If Truth Be Told: The Politics of Public Ethnography
Didier Fassin is James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, a Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and the author and editor of many books, most recently, Prison Worlds: An Ethnography of the Carceral Condition.
Manuela Ivone Cunha compares two experiences in which her ethnography, although not policy-driven, became relevant for policies. After her research on a Portuguese correctional facility she had a hearing before the national commission in charge of the prison reform, to which she was able to explain the flaws in the justice system, especially those related to the application of the drug laws that had led to a dramatic increase of the incarcerated population. Her analysis later informed changes in legislation and judicial illicit drug control. Her study on vaccine acceptability, which underlined the complexity of dissenting processes, did not benefit from such privileged circumstances, but it was also able to contribute to modifying the scientific frame predefined by the epidemiologists and public health experts who had initiated the program. Elements intrinsic to ethnography may therefore have weighed more than extrinsic elements to account for the receptiveness of policy-oriented publics in both cases.