What is Punk Ethnography?

Manifesto: Crisis as Opportunity for Social Change

One can’t help but wonder if life is not simply lived in a state of permanent crisis. We continue to experience one of the most significant global crises in recent history, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. And for years now we have been hearing about the mental health crisis, environmental crisis, financial crisis, race crisis, political crisis, climate crisis and more. Indeed, sociologist Robert Holton (1987) wrote more than thirty years ago that “in the contemporary world we are told that ‘crisis’ threatens us on all sides”. In education this goes back even further, with Hannah Arendt’s famous essay on “The Crisis in Education” dating back to 1954. 

The ubiquity of crisis talk risks leading us to become immune to the significant problems facing our world, and perhaps feel impotent in the face of them. Yet, there is good reason to not capitulate to a kind of crisis malaise or to equate “crisis” with “problem”. In the sense of something having gone wrong and needing to be addressed, the effects of “crisis” are real. Gert Biesta (2020) reminds us about the original meaning of the word “crisis”, which “is not a state of chaos, but a critical moment or turning point that calls for consideration and judgement (in Greek: “krinein”)”. 

Thinking about it this way it is possible to see crisis as an opportunity to interrupt the status quo of our personal and professional lives, to question what is happening, how we ended up here, and what kind of responses can be made. Crises can be moments that call for imagination and judgement, for creating opportunities to imagine alternative futures, starting from actions in the present. 

These concerns have led to the development of the futures forming practice of Punk Ethnography. Punk Ethnography offers a conceptual framework as well as a practical toolkit for researchers and practitioners to create alternative futures together, thereby contributing to social change in the present. Punk Ethnography does not seek to offer a solution but, rather, offers the opportunity for possible interventions in the normal order, providing a strategy to create alternative futures together, thereby contributing to social change in the present. 

They never succeeded, of course, 

in making the best of all the worlds; 

but by dint of boldly trying 

they made the best of many more worlds 

than any merely prudent or sensible person 

would have dreamed of being able to reconcile and combine.

(Aldous Huxley, Island)

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