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Trojer, Till (2021) Landscapes, salt and ethics: a visual ethnography of the ‘Afar caravan trade in north-eastern Ethiopia. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The PhD project Landscapes, salt and ethics: a visual ethnography of the ‘Afar caravan trade in north-eastern Ethiopia combines Anthropology with Ethnographic Filmmaking as part of a PhD in Anthropology and Sociology. The written dissertation explores how the decline in the salt caravan trade has affected the cultural, economic and social reality of one specific ‘Afar pastoral community in north-eastern Ethiopia. The research investigates how the historical trajectories that led to the decline of the salt caravan trade in 2018 underlie broader questions about human agency, business ethics, trade relations, hospitality and self-identification processes in an ever-changing, precarious Ethiopian political landscape. My project argues that anthropology has to engage with the relationship – past and present – between political economy and human ecology over time and space. Looking for different ways of understanding the complex economic and social dynamics of trade relations, business ethics, historical contexts and the environmental perception of agro-pastoral communities and nomadic wayfarers, this dissertation forwards an approach that I call corresponding landscapes. Corresponding landscapes can be seen as the knot connecting three interdependent ideas: the productive landscape, the material landscape and the political landscape. These ideas build respectively on discourses on landscapes and environmental perception, value and commodity exchange theory, and regional-specific political and historical developments. The approach is grounded in concrete ethnographically derived understandings of local perspectives of the environment and economy. Corresponding landscapes further informs mixed collaborative methodologies, co-learning and shared experiences for qualitative research. Alongside the written PhD dissertation, I submit a 30 min ethnographic documentary, Arho – The ‘Afar Salt Trade of Northeastern Ethiopia, that follows one caravan on their journey to the salt basin of the ‘Afar Depression. The documentary relies on strong visual imagery and traditional ‘Afar music selected by the ‘Afar salt traders I worked with on this project. It shows how the decline of this trade affects daily life in the communities of Barhale district in north-eastern Ethiopia. As part of my ethnographic practice and in the context of my concrete research experiences, I propose an ethics of correspondence for doctoral and early career researchers. The ethics of correspondence is a collaborative, dialogic and reflexive method to challenge post-colonial ways of practising anthropology. I suggest the use of audio-visual materials and filmmaking as a research tool to move beyond the written text as primary research output. Based on my research experience and following renewed anthropological interest in ethics and morality, I view research ethics as flexible, critical, and historically and culturally situated. My interest is the lessons we can learn from a direct engagement with other – non-western – notions of ethics in cross-cultural encounters. I consider how knowledge from this engagement can be applied to both ethnographic research and ethnographic filmmaking for doctoral and early-career researchers. I contend that ethics relate to interpersonal relations and can be neither fully demanded nor pre-determined, but must, instead, be negotiated based on the contextual understandings of the concrete, everyday situations encountered during ethnographic fieldwork.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Edward Simpson
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 15 Sep 2021 10:15
Funders: Other

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