A Cultural Cyclotron: Ethnography, art experiments, and a challenge of moving towards the collaborative in Rural Poland

Tomasz Rakowski
University of Warsaw

In this chapter I will focus on ethnographic practice understood as a kind of social and artistic action. The main purpose of this paper is to explore how elements of art can be introduced into ethnography conducted in peripheral, disadvantaged regions without establishing relations of (symbolic and cultural) domination/inequality. In order to do this, I reconstruct two projects: “Prologue” and “Ethnography/Animation/Art”, conducted in the years 2011-2013, both of which were led by a team of ethnographers, animators, and contemporary artists in the vicinity of Szydłowiec in central Poland, in areas of unprofitable, small-scale agriculture with high rates of local unemployment. This experience brings about quasi-experimental research situations in which ethnographic reality becomes particularly dynamic, ‘thick’ but also emergent and unpredictable. I aim to show how ethnography combined with artistic action reveals an implicit dimension of creative work and spontaneous self-organization on both sides of the project. By exploring the issue from both perspectives (ethnographers & artists /local community), it is possible to capture the emergence of meanings, and a kind of lived ‘social performance’. I will argue that with approach we may be able to step beyond the fiction of ‘natural’ intimacy and engagement while doing fieldwork. What emerges is a novel methodological perspective, aiming not so much to induce ‘mechanical’ social change but to construct a common, creative event with unpredictable and emergent effects. My theoretical framework will be constructed mainly around the ideas proposed by Victor Turner, Erika Fisher -Lichte, and George Marcus.

Tomasz Rakowski


Tomasz Rakowski is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, University of Warsaw, and Lecturer at the Institute of Polish Culture. His research interests include social art, phenomenological anthropology, postsocialist transformation, anthropology of poverty, and bottom-up development. He is also a medical doctor, a specialist in Accident & Emergency medicine. Recently he published Hunters, Gatherers, and Practitioners of Powerlessness: An Ethnography of the Degraded in Postsocialist Poland (Berghahn Books, 2016). He is also the editor, with Helena Patzer, of Pretextual Ethnographies: Challenging the Phenomenological Level of Anthropological Knowledge-Making (Sean Kingston Publishing, 2018).