I have pursued a number of different empirical research projects, which have taken me from Corsica to Paris via the Kalahari, working with schoolteachers, biologists, shepherds and judges. A number of shared themes tie together these very different projects (each of which is detailed further below): the politics of difference and similarity, the materiality of knowledge, the value set by practices of detachment and cultivated distance.
This ethnographic research has led me to reconsider a number of classic methodological and theoretical questions: in particular, the practice of bounding and extending ethnographic field-sites; the effect of current anthropological understandings of the category of ‘the political’; the question of what it might mean to ‘take seriously’ the people one is working with; the work of paradigm definition and paradigm shift in anthropological theory. These questions launched an enduring interest in anthropological heuristics, whose latest instance is a book on the theory and practice of anthropological comparison.
My doctoral research focused on identity, difference and belonging on the island of Corsica. The resulting book (Corsican Fragments, Indiana UP 2010) and a range of associated publications explored a number of interrelated themes: the historical politics of knowledge and mystery surrounding the island of Corsica and its emergence as a potent ‘internal other’ for France; the contemporary intersection between materiality, languages and senses of place on the island; the ways in which intimations of alterity and relatedness arise from everyday micro-interactions in village space; the politics and poetics of hospitality; dynamics of identity, racism and republicanism in contemporary France.
My post-doctoral work took the question of knowledge and alterity to a different field: that of inter-species relations in scientific research. I studied the conceptual and material relations between humans and other animals in behavioural biology, with a particular focus on researchers who study meerkats. As in the Corsican case, the focus was on the ways in which understandings of similarity and difference emerge from situated interactions, the intersections of materiality, sociality and language, and the ways in which knowing and not-knowing constitute and emerge from social, ethical and political relations.
My current research focuses on the everyday life of freedom of speech in France. It combines a historical ethnography of the transformations of french laws on insult and publication with research at a court in Paris which specialises in cases relating to freedom of speech.
This research is part of the Risking Speech Project, funded by an ERC grant entitled Situating Free Speech: European parrhesias in comparative perspective.