On the 1-3 of June 2018, the Royal Anthropological Society held its conference at the British Museum. I took part in a panel organised by Liana Chua called “Anthropologies of witnessing: imaginaries, technologies, practices”. I presented a paper called Committee as Witness. Abstract below:
In this paper, I explore the ethics review committee as a contemporary witness to the conduct of biomedical research. Ethics committee work is an internationally growing form of deliberation and decision making, a technology of anticipation that grants access to experimental spaces, research funds and publication venues. Drawing on ethnographic research with biomedical ethics committees in the Asia-Pacific region, I consider how this form of witnessing research travels, and complicate the kind of seeing that a legitimate committee must evidence. In earlier work on the ethics committee’s history in North American regimes of representational politics, I have argued that those attesting to the ethical nature of research are also witnesses of its scientific validity – their decisions not only rely on the scientific expertise of members but are also about that science. In such settings, we see arise a situation which gives double meaning to the making of ‘good science’. In this paper, I shift my attention to the form of the committee and its capacity to speak. The objective, authoritative committee must elide the personal, expert based function of the witness with the attestive work of the collective. While studies of expert and lay knowledge focus on the roles, capacities and characteristics of each, this analysis untethers the witnessing voice from an individual ‘point of view’, such that the attestive assemblage ‘speaks as one’. By exploring the accessibility of a witnessing experience, and the credibility of testimony, I aim to show witnessing as a form of ethical work, for ethical ends.