By Dimitrios Theodossopoulos, University of Kent
This piece of ‘graphic ethnographic’ was created to support an article entitled ‘Philanthropy or solidarity? Ethical dilemmas about humanitarianism in crisis afflicted Greece’ authored by Dimitrios Theodossopoulos (University of Kent). The article is under review with Social Analysis. The protagonists of the graphic ethnography are real life characters and their dialogue represents empirical data presented, not merely as visual illustrations, but in support of an anthropological analysis. Here, graphic ethnography serves as an ethnographic tool.
The following revelatory incident attracted my attention to the ethics of humanitarian action in austerity-ridden Greece. It was an ordinary conversation that evolved in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, despite the concluding disagreement. The protagonists were people I had known very well for some years, Eva and Mary. They had invited me to participate in a grass-root solidarity initiative. While loading a car with food provisions (to be distributed to families stricken by austerity) Eva’s husband, Nikos, approached us with some critical remarks. His arguments draw attention to how a Marxist-inspired critique of philanthropy may very well apply to humanitarianism more generally, but also to crisis-related solidarity initiatives. Intrigued by Nikos’ comments, I decided to investigate the relationship of solidarity and philanthropy in the narratives of several other citizens in Patras, an urban centre in crisis-afflicted Greece. The resulting conversations, which lead to the ethnography I present in this article, address a number of related questions: Is solidarity another, more timely and politically nuanced version of philanthropy? Does it involve a dynamic that can be seen (by the solidarity participants themselves) as empowering? Is such empowerment self-exonerating—a justification for perpetuating a particular status quo?
I immortalised the original discussion that prompted this investigation in cartoon form. This visually compelling form of representation is very suitable for situating dilemmas in culturally meaningful contexts. As such, cartoon ethnography represents an attempt towards developing a ‘graphic anthropology’ (Ingold 2011). The use of sketches and drawings in the production of anthropological work can challenge the top-down authorial imposition of authenticity as representative of a prototypical form (Taussig 2011) and may enhance reflexivity (see Theodossopoulos 2016). The resulting view of incompleteness depicts more accurately the fluidity of social reality: most discussions in daily life—and academia—are inconclusive. My interlocutors in Patras provided me with their critical arguments in the context of evolving conversations, throughout which the meaning of solidarity was in dispute. For this reason, I will try to keep—in this article—the debate about the limitations and advantages of humanitarian solidarity deliberately open. My use of cartooning as an ethnographic medium attempts to make visible this incompleteness.
Dimitrios Theodossopoulos, Univeristy of Kent, Canterbury, UK.
Ingold, Tim. 2011. ‘Introduction.’ In Redrawing Anthropology: Materials, Movements, Lines (ed.) Tim Ingold, 1-20. Farnham: Ashgate.
Taussig, Michael T. 2011. I swear I saw this: drawings in fieldwork notebooks, namely my own. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Theodossopoulos, Dimitrios. 2016. Exoticisation Undressed: Ethnographic Nostalgia and Authenticity in Emberá Clothes. Manchester: Manchester University Press.