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Accepted Paper:

Collaboration/Conspiracy: Ethics, Decolonization and the Power of Law  


Lindsay Ofrias (Princeton University)

Paper short abstract:

Elite actors are learning how to use anti-mafia law to break down solidarity movements and this includes targeting researchers and the people they collaborate with in producing digital media. How can ethnographers' ethically and practically confront this new legal landscape?

Paper long abstract:

Decolonial scholars have encouraged collaborative media projects between ethnographers and their interlocutors, which honor the expertise of all actors, build toward a shared goal, and encourage reciprocal relationship. The innovative use of anti-mafia law by elite actors, however, is making inroads to frame certain collaborative work as constituting “conspiracy.” In one key lawsuit, a major oil company was able to confiscate 600 hours of outtake footage from a U.S. filmmaker who worked with Amazonian plaintiffs seeking corporate accountability for an oil spill, through the suggestion that he was too close to his subjects and therefore would not receive first amendment protection. The oil company then edited the subpoenaed footage to tell a new story about their Amazonian adversaries, thus to win a countersuit that depicted them as part of a criminal racket. Then, the company pressured researchers from various disciplines to retract their expert testimony--the majority of which complied. Collaboration became criminal, and what would seem like an opportunity for decolonization primarily reinforced colonial dynamics. More companies have filed suit and are now linking individuals in conspiracies with others they have never even spoken to or directly organized with. Given how this new legal playbook using anti-mafia law can undermine ethical endeavors of collaboration and decolonization, what tools then are available to ethnographers seeking to build reciprocal relationships with the communities in which they work, and speak to broader audiences through digital media? I am approaching this dilemma as I am completing my PhD in anthropology and working on a documentary with experienced filmmakers, considering the relationship between law, ethics, storytelling, and decolonial justice-seeking.

Panel P082
New Horizons for Anthropological Authorship: Co-creation and the Production of Knowledge in Times of Global Change