EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures
- Beate Engelbrecht (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity) email
- Felicia Hughes-Freeland (SOAS) email
Visual anthropologists explore economic, religious and other kinds of social processes audio-visually. They produce audio-visual documents, they analyse subject-generated ones and engage in collaborative projects. What do they contribute to the creation and transmission of anthropological knowledge?
Since the beginning of photography, film, and audio recording, anthropologists have used these means to explore and document traditional cultural expressions as well as economic, religious, and other kinds of social processes. Nowadays these means are used also by various groups to safeguard and transmit their cultural heritage, to communicate their life situation, and to engage in political debates. Increasingly, anthropologists work together with local people in collaborative projects to deepen their knowledge.
In the panel we intend to confront the diverse engagements of anthropologists and ask what the contribution of these activities to the legacy of anthropology might be.
What are anthropological filmmakers, photographers and sound collectors aiming for in their work? Why do they use audio-visual means in their research? How can recording be used to explore new research questions? How does it enhance the exchange of ideas with subjects in research? How can the findings be published so as to contribute to the interchange of knowledge?
Many people are creating audio-visual productions about their own culture or life situations. For many years anthropologists have argued that these productions contribute substantially to the worldwide knowledge. How do anthropologists use these contributions? How are they integrated in the research process ? And what kinds of insights can be gained?
A growing amount of collaborative research projects is using audio-visual means in quite different ways to explore problems together. How can collaborative work using audio-visuals lead to new forms and quality of knowledge production?
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Communicating knowledge in ethnographic exhibitions audiovisually
We shall discuss what kinds of knowledge film can communicate in ethnographic exhibitions, giving also examples where new knowledge is produced via audiovisual medium in object-oriented exhibition in Danish National Museum, and inside people-oriented exhibition of the Slovene Ethnographic Museum.
French anthropologist Felix-Louis Regnault who was the first to use film to record ethnographic data in spring 1895 has in 1900 proposed a museum of man, where objects would be contextualised by films. However, it took several decades and the development of analogue video and later digital technologies that avail to reproduce moving pictures inside exhibitions either automatically or on demand.
What kinds of data can film communicate in the exhibitions? In collection oriented ethnographic exhibitions film is still nowadays very successfully used to contextualise and humanise the exhibits/collections. In new millennium it is very modern to interpret the exhibition theme with artistic or sensorial films; a counterpart to aesthetic approach is an ethical one. In Copenhagen they made a film on a Dine weaver who was invited to the museum so that he would provide more data on patterns, materials, techniques and functions of their carpet collection; the Dines, on the other hand, got data on their heritage that was long ago transferred to the museum, as a digital restitution.
Hilde Hain (2000: 6) observes that lately exhibitions do not focus so much on objects but rather on subjects. In the exhibition on varied and multi-layered identities of an individual, we invited visitors to participate in discovering their identities in audiovisual medium. Thus we provided "multiple viewpoints" and included representatives of sensory, physically or socially deprived persons and minorities of all kinds.
White Lies: The Emancipated Spectator in Contemporary Nepal
The dissertation (film/ research) examines the social, economic and political possibilities and constraints that underpin the production and dissemination of photographic images whose subject is Nepal and which are seen by domestic and international audiences during the time of election.
Analysis of the photographers' published images, alongside their own descriptions of the photographic process, are combined with an observational documentary film White Lies. The film's title (White Lies) reflects these unuttered truths and further refers to the omnipresent photographs of the snow-covered Himalayan mountain range that comprise the most pervasive and widely circulated representations of Nepal. The cumulative consequences and effects of the creation of these images and the massive amount of others representing traditional and religious appearances, means that certain aspects of Nepalese social life and culture continue to be widely circulated domestically and internationally, while other aspects are less commonly documented, remain unphotographed or are actively suppressed for commercial or political reasons. This not only reinforces how photographic representation is intimately linked with power but recalls Hall's argument that one of the most important elements of an image concerns "the power to represent someone or something in a certain way" (Hall,1997a: 259). The dissertation further questions film as a generator of ethnographic knowledge.
Film and companion text were done as a part of the MPhil in Ethnographic Documentary at the University of Manchester.
I present parts of the full film, explain on method/ approach and findings.
A teaser is available online: https://vimeo.com/89925720
Power and agency in visual anthropology
Based on the photographic portrait series Ethiopian Encounters from Tigray in North-Ethiopia, and which traverses the field of art and anthropology, I will discuss power and agency in visual research.
