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.
Kelly Gillespie analyzes the conditions under which her testimony was requested at a commission investigating police brutality in the township of Khayelitsha in South Africa. While she was expected to confirm the commonsense idea according to which the development of vigilantism in poor neighborhoods is a response to the inefficacy of law enforcement agencies, she used her ethnographic work to complicate the picture, showing that violence had broader grounds in postapartheid society, that popular anxieties regarding insecurity had multiple causes, and that demands for social justice were not limited to the single issue of policing. In the end she realized that her discourse was instrumentalized to validate the commission’s ready-made arguments.