EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Skilled engagements [VANEASA]
Location U6-1B
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Cristina Grasseni (Utrecht University) email
  • Rupert Cox (Manchester University) email

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Discussant Thorsten Gieser

Short Abstract

We explore the notion of 'engagement' in terms of the skilled application of the senses and of media, building on the ethnographic study of apprenticeship as a primary mode of 'enskilment'. Papers should critically investigate technology and the evidential power of media making.

Long Abstract

This call develops the notion of 'engagement' in anthropology by exploring it in terms of skilled senses and media. Building on the ethnography of apprenticeship as a primary mode of 'enskilment' (Ingold 2000, Cox 2003, Herzfeld 2004, Grasseni 2007), we wish to explore further how 'skilled visions' and the interfaces between vision and other senses are modes of making "knowledge and forms of expression".

This research advances questions and strategies based on particular modes of engagement: from sonic mapping to digital visual engagements (Cox 2012, Walter/Grasseni 2014). We are interested in the cultural analysis of technologies, routines and devices that produce knowledge by engaging different publics in specific types of individual and collective apprenticeship and learning.

We welcome ethnographic studies of skill formulated in/as/through media, and the forms of knowledge and public impacts produced by them, particularly in the domain of sound and image-making.

Papers should critically investigate the modes of perception behind technology and technique and provide an analysis of the practical use of devices, formal routines and the evidential power of media making, furthering the understanding of 'engagement' and of the 'publics' at stake.

Cox 2003. The Zen