Six sites reflection

Figures of engagement / commitment

Coordination: Cristina Rossi

In anthropology, the question of the researcher commitment and engagement is the subject of many discussions and debates. On one hand, a deep and prolonged involvement in the studied field is required for data production and the construction of the know-how to understand the meaning attributed to the world by the “Other”. On the other hand, this "deep human experience," often lonely, singular and limited in space and time, is a part of a broader context of stakes, divisions and conflicts sometimes linked to politics. Historically and in different contexts of field work, researchers have embodied different "figures of engagement/commitment" that might be described within a continuum going from elitism towards activism, from an alleged neutrality towards an assumed and acted position, from a participating observation towards "observing participation", always looking for the "right distance" between "being inside" and "being outside", often within a tension between the ethical and scientific dimension. In urban territories under transformation, field researchers - as well as other scientists and professionals – are right in the middle of a force field putting practices, representations and different actors’ interests for the contemporary city under tension and often conflict. Which ’figures of engagement/commitment" emerge from such contexts, in between researchers, decision makers, designers and, of course, dwellers? How to define the commitment of different players, and in particular how they define it? Which relation can we identify between the production of knowledge about the city under transformation and the ways in which the transformation happens? As researchers and professionals of the urban environment, can we generate and transmit knowledge and know-how that is as the same time nonpartisan and able to contribute to build a fairer city, a city that offers more to the majority of people?