Fieldwork on beer sounds fun but ethnographic research is rarely untroubled. As Dr. Christina T. Collins, who will join the Department of Anthropology in August, described it, the current political situation in Ethiopia with the Tigray conflict and COVID-related interruptions to research has her thinking about the fraught nature of fieldwork. Collins’ early fieldwork experiences in Ethiopia began as an undergraduate when she was caught up in a conflict. “When this happened to me, I got messages ‘yeah that happened to me too’; this happens to many more people than I thought.”
Dr. Christina T. Collins joins the department Fall 2021
The conversation about personal and political dangers of fieldwork is gaining traction of late, as scholars increasingly reflect on challenging experiences in the field. Brought on by a disjuncture between who they are and who they are thought to be, fieldworkers experience the vulnerability of all writers who seek to understand lives lived in precarity. Preparing students for the personal, ethical, and political involvements that arise in fieldwork is likely to play a role in the methods course she plans to offer graduate students. “It is important to think about risk. I remember talking to a friend who was doing fieldwork in Tunis with smugglers. One night when she was thinking of going somewhere she sensed might be dangerous she said to herself, ‘you know what? it’s not worth it, it’s not fair to my mother that I put my life in danger in this way.’” Christina described fieldwork as a process for which one must weigh “the trade-offs of desire for data vs. situations of risk and reward.”
A cultural anthropologist, Dr. Collins earned her Ph.D. from Duke University and comes to IU by way of Princeton University, where she is currently a lecturer in Anthropology. Dr. Collins’ forthcoming book on beer and brewing in Ethiopia is based on her ethnographic research in 2010. Her research tracks how privatization in Ethiopia over the last decade opened up formerly state-run breweries to competition from international companies. Following the supply chain, Collins asks “what were the consequences of privatization for labor and service economies such as brewing, malt barley production, draft cleaning services, alcohol distribution, food and beverage services, advertising/marketing, and entertainment/nightlife? How are markets imbued with symbolic, affective, religious, ethnic, and political meanings?”
Given that undergraduate life is often steeped in alcohol consumption and drinking cultures, students are likely to flock to Dr. Collins’ courses, including “Food & Culture” and “Intoxicating Cultures: Alcohol in Everyday Life.” We anticipate that her courses will interest students considering anthropology and business; industry and industrialization in emerging markets; national economy; alcohol production, distribution, and consumption; science and technology studies (STS); anthropology of development; and who may have regional interests in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.