Interpreted from the colonial perspective of power, archival photographs relating to the portrait tradition have received a lot of attention over the past couple of decades. However, photographing in the Tigrayan context of highland Ethiopia has meant being obliged to share authority with a people who have demanded to take control over their own self-representation. In my photographic portrait series Ethiopian Encounters, which traverses the fields of art and anthropology, I came to understand portrait photography as a discursive social practice that pointed to socio-cultural dynamics that were not explicitly expressed in daily life. The methodological strategy, which provided access to the mediation of visibility and invisibility, exposure and containment in social life, is based on a repositioning of the photographing anthropologist from a detached observer to a social agent in a photographic encounter. I will use this encounter in the photographic situation as a point of departure for discussing power and agency in relation to cross-cultural communication. At issue is also the fact that, when required to anonymise interviewees and participants, it becomes difficult to acknowledge peoples contributions to our research, which in itself could be seen as a reaffirmation of an asymmetrical power relation.
Photography and ethnography: what collaborations for which communication?
This paper aims at approaching the relationship between photography and ethnology. It will bring the first results ot this collaboration through images and ethnographic stories and broadly discuss the question of valorization of anthropological research through the photographic medium.
In this paper, I will approach some questions around the collaboration between photographers and ethnologists during the fieldwork. In the mark of my PhD research, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a photographer, Laetitia Gessler, in the context of an ethnographic fieldwork in Mexico, focussed on « neo-Mayan » phenomenon. The collaboration with her aimed at documenting visually the religious diversity of Mérida (Yucatan, Mexico), life journeys (with portrait photos), syncretic altars, as well as rituals and religious ceremonies. The idea was to offer an ethno-photographic work covering the phenomenon of spiritual « hybridations » at the time of globalization. We wanted to capture these new hybrid identities: between ancestral wisdoms and reinvention of traditions. Before, during and after this fieldwork several questions appeared, as the advantages and the disadvantages of such collaboration or ethical/methodological implications of our work. We had the opportunity to expose our work, in Switzerland, during a scientific meeting. The idea would be next to publish a general audience book about neo-mayanism in Mexico. This paper aims at approaching this particular thematic: the relationship between photography and ethnology and the valorisation of the results through this particular kind of communication (ethno-photograhic work). The presentation will bring the first results of this project through images and ethnographic stories. My Phd research is a multi-sited ethnographic investigation (Switzerland, Guatemala, Mexico, Germany), in social sciences of contemporary religions. The research is focussed on the development of a transnational neo-mayanist movement since the "2012 phenomenon".
Epistemological implications of collaborative photography methodology, in the case of ethnographic research in Nueva Germania, Paraguay
Researcher insights on the use of collaborative photography and its epistemological implications, during long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Nueva Germania, Paraguay.
Do anthropological training and theoretical orientation condition researchers' experiential bias, influencing perceptions and observations, in a similar fashion as the linguistic structures described by Whorf (1956) do? If we make such assumption, then collaborative methodology seems to be a great approach to enrich research with multiple perspectives and thereby reduce the bias. Additionally, collaborative visual methods allow for a shift in the power balance of data and knowledge production, and recognize the people in their capacity to be their own ethnographers, historians, documentarists and analysts. Images also facilitate an additional medium of expression and communication besides language. I will discus these issues in the context of my 18 months ethnographic research in Nueva Germania, Paraguay.
Nueva Germania was founded at the end of XIX century by Bernhard Förster and Elisabeth Nietzsche (Friedrich Nietzsche's sister), as an eugenic experiment in the wilderness of Paraguay. Fourteen German families traveled to Paraguay to take part in the creation of a racially pure colony, the intended nucleus of a new Germanic Empire. However, this ideological undertaking was quickly abandoned. Currently the inhabitants are divided into Germans and Paraguayans, with divisions drawn by history, descent, language, religion, etc. The colony has been repeatedly portrayed by journalists and other outsiders in harmful sensationalist accounts, through the prism of the foundational history. In order to facilitate a possibility of telling their own stories to the inhabitants, and reduce the bias of my theoretical interests, I have used the research method of participatory photography. This paper will reflect upon the methodology, its practical and epistemological implications and outcomes.
Facing the Facebook faux pas: the Sawau Project goes social
A Sawau community collaborative project explores and poses a serious question to the role of digital and social media as tools for “repatriating” audiovisual indigenous cultural legacies, and their capacity to extend traditional cultural worlds into new domains.
Ten years ago the Sawau community of Beqa, an island iconic in Fiji for its firewalking practice (vilavilairevo) launched The Sawau Project (A Ituvatuva Ni Vakadidike E Sawau), a multimedia digital storytelling limited distribution DVD supported by a grant from the iTaukei Institute of Language & Culture in Suva. The Sawau Project created an archival of sites, stories and shared memories of the Sawau people of Beqa. Advocating a form of social intervention in situ, The Sawau Project has become a collaborative tool to encourage digital documentation, linkages and institutional collaborations among Fijian communities and their allies to negotiate and promote alternative forms of sui generis protection of the Sawau tangible and intangible heritage. More recently, with all six Sawau villages linked via open social media interchanges an unforeseen indigenous response to the perpetuation of Sawau cultural heritage glitters ahead. The ability of social media like Facebook to bring ideas, concerns and answers back to the vanua (people of the land) level is suggesting a marriage of the digital and the physical worlds to test The Sawau Project local and global agency. Going social The Sawau Project challenges the notion of culturally alien technologies dissociating indigenous culture from its context and depriving it of meaning. At the same time, the Sawau community predicaments pose a serious question to the role of digital and social media as tools for "repatriating" audiovisual indigenous cultural legacies, and their capacity to extend traditional cultural worlds into new domains.
Fieldwork, film and theory: examining the theoretical impacts of film in research through Bororo ethnography
In this paper, I use the ethnographic study I conducted among the Bororo people in Central Brazil as a means to examine the theoretical impact of the use of film-making and film-elicitation methods in anthropological research.
This paper departs from Angela Torresan's (2011:119) call for a proper investigation of the "conceptual capacity" of ethnographic film. It draws on the ethnographic study I conducted among the Bororo people in Central Brazil and examines the impact of filmmaking and film-elicitation methods in guiding my theoretical proposition of the notion of Boe Gendered Person. The "Boe", as the Bororo call themselves, are those who properly observe the moral prescriptions inscribed on the topography of the village plan.
The Bororo village plan lays out on the ground the moral principles of social organization. The village plan played a key role in the history of anthropology for it served as a recurrent example in Lévi-Strauss's development of structuralism. The Bororo village is indeed a remarkable empirical case with which to analyse the dualisms that continue to preoccupy anthropologists: nature/culture; sex/gender; profane/sacred, etc. Drawing on my ethnography, I explore these dualisms in relation to the impact of visual methods for the development of anthropological theory. The case I will be discussing shows how the use of filmmaking and film-elicitation methods generated unexpected emotional responses in research subjects that re-directed my inquiry entirely. My argument is that the use of film played a leading role in guiding my ethnography towards the conceptual development of the notion of Boe Gendered Person.
The visual, the verbal and the senses in researching Anir ritual and art (New Ireland, Papua New Guinea)
Through exploring the use of audio-visual recordings in researching ritual and artistic practices in Melanesia, this paper highlights their significance in the production of knowledge that links anthropological, aesthetic and art historical concerns and approaches.
Producing photos, videos and audio recordings of ceremonial acts, dances and masked performances formed a major part of my research into the ritual system of the people of Anir, and the diverse forms of artistic expression it encompasses. Using selected examples, I will focus on the significance that audio-visual recordings had in the process of disentangling and understanding the relationship between ritual and aesthetic practices. This will include the exploration of several interconnected aspects and questions: Firstly, how audio-visual recordings became one of the most effective tools in my research kit. Secondly, how audio-visual recordings hooked up with verbal forms of exchange, that is, dialogues and interviews I conducted with individuals and groups. And, thirdly, how, in combination, visual and verbal processes led to shared, collaborative sense-making between the researcher (myself) and research-subjects (Anir islanders) to produce new insights into ritual structure and practice, on the one hand, and perception, aesthetic experience and the relationship between the visual and the verbal, on the other. Thus the presentation traces the way in which the processing of audio-visual elements of culture (images and performances) involved the use of audio-visual methods and techniques, which then led to the production of audio-visual artefacts (the recordings). These, in turn, became the basis for the exchange and production of knowledge and insights that linked anthropological, aesthetic and art historical approaches and concerns.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.