Motivational activism: do tactical uses of photography and video lead to predisposed analyses?
Raul Gerardo Acosta Garcia (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)
Paper short abstract:
Activists have placed the issue of urban mobility in Guadalajara’s political agenda. In great part, their influence derives from an effective use of visual messages of their creative interventions. But, are anthropologists ourselves captivated by their messages thus distorting our analyses?
Paper long abstract:
In Guadalajara, Mexico, a recent wave of activism has seen the creation of dozens of groups struggling to influence government policies in order to upgrade public transport, establish better controls to protect pedestrians, and boost the use of the bicycle as a form of transport. This paper focuses on one group, City for All, which was largely responsible for establishing the issue of mobility in the local political agenda. In great part, its success is due to its members' ability to carry out creative and witty interventions that are made visible through social media as photographs or videos with concise expert discourses. As an anthropologist interested in how activists achieve change in policy-making and collective behaviour, however, I am wary of becoming one more follower of their work, thus prejudicing my analysis. In a way, it would be nothing new, as ethnographies usually take the side of the underdog. But would this process not be harmful even to the activists? Wouldn't a sober analysis prove more helpful to their struggle? This paper uses images produced by activists for one of their campaigns in order to reflect on their influence on anthropological research. Their objective is to captivate the public and motivate them to join their efforts. Although they claim to be open to criticism and suggestions, City for All activists guide their actions by a sense of righteousness. Are researchers thus motivated to ignore hard truths? Or is it understood that we should point to misgivings and risks we may identify?
Visibility of dissent: meanings and repercussions of urban activism through digital photography and video