Anthropologies of witnessing: imaginaries, technologies, practices 
Liana Chua (University of Cambridge)
Senate House South Block - Room G7
Friday 1 June, 11:30-13:00, 14:00-15:30, 16:00-17:30 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

This panel explores the imaginaries, technologies and practices through which witnessing - as a morally- and politically-loaded intervention, and not just an act of seeing - is facilitated and conceived in multiple ethnographic contexts.

Long Abstract

The notion of witnessing has made constant, if intermittent, appearances in anthropology, both as an analytic (e.g. Dave 2014, Fassin 2008, Givoni 2011, McLagan 2006), and as the ethical or political basis of various forms of anthropological engagement (e.g, Bringa 2016, Das 2006, Marcus 2005, Scheper-Hughes 1995). This panel seeks to complicate and extend such conversations by exploring the imaginaries, technologies and practices that mediate different modes and concepts of witnessing.

Taking witnessing as a morally and politically-loaded intervention rather than a mere act of seeing, the panel explores three key areas: 1) the technologies and affordances – representational, epistemological, ontological, and so on – through which witnessing occurs and ‘witnesses’ and ‘witnessed’ are produced; 2) historically and culturally-specific relations and regimes of witnessing; and 3) the reflexive and/or recursive implications of ethnographies of witnessing for anthropological thought and practice. Crucially, it seeks to destabilize distinctions that often characterize conventional notions of witnessing, e.g. art/science, subjectivity/objectivity, truth/fiction, event/process, asking instead how these may be inextricably bound up in practice.

More specific questions include:

- Through what material, visual, artistic, affective, embodied and verbal devices – from testimony to photography to performance art – does witnessing occur?

- What kinds of relations, temporalities and artefacts emerge from these processes?

- How are ‘witnesses’ and ‘witnessed’ produced, apprehended and/or challenged?

- To what extent is witnessing a representational process – and in what other terms can it be conceived?

- To what extent can ‘truths’ and ‘facts’ be artistically conveyed or evoked?

- How are global regimes of witnessing constructed, and how well (or badly) do they travel?

- What role do museums, art galleries, archives, educational institutions and other similar bodies play in acts, processes and regimes of witnessing?

- What can culturally- or historically-specific tropes and practices of witnessing contribute to ongoing anthropological debates?

- What happens when different imaginaries, technologies and practices of witnessing intersect or clash?

Panellists are invited to address these and other relevant questions both critically (e.g. Angel-Anjani 2004, Reed-Danahay 2016) and creatively, through ethnographic, conceptual or experimental means. By shedding light on the complex, uneven processes and practices of witnessing, the panel will speak to key themes of the conference, including how representations act on/in and link different contexts, and how visual imaginaries and moral politics are generated and sustained.

Accepted papers: