Ethnog­ra­phy as Counter-Investigation?


Time: 4–6 p.m.

Loca­tion: Online, via zoom

Book pre­sen­ta­tion and dis­cus­sion with Didi­er Fassin:

Death of a Trav­eller. A Counter-Inves­ti­ga­tion. Poli­ty 2021.

In his last book, Didi­er Fassin exam­ines a bla­tant case of police vio­lence and insti­tu­tion­al racism. A young man, belong­ing to the Trav­eller com­mu­ni­ty, fails to return to prison after a tem­po­rary release. The search oper­a­tion of a spe­cial unit of the French gen­darmerie ends with the fugi­tive shot dead on his par­ents’ farm. After­wards con­tra­dic­to­ry accounts of the fatal event are giv­en. The gen­darmerie speaks of inevitable self-defense; the fam­i­ly reports of a sequence of exag­ger­at­ed bru­tal­i­ty that cul­mi­nates in the exe­cu­tion of their rel­a­tive. Dur­ing the fol­low­ing judi­cial inves­ti­ga­tion, the family’s account is mar­gin­al­ized and even­tu­al­ly dis­re­gard­ed; the offi­cers’ ver­sion prevails.

Based on inter­views as well as a care­ful read­ing of offi­cial doc­u­ments and judi­cial reports, Didi­er Fassin car­ries out a “counter-inves­ti­ga­tion”. Giv­ing each ver­sion of the nar­ra­tive the same cred­it, he expos­es the incon­sis­ten­cies that the court rul­ing, final­ly dis­charg­ing the offi­cers, had ignored. As a result, Fassin coun­ters the author­i­ta­tive “judi­cial truth” with an alter­na­tive “ethno­graph­ic truth” that aims at re-open­ing a legal­ly closed sto­ry and here­by return­ing respectabil­i­ty to the vic­tim and his family.

In this online meet­ing Didi­er Fassin will dis­cuss with mem­bers of the com­mis­sion “Ethno­gra­phies of the Polit­i­cal” about the par­tic­u­lar gen­e­sis of the book, its main con­cepts, argu­ments and tex­tu­al­i­ty. A spe­cif­ic empha­sis will be put on “counter-inves­ti­ga­tion” as a method­ol­o­gy to inter­vene into polit­i­cal and judi­cial process­es via ethnog­ra­phy. We will explore the char­ac­ter­is­tics and poten­tials of “counter-inves­ti­ga­tion” in rela­tion to fur­ther approach­es and strate­gies of a Pub­lic Anthropology.

Please reg­is­ter by send­ing an email to Natasha Deasy ( You will receive a zoom-link the day before the event.

Didi­er Fassin is the James D. Wolfen­sohn Pro­fes­sor at the Insti­tute for Advanced Study in Prince­ton and a Direc­tor of Stud­ies at the École des hautes études en sci­ences sociales in Paris.

For fur­ther infor­ma­tion about the book “Death of a Trav­eller”, please con­sult this recent review (in Ger­man).

This event is orga­nized by the com­mis­sion “Europeanization_​Globalization: Ethno­gra­phies of the Polit­i­cal” (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Empirische Kul­tur­wis­senschaft) in coop­er­a­tion with the U Bre­men Excel­lence Chair Research Group “Soft Author­i­tar­i­anisms”.


Hagen SoftAuthoritarianisms