Ethnography as Counter-Investigation?

Book presentation and discussion with Didier Fassin: Death of a Traveller. A Counter-Investigation. Polity 2021. |Thursday, 10 February 2022, 4-6 pm (online)

In his last book, Didier Fassin examines a blatant case of police violence and institutional racism. A young man, belonging to the Traveller community, fails to return to prison after a temporary release. The search operation of a special unit of the French gendarmerie ends with the fugitive shot dead on his parents’ farm. Afterwards contradictory accounts of the fatal event are given. The gendarmerie speaks of inevitable self-defense; the family reports of a sequence of exaggerated brutality that culminates in the execution of their relative. During the following judicial investigation, the family’s account is marginalized and eventually disregarded; the officers’ version prevails.

Based on interviews as well as a careful reading of official documents and judicial reports, Didier Fassin carries out a counter-investigation. Giving each version of the narrative the same credit, he exposes the inconsistencies that the court ruling, finally discharging the officers, had ignored. As a result, Fassin counters the authoritative “judicial truth” with an alternative “ethnographic truth” that aims at re-opening a legally closed story and hereby returning respectability to the victim and his family.

In this online meeting Didier Fassin will discuss with members of the commission “Ethnographies of the Political” about the particular genesis of the book, its main concepts, arguments and textuality. A specific emphasis will be put on counter-investigation as a methodology to intervene into political and judicial processes via ethnography. We will explore the characteristics and potentials of counter-investigation in relation to further approaches and strategies of a Public Anthropology.

Please register by sending an email to Natasha Deasy: deasyprotect me ?!uni-bremenprotect me ?!.de. You will receive a zoom-link the day before the event.

Didier Fassin is the James D. Wolfensohn Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and a Director of Studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris.
For further information about the book “Death of a Traveller”, please consult this recent review (in German):

This event is organized by the commission “Europeanization_Globalization: Ethnographies of the Political” (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Empirische Kulturwissenschaft) in cooperation with the U Bremen Excellence Chair Research Group “Soft Authoritarianisms”: