Bioethics Blogs

Discussing “Suffering Slot Anthropology” with Migrant Farm Workers by Seth Holmes

This article first appeared on Anthropology News.

I have had the honor many times to present together with Triqui Mexican migrant farmworkers who have shaped my thinking and writing. These presentations have been planned collaboratively. Sometimes they involved my presenting a formal paper followed by a response from farmworkers. Other times they took the form of a conversation during which I interviewed my farmworker co-presenters, they interviewed me, the audience asked us questions and then we asked the audience questions. These presentations attempted to destabilize the producer and object of knowledge, the expert, the informant, and the respondent (while, in other ways of course, these positions were solidified).

During preparations for our presentation for the 2016 Association of American Geographers meeting, several Triqui farmworkers and I discussed the recent anthropological debates on suffering. In 2013, Joel Robbins, called for an end to what he terms, borrowing from Michel Trouillot, “suffering slot anthropology” and a move toward what he calls an “anthropology of the good.” Joseph Hankins posits a different, yet related dichotomy, suggesting anthropologists should utilize a framework he denotes “ecology” to elucidate connections instead of a representation of suffering that he sees as engaged to build an empathic bridge between the reader and the other in hopes for social change. More recently, Sherry Ortner attempts to patch together this dichotomy she frames as “dark anthropology and its others.”

Francisco Ventura, Armando Celestino, Miguel Ventura, Isidro Silva, Elio Santos and Seth Holmes standing in front of a San Francisco BART station after presenting together at the Association of American Geographers. Photo courtesy Seth Holmes

In our conversations about such dichotomies and their critiques of anthropological attention to suffering, Francisco Ventura Martinez, a Triqui Mexican migrant farmworker and father living in Central California, stated in Spanish, “We suffer a lot [sufrimos mucho].

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.