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Joschka Philipps: Whose Uncertainties? Dealing with Multiple Meanings in a Transnational Biography. [Abstract]

Uncertainty permeates and structures social life, biographies, and research. In its ubiquity, it may well be the “the most ordinary thing in the world” (Wohlrab-Sahr 1992, 10), and has been considered a key concern of sociology (Boltanski 2011, 55). This article reflects on how uncertainty looms large both in the social world and throughout the social scientific research process. The focus is on the biography of N., a woman who grew up in Conakry in the Republic of Guinea and currently lives in France, and how her lived experiences are being turned into an academic text. N.’s narrations of her life feature uncertainty in different forms, ranging from moments of existential crisis to a quotidian contingency produced by the multiplicity of norms, languages, ideologies, and systems of meaning of her transnational life-worlds. The article reflects on the relationship between the researcher and N., showing how our work on her biography implies multiple translations and transformations of meaning, as well as miscomprehension and doubts. On a theoretical level, uncertainties are also implicit in situating an academic text in relation to others, especially in inter- and transdisciplinary contexts with contradictory concerns and ideals of scholarship. The article is embedded in a broader research project on so-called conspiracy theories, a prime example of a concept and a burgeoning academic field where scholars tend to externalize and sometimes pathologize uncertainties about political power.

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