Without Records: How Anthropologists Can Learn from the Silences


Wednesday, November 4, 2020, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


YouTube (public); Zoom (registration required)

Julia BuyskykhResearch Institute of Ukrainian Studies (Kyiv); NGO ‘The Centre for Applied Anthropology’ (Kyiv)

*** This event was originally scheduled for September 30. Due to technical difficulties, we have rescheduled to Nov. 4.***

*Please note that this event takes place at noon (EDT/Boston), not our regular 2:30pm seminar time*

Photo of church attendance in rural area


Classical training in cultural anthropology (ethnography) expects anthropologists to make recordings of interviews during our fieldwork. Recordings constitute an essential source of data, a huge step forward in comparison with the old-fashioned style of doing ethnography – writing fieldnotes. With the help of a recorder, we can preserve voices of our study participants almost forever. Recording allows us to appreciate the beauty of the spoken language with all its dialects, jargon, linguistic flexibility and code switching. But what if the situation in the field reveals that recording is impossible? What if our potential respondents categorically decline to be recorded, even if we promise to given them total anonymity? What if their current behavior is driven by a fear of the past – sometimes not their own, but their families’ past? Many anthropologists face respondents who cannot articulate their thoughts and feelings through speech. How, then, are we supposed to study human interactions when people remain silent? 

Buyskykh will try to answer these questions by drawing on qualitative data from Eastern Poland (Subcarpathia and Lublin provinces), which she gained during her field research on religious dynamics in 2015-2018. She argues that “silence" can become an anthropological tool for the study of vulnerable communities / post-traumatic / post-colonial experiences when it is impossible to record. Silence can be more vocal than the transcripts of interviews. Recordings are usually silent about body language: gestures, facial expressions, positioning, and the whole multi-layered context of the field. On the contrary, human behavior, everyday rituals, emotions—hidden or expressed—and modes of vernacular religiosity can tell us way more than a recorded interview. Thinking through “silence” is a form of communication that doesn't rely on words. It can be a key tool to study individuals and communities whose traumas are deep and unhealed, and revealing of their humanity. 

Iuliia BuyskykhJulia Buyskykh received her Ph.D. in Ethnology from the History Department at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine. In 2014-2015 she participated in the Polish Government Scholarship Program for Young Scholars, completing an internship at the Centre for East European Studies and the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, University of Warsaw. In 2015-2016 she was a research fellow at the University of Warsaw through the V4EaP Scholarship Program from Visegrad Fund. She has conducted field research in Poland since 2015, focusing on religious culture in borderlands localities. Since September 2016 she has been working at the Research Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Kyiv. From October 2017 to January 2018 she was a visiting fellow in Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin. She is co-founder of the NGO ‘The Centre for Applied Anthropology’ in Kyiv (since 2017), and was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Department of History, Pennsylvania State University (November 2019-July 2020). Her current research interests include lived religion in post-communist space, pilgrimages and vernacular shrines, neighborhood relationships, and memory and border studies.

Register to join our Zoom session

Space is limited; registrants will receive Zoom access information as space permits. Those who are not able to join the Zoom session may participate via YouTube.

Register here if you would like to join the Zoom session, space permitting.

Watch and ask questions on YouTube

Join live on YouTube and post your comments or questions using the chat feature.