'Refugee Voices' Tragedy, Ghosts, and the Anthropology of Not Knowing. By H. CABOT

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016
'Refugee Voices' Tragedy, Ghosts, and the Anthropology of Not Knowing. By H. CABOT
Cite as: Cabot H. (2016),  “'Refugee Voices' Tragedy, Ghosts, and the Anthropology of Not Knowing". Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 45 (6): 645-672
Abstract

This article considers the parallels between ethnographic work and refugee advocacy to show how these knowledge forms seek and yet fail to represent “refugee voices.” The predicaments of refugees in Greece have recently captured the attention of the world owing to Greece’s crucial position in the 2015 “European refugee crisis,” but Greece has long been on the frontlines of refugee reception in the EU. Based on ethnographic research conducted between 2005 and 2013, I analyze the ethnographic logics attached to European advocacy projects surrounding refugees in Greece. I explore their use of tragic tropes, and I argue that ethnographers employ similar tactics to carve out space for marginalized voices. I argue that the representational practices of ethnography and advocacy alike are haunted by various “ghosts”: traces of silenced subjects who index both the limits and possibilities of representation. I argue, ultimately, for a humbling of the ethnographer: for a careful consideration of the power of not knowing in our work, and for recognition of the overlaps between ethnographic knowledge and dominant formations of power.