Losing the plot: On method and meaning in traumatizing ethnographic work

Jennifer J. Carroll


This article takes up the question of “Russia’s influence in the world” by focusing on the impact of Russian state policy and military action on ethnographers working in Ukraine. Bringing foundational theories about psychological trauma into conversation with contemporary principles of ethnographic method, I recount, in epistolary form, my own experiences as an ethnographer of Ukraine during a period defined by Russian political and military aggression. I describe the specific challenges I have faced in producing ethnographic work out of these experiences and theorize how certain aspects of psychological trauma—at least as I have experienced them—inhibit the core emotional and narrative capacities that enable such work in the first place. I argue that intimate and insightful ethnography that illuminates the human element of pivotal historical happenings may be counted among the many losses that traumatizing events, such as Russia’s war in Ukraine, produce.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/723680