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 CLEENIK – Clinic of anthropological ethnographic experiments (Open Format Documentation)

Published as part of the Colleex Open Formats, August 9, 2018

Summary. The CLEENIK is a meeting methodology, a format that seeks to devise spaces to share and learn how to practice forms of ethnographic experimentation in fieldwork. Drawing on practices of care it aims at unfolding the conditions to tame the anxieties and uncertainties provoked by these particular ethnographic modalities we call ethnographic experimentation.

Publics. It is addressed to anthropologist and ethnographers and it is especially apt for researchers in the early stage of their careers. It requires 1-2 hours and a small group of participants (around 10-15), for larger groups it is recommended to split in smaller units.

Keywords: Ethnography, Ethnographic experimentation, care,

An anthropologist suffering from Excess of Engagement Stress (EES) when things between you and your natives get ‘too involved’, another experiencing a DDID Dissociative Disciplinary Identity Disorder and another one with positionalitis. These are just some of the symptoms and diagnosis collected in the second operation of the Clinic of Anthropological Ethnographic Experiments in Fieldwork. The CLEENIK, for short, is a especially designed format to treat anthropologists suffering from the multiple syndromes consequence of ethnographic experimentation during fieldwork.  It is what we call an apprenticeship format for fieldwork learning, a pedagogical methodology especially designed to host, share and debate those ethnographic investigations carried out by anthropologists (and more generally ethnographers) that feels they are transgressing the assumed conventions of the ethnographic method. It is addressed to researchers that experience anxiety, uncertainty and doubts about what they may consider an appropriate practice of the ethnographic method. The CLEENIK aims at offering a protected space to those vulnerable investigators and open a space to share the uncertainties and apprehensions of their ethnographic projects.

It seeks to devise a different format of getting together, opening a space for care and complicity. Drawing inspiration on the common practices of self-help groups, the CLEENIK proposes a therapeutic space to take care of the anxiety so common in certain ethnographic projects (especially among young researchers). The therapeutic rhetoric is a playful parodic gesture that seeks to highlight the relevance of caring practices in all these encounters where we share knowledge.

Experimental collaborations
The CLEENIK comes of an investigation over the forms of ethnographic experimentation in fieldwork, a project that builds on our own ethnographic experience and those of others that have felt that their research cannot be appropriately described drawing on the most conventional tropes of fieldwork. We have experienced a form of engagement in our field that could not be described drawing on the traditional figure of participant observation. Our presence in the field shifted from the previously experienced modality of ‘participating in order to write’ (Emerson et al. 2005: 26) to a more engaged and interventionist practice. The experimental condition we appreciate in these ethnographies resonates and expands in new ways recent reflections contending the need to readdress fieldwork and reformulate its practice (Faubion and Marcus, 2009; Fabian, 2014). We echo debates on the place of ethnography in the production of anthropological knowledge (Ingold, 2008) and the transformation of the norm and form of fieldwork in a series of projects that have injected an experimental drive (Rabinow et al. 2008) and the need to ‘re-function ethnography’ (Holmes and Marcus, 2005).

This modality of ethnographic experimentation is accompanied by an intense experience that investigators are transgressing the norm and form of ethnography. Whether this is the case, or not, is not the point for the CLEENIK. The issue at stake is the associated anxiety and uncertainty that is especially acute and relevant for researchers in the early stages of their career. An experience that is not exceptional, since we have discovered similar fieldwork instances in other researchers during the early stages of their careers, as Isaac Marrero-Guillamón describes in his account of an ethnography among activist artists in London: “I had wanted to follow some artists’ work, but I was invited to become a collaborator; I had imagined that fieldwork would be based on some kind of distance with the objects and subjects of study, but I instead participated in the production of the very things I was studying; I failed to keep up with essentials such as field notes, and I wrote for the projects I wanted to study more often than about them” (2018: 183).The CLEENIK seeks to devise apprenticeship spaces for these ethnographic modalities and, at the same time, unfold the conditions to tame the anxieties and uncertainties provoked by this particular form of doing fieldwork.

Care and clinic
The CLEENIK is an adaptation of a previous format called Klinika, a methodology that we learnt from a collective called ColaBoraBora, a cultural and artistic association. The figure of the clinic tries to invoke the notion of care as a key practice. Theoretically it draws on Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (2017) discussion of an ethics of care that speculates with forms of living together, paying attention to the obligation not to just be concerned but “to take care of the fragile gathering things constitute” (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017: 45). It finds resonances on the artistic project of Natalie Jeremijenko of an Environmental Health Clinic, a project modelled after the notion of health clinics that “approaches health from an understanding of its dependence on external local environments; rather than on the internal biology and genetic predispositions of an individual”.


Emerson, R. M., Fretz, R. I., & Shaw, L. L. (1995). Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Fabian, J. (2014). Time and The Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object. New York: Columbia University Press.

Faubion, J. D., & Marcus, G. E. (Eds.). (2009). Fieldwork Is Not What It Used to Be: Learning Anthropology’s Method in a Time of Transition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Holmes, D. R., & Marcus, G. E. (2005). Cultures of Expertise and the Management of Globalization: Toward the Re-Functioning of Ethnography. In A. Ong & S. J. Collier (Eds.), Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (pp. 235—252). Oxford: Blackwell.

Ingold, T. (2008). Anthropology is Not Ethnography. Proceedings of the British Academy, 154, 69—92.

Marrero-Guillamón, I. 2018. ‘Repurposing Ethnography as a Hosting Platform in Hackney Wick, London’. In Experimental collaborations. Ethnography through Fieldwork Devices, edited by A. Estalella and T. Sanchez Criado. New York: Berghahn.

Puig de la Bellacasa, M. 2017. Matters of Care. Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.