demonstrate how this may be done, focusing on research that formed the basis of two books on shantytown mothers’ experiences of state violence, exacerbated poverty, human rights activism, and collective, income-earning strategies during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (Surviving Dictatorship: A Work of Visual Sociology, Routledge, 2012, and Art against Dictatorship, University of Texas Press, 2013). The methods discussed include the analysis of drawings and text in ephemera produced by shantytown inhabitants (flyers dropped in the street, posters advertising resistance-oriented cultural events, and the bulletins produced by groups formed to cope with poverty); the collection and analysis of photographs from human rights organization bulletins, exile organization newsletters, left-leaning magazines, memoirs, and academic books and articles; the photographing and analysis of dissident art works produced by shantytown women, relatives of the disappeared, political prisoners, and Chilean exiles; photo elicitation (interviews based on photographs); and “art elicitation” (asking research subjects to talk about art works). These five visual methods, together with semi-structured interviews and participant observation, produced rich data about shantytown experiences of state violence, impoverishment, human rights activism, and collective income-earning, as well as about transnational activism involving refugees and sympathizers abroad.

Center for Ethnographic Research
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