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The Quest for Experience: Talk & Reading by Prof Wasim Frembgen


The Quest for Experience: Talk & Reading by Prof Wasim Frembgen

Writing ethnographic narratives on Pakistan

What propels an anthropologist/ethnographer to write about his subjective experiences? What makes him hungry to experience social reality, even to accept dangerous, at times life-threatening situations? Unlike armchair anthropologists, a fieldworker is in his discipline what a pilgrim to Makkah is in Islam. For a long time fieldwork was regarded as a sort of ‘initiation’ into the community of scholars. Since Bronislaw Malinowski, Margaret Mead, Michel Leiris and Claude Lévi-Strauss, to name just a few exponents of anthropology who used literary approaches, emphatic fieldwork as participant observation is the major method to describe and analyze the quotidian in human behavior, be it in urban contexts, rural areas or among nomads or fishermen. An ethnographer thus tries to immerse in an alien culture, he becomes a learner carefully listening to what local people tell him about their social life and traditions. What is needed in his study is patience and devotion. Not relying on theories, which are by nature short of experience, he draws on the chance to describe lifeworlds in a concrete, realistic and context-bound manner.

To a great extent ethnographic fieldwork is based on sensual perceptions. It involves dense description and dialogue in which understanding the other is of major importance. Of course understanding is inseparable from self-understanding. As an ethnographic writer I critically reflect my personal experiences and the conditions of gaining knowledge, preserving nuances as well as contradictions and failures. As far as my own work in Pakistan (since 1981 on an annual basis) is concerned, what is to be described and interpreted first needs to be experienced. Then it can flow into texts which offer what has been aptly termed partial ethnographic truths – committed, but remaining incomplete and contestable. Apart from monographs and articles (in English and in German) about people living in the high mountains of the Karakoram and Western Himalaya, on social outsiders in Punjab and Sindh, traditional pastimes in Lahore, on Sufism, saints’ shrines as well as Islamic calligraphy and local arts and crafts, I write narratives (all published by Oxford University Press Pakistan): At the Shrine of the Red Sufi. Five Days and Nights on Pilgrimage in Pakistan (2011), Nocturnal Music in the Land of the Sufis. Unheard Pakistan (2012), The Closed Valley. With Fierce Friends in the Pakistani Himalayas (2014) and A Thousand Cups of Tea. Among Tea Lovers in Pakistan (2017). In addition, there is a collection of essays on travel experiences in German language called Sufi Tonic (2017). Radically subjective, involving all the senses and seeking authenticity such literary/ethno-poetic works ideally soften the borders between art and academic anthropology.

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Wasim Frembgen; anthropologist, Islamic Studies scholar and writer; Institute of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Munich, Germany; he was awarded Tamgha-i imtiaz by the Government of Pakistan.

Date: Wednesday, 16th January 2019
Time: 07:00 PM - 09:00 PM
Venue: Faraar Gallery, T2F
Entry: Free; It's Your Donations that keep us going!

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