On Being Carefully Useful: Body (Ing Work) in Ethnographic Collaborations

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Abstract

This chapter reflects on what bodies do in social science interventions, especially in ethnographic research, exploring a particular modality of such doings, which we call pausing. Analysing our ethnographic research within the Russian Multiple Sclerosis Society (RuMSS), we ask what could it mean to ‘be useful’ within a patient organization? For whom or what and in which way? And how is such possible usefulness articulated with care, for specific bodies in relation to other bodies, in a particular material and symbolic context? Being particularly interested in the neglected and invisible work, we attend to the transformative process which happens when bodies touch each other (physically or affectively) in ethnographic work—what we call ‘bodying work’, taking after Manning (2013). Instantiating bodying work through our ethnographic encounters and material, we highlight and explore a distinct facet of it—pausing, i.e. moments of non-doing, suspending intentional moves to engage with something or someone. How do these moments of pausing enrich and/or undermine ‘engagement’ between the researchers and the interlocutors, when ‘being useful’ is at stake? This chapter thereby hopes to contribute to the ongoing work on the ethical and methodological dilemmas in social science interventions by not taking for granted, first, the work that bodies do to engage (or not) with something or someone and, second, the resources it takes to maintain such engaged (research) practices. For research to become ‘engaged research’, we suggest to approach ‘being useful’ as a motile process of becoming and unbecoming, necessarily leading to transformations of all involved, which requires both care and pausing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthical and Methodological Dilemmas in Social Science Interventions
Subtitle of host publicationCareful Engagements in Healthcare, Museums, Design and Beyond
EditorsDoris Lydahl, Niels C. Mossfeldt Nickelsen
PublisherSpringer
Pages287-301
ISBN (Electronic)https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-44119-6_19
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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