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Apr 16: Ethnography by the Century

Speaker: Alex Gearin


Title: Writing Ethnography for Anthropologists and Others


Abstract: Without a crystal ball to foresee the future, how can we write ethnography that endures? This talk aims to moderate speculation and futurism by considering the challenge of writing for divergent audiences simultaneously. As an ethnographer engaged in the health humanities, writing for readers in medical anthropology, studies in religion, psychiatry, psychology, and the behavioral sciences, as well as for my ethnographic interlocutors seeking healing through psychedelic plant medicines, I explore how envisioning composite readerships might help or even jeopardise ethnographic texts in maintaining their relevance over time.


Bio: Alex K. Gearin, PhD, is a medical anthropologist who has published on the intercultural ethics of neoshamanic tourism, spirituality and individualism among psychedelic healing groups, metaphor and therapeutic literacies in psychedelic medicine, and therapy as form of life. His book Global Ayahuasca: Wondrous Visions and Modern Worlds (Stanford University Press, 2024) ethnographically explores the psychoactive plant brew “ayahuasca” in Peru, Australia, and China. He is Assistant Professor at the Medical Ethics and Humanities Unit, HKUMed.


Speaker: Loretta Kim


Title: Recording for Time Immemorial or for the End of an Era: The Dilemmas of Historical Ethnography in Modern and Contemporary China


Abstract: Loretta Kim will discuss the challenges of working with communities in Northeast China that are gradually becoming more ambivalent about maintaining their distinct sociocultural identities due to political and economic pressures. Whether or not to preserve unique historical and social records from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and subsequent periods in the twentieth century is a significant question that arises in historical ethnographical research. 


Bio: Loretta Kim is Associate Professor in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Hong Kong. She is a historian of late imperial and modern China, focusing on the comparative history of borderlands and frontiers, regional identities and histories of China, and Chinese ethnic minority languages and literatures. Her most recent publications include Ethnic Chrysalis: China’s Orochen People and the Legacy of Qing Borderland Administration (2019) and The Russian Orthodox Community in Hong Kong: Religion, Ethnicity, and Intercultural Relations (2021).


Speaker: Lynne Y. Nakano 


Title:  Ethnographic Fieldwork and Writing: Intended and Unintended Impacts 


Abstract: This presentation considers the usefulness and relevance of ethnography from the perspective of anthropological professionals and students engaged in ethnographic research and writing. It discusses the limitations imposed on ethnographic research and writing due to academic institutional requirements, and considers how we may write relevant and impactful ethnography in this context. The second part of the presentation considers the intended and unintended impacts of ethnography. It draws on a public lecture given by William Kelly (October 29, 2020) in the University of Vienna lecture series on the 85-(now nearly 90) year after life of the first ethnography of Japan, A Japanese Village: Suye Mura, by John Embree (1939) to discuss how numerous people have used Embree’s ethnography for their own purposes in ways that could not have been predicted by Embree. The presentation also considers ethnographers who have continued to engage with the localities where they have conducted fieldwork long after the Ph.D. dissertation was completed. The paper concludes with reflections about reading ethnographies as historical documents and interpreting the legacy of ethnographers, and suggests ways that these reflections may inform our contemporary ethnographic research and writing.  


Bio: Lynne Y Nakano is Professor in the Department of Japanese Studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). She is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research focuses on women, family, and disability in Japan and in comparative perspective. She is interested in gender, family change, experiences of disability and comparative ethnography. Nakano is Chair of the Department of Japanese Studies and Co-Director of the Gender Research Centre, Institute of Asia Pacific Studies. Her most recent book is Making Our Own Destiny: Single Women, Family, Opportunity in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo  (University of Hawaii Press 2022). Her work has inspired the Women’s Empowerment through Financial Literacy Ambassador Programme that provides training in personal finance to women in Hong Kong.  


Speaker: David A Palmer


Title: The Dao that Cannot be Spoken: Challenges in Ethnographic Writing on Daoism


Abstract: In this presentation, I will discuss problems and strategies of ethnographic writing in my past and current projects related to Daoism, notably my book Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (co-authored with Elijah Siegler) and my team’s current work on Daoist ritual and textual traditions in Southern China and Northern Laos. Issues include the value of subjective experience in ethnographic writing; how to craft a narrative that incorporates multiple antagonistic voices; how to engage ethnographic collaborators in the writing process; the relationship between textual sources and ethnographic data; and the relationship between historical and anthropological writing.


Bio: David A Palmer (Ph.D, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris) is a Professor of anthropology jointly appointed by the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of Sociology of the University of Hong Kong. His award-winning books include Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China (Columbia University Press), The Religious Question in Modern China (University of Chicago Press, co-authored with V. Goossaert) and Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (University of Chicago Press, co-authored with E. Siegler). He is the convenor of the Asian Religious Connections research cluster at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and coordinates collaborative research projects on Daoism among the Yao ethnic minority in the China-Vietnam-Laos borderland, and on entanglements between Global China and local cultures along the Belt and Road Initiative. 

Society of Fellows in the Humanities



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