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Accepted paper:

Multimodality: Shifting Paradigms

Author:

Mark Westmoreland (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

Multimodality encompasses the mediation of ethnographic experience and knowledge production through the entire operational sequence of anthropological practice, in ways that have important implications for sensory perception; field mediations; social connectivity; and publication infrastructures.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing upon the foundations of visual anthropology and its long history of making ethnographic film and photography, but recast for 21st century research dynamics that include diverse uses of smartphones, social media, and digital software, multimodality would seem to mark a paradigm shift in the discipline. These changes go beyond technological deterministic developments and the diversification of our toolbox. Multimodality helps us theorize the mediation of ethnographic experience and knowledge through the entire operational sequence of our practice from data collection/production to research dissemination as well as the corresponding artifacts from field notes and drawings, snapshots and social media, audio recordings and transcriptions to ethnographic films and festivals, photo series and exhibitions, soundscapes and installations. By recognizing the conceptual affordances and limitations of all possible research frameworks, multimodality thus offers a reconceptualization of ethnography recognizable to all anthropologists, not just specialists in filmmaking. In order to understand this broad appeal, I will address four crucial issues: a) sensory perception situates ethnography as a practice-based approach to social research that foregrounds the perceptual attunement of the researcher's body and sensory knowledge; b) field mediations addresses the epistemological affordances and limitations when converting or translating lived experience into different modalities; c) social connectivity highlights the relational aspects of multimodality with attention to the ethics of participation and collaboration, particularly with the increased role of social media; and d) infrastructures revisit the challenges facing scholarly work produced in unconventional formats alongside the potential of multimodal publications to realize greater public impact.

panel P039
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