What is an Ethnographic Interview? Thoughts at the Intersection of Anthropology and Psychiatry

Key information

3:15 pm to 5:00 pm
Main Building, Russell Square

About this event

Bhrigupati Singh, Ashoka University/Brown University

Part of the Anthropology Departmental Seminar Series 2022


This lecture examines a basic and yet uncertain tool of ethnographic method, the interview, situated here in comparison to the psychiatric interview, in the context of fieldwork in a psychiatry department in Delhi (India). Reviewing social science literature on “qualitative techniques” and the attempts to systematize narrative-based interviews as biomedical tools, this article explores what an ethnographic interview might be in its non-systematized form, and the impossibility of reducing ethnographic relatedness to a set of techniques or a questionnaire. Rather than taking this impossibility to be an end point, or an argument against all forms of standardized questioning, this lecture suggests a conceptual difference between the pursuit of regularities (predictably patterned repetition) and singularities (elements of difference that inhabit and yet exceed repetition). Conceptualizing the ethnographic interview as a pursuit of regularities and singularities, we explore anthropological genealogies and innovations in both these modes of inquiry. Further, we examine the conceptual and clinical significance of ethnographic interviewing as a pursuit of singularities and as a “reversal of Platonism”, as a way of examining life, with others, drawing on instances from fieldwork with patients in psychiatric care.


Bhrigupati Singh is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Ashoka University, Visiting Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Brown University, and a Research Fellow at the Carney Institute for Brain Science. He studied at the Delhi University, SOAS, and Johns Hopkins University. His first book, Poverty and the Quest for Life (University of Chicago Press 2015) was awarded the Joseph Elder Prize and an Award for Excellence by the American Academy of Religion. He is currently working on a monograph titled Waxing and Waning Life based on fieldwork in community psychiatry clinics run by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in “resettlement” colonies in Delhi. He is a co-editor of The Ground Between: Anthropologists Engage Philosophy (Duke University Press, 2014), and co-editor of a book series, Thinking from Elsewhere (Fordham University Press). His most recent articles include “Can a Neighborhood Fall Sick?” (Medical Anthropological Quarterly) “Schizophrenia as a Problem of Other Minds” (Philosophy, Psychiatry, Psychology), “Is India going through an Opioid Epidemic?” (Journal of Public Health) and “The Contagion of Mental Illness” (Transcultural Psychiatry).

Convened by:      Dr Maria Nolan and Dr Nikita Simpson