EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P098)
[Re:]engagements: the ethnographic archive and its contemporary and future affordances
Location U6-25
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Paul Basu (SOAS) email
  • Noel Lobley (University of Virginia) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Explores the affordances of the ethnographic archive - including collections, photographs, sound recordings, publications, etc. - for contemporary communities and their future-orientated projects. What is the legacy of past anthropological research for differently-situated actors in the present?

Long Abstract

This panel explores the affordances of the ethnographic archive for contemporary communities and their future-orientated projects. This archive encompasses the material and immaterial traces of past anthropological research, including material culture collections, photographs, sound recordings, film, fieldnotes, and publications. We are interested in how communities are engaging with this anthropological legacy in the present, how it is valued (or not valued) and what action possibilities it is perceived to possess. We are also concerned with how institutions such as museums, archives (including sound and visual archives), universities and individuals are using these materials as a medium for re-engaging with communities in the present. How does working with historical ethnographic collections, photographs or sound recordings enable the development of sustainable relationships with differently-situated actors today? The panel explores the on-going entanglements between the histories of anthropology, including anthropological collecting, image-making and sound recording, and the histories and futures of the communities studied. What were the perceived affordances of collections at the time they were assembled? How have these changed over time? To what degree does the archive now constitute a cultural heritage? Have these materials been re-appropriated to inform cultural revival or inspire contemporary artists, for instance? What are the ethical implications when anthropologists seek to actively re-engage present-day communities with the ethnographic archive, for instance by facilitating access to historical sound recordings, photographs and artefacts held by institutions. The panel explores the material, visual and sonic legacies of anthropological research and their reconfiguration in the imagination of human futures.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The ethnographic archive and its affordances

Authors: Paul Basu (SOAS)  email
Noel Lobley (University of Virginia)  email

Short Abstract

This paper sets out the themes and objectives of the panel and discussed recent initiatives that are attempting to activate the latent possibilities of ethnographic archives.

Long Abstract

This paper sets out the themes and objectives of the panel. We consider the ethnographic archive as a particular kind of archival assemblage: an anthropological legacy, but also a legacy of colonialism and its technologies of power. While such assemblages of knowledge - materialized in objects, photographs, sound recordings, field notes, publications and other media - embody particular historical moments of cross-cultural interaction, as a consequence of being 'archived' they are retrievable in the present. The act of archiving always anticipates future use, and the question we are interested in exploring is what present and future actions and possibilities these assemblages now afford? Drawing on work with the collections assembled by the government anthropologist N. W. Thomas in West Africa in the early 20th century and field recordings made by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey in Southern Africa, we discuss some recent initiatives that are attempting to 'activate' the latent possibilities of such archives.

Translating museums, from past to future: indigenous (self) representation in western India.

Author: Alice Tilche (london school of economics)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the little known archives of Indian anthropology as found in regional and district-level Tribal Museums. It also examines the relationship between these collections and future oriented projects of self-representation and reform.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists have been increasingly interested in revisiting their past, by writing biographies of the discipline, restudying places and opening up archives to revaluation, critique and local communities. These have been necessary efforts for ethnographic collections to survive in the contemporary world, and ways for the discipline to consolidate its history after having eaten itself alive for decades.

The aims of this paper are twofold. The first is to throw light on the little-known archives of Indian anthropology as found in regional and district-level Tribal Research Institutes and Museums. The second is to explore the relationship between these collections and community projects of self-representation. Indigenous encounters with ethnographic museums have been described as politically charged: with anger at colonial misrepresentations, with grief at the loss of livelihoods and ancestral connections, and with emotions at reconnecting with a severed past. Drawing on research and curatorial work with Adivasi (tribal, indigenous) groups in western India, this paper suggests that the encounter with the archive is about imagining different futures rather than reviving the past. Adivasi curators often agreed (rather than disagreed) with official representations of their communities and, while arguing about compositional details, adopted them in making their own. This had to do with the internalisation of others' categories and with internal projects of betterment and socio-religious reform. The latter involved the codification of a public body of tradition that should remain 'other': a reminder of where people came from and a meter to measure how much they had changed.

Museum collections and the appropriation of cultural heritage among Naga in north east India

Author: Vibha Joshi (Tuebingen University/University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on community engagement with the photographs of Naga objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum collections and the repercussions and reverberation of the effect of such information being brought back to the community.

Long Abstract

Colonial photographs taken of the Naga Hills and held in British institutional collections have become key examples for Christian Naga of a pre-Christian 'heathen' or 'animistic' life among Naga. By contrast, contemporary research photographs of older, intentionally symbolic Naga textiles in European museums, which were collected during the British colonial rule in Naga Hills, have had a very different reception: they are used to depict a positive traditional cultural impression of the Naga pre-Christian past. This paper focuses on community engagement with the photographs of Naga objects in museum collections and the repercussions and reverberation of the effect of such information being brought back to the community. Through ethnographic examples from the field, the paper addresses the theme of appropriation or specification of cultural heritage by one Naga community, the Lotha.

The paper shows how the research photographs of textiles, catalogue information on them and researchers' field-data, take on a distinctive identity. Community leaders play a role in this 're-discovery' of their material cultural heritage and in the subsequent dissemination of information through an exhibition of re-produced cloths and the publication of a book based on research photographs. The paper discusses how such research intervention brings with it controversies over ownership as well as generating interest among other Naga communities regarding their cultural heritage in western collections.

The contemporary archaic: Henri H. Stahl's legacy for commoners and anthropologists

Authors: Oana Mateescu (University of Bucharest)  email
Ștefan Guga  email

Short Abstract

This paper engages with the ambivalent legacy of Romanian historical sociologist and anthropologist Henri H. Stahl (1901-91) not just for the village communities of Vrancea, which he studied in the 1920s, but also for the social sciences in contemporary Romania.

Long Abstract

This paper engages with the legacy of Romanian historical sociologist and anthropologist Henri H. Stahl (1901-91) not just for the village communities of Vrancea, which he studied in the 1920s, but also for the social sciences in contemporary Romania. As well as dozens of books and numerous published articles spanning the disciplines of anthropology, history and sociology, Stahl produced rich autobiographical writings and gathered a large collection of historical documents. We abstain here from a clear-cut separation between the communities of those being written about and those doing the writing: the former subjects of research are now themselves collectors and ethnographers, joining the social scientists in their attempts to build upon and, inevitably, re-write Stahl's legacy. Unsurprisingly, the constitution of an ethnographic archive inspires graphic agency in the form of selective appropriation, assimilation or even reenactment. Since Stahl himself was interested in telescoping the present into the past, it is perhaps fitting that his work should now turn into a temporal vector. In the process, the future of local forest commons as a social-material regime and that of the social sciences as a national disciplinary endeavor have become entangled. From our double perspective - revisiting Stahl's interwar fieldwork sites on the one hand (Mateescu), and engaging with the ambivalent institutional echoes of his Marxist historical sociology on the other (Guga) - we are interested in exploring the politics and aesthetics of knowledge practices that are defined as well as circumscribed by the potential of Stahl's work.

Bricolage in the ethnographic archive

Author: Alyssa Grossman (University of Gothenburg)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores bricolage as an innovative approach to working with post-colonial ethnographic archives. Revisiting the historical intersections between surrealism and anthropology, I discuss a project that builds on the notion of bricolage to provoke new interpretations of museum collections.

Long Abstract

The contents of ethnographic archives often remain packed away in storage, inaccessible and unknown to the general public. How might some of these artifacts and documents be retrieved and engaged with, not only to challenge existing interpretations of their post-colonial legacies and present-day significance, but also to elicit new understandings of their material presence? This paper revisits the strategies and practices of bricolage (Levi-Strauss 1962) to explore possibilities for working critically and creatively with part of the ethnographic collection at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, Sweden. Returning to the largely forgotten historical intersections between the surrealist movement and the discipline of anthropology, I will discuss a current artistic-anthropological collaboration and exhibition intervention that utilizes methods of collage and the 'cut-up' to produce an alternative, parallel archive of objects, images, and narratives. This project aims to provoke meaningful dialogues about the place of art and artists within anthropological and other scientific contexts. It also seeks to generate innovative and radical ways of reflecting upon and working with colonial archival materials and the contemporary communities connected to existing ethnographic collections.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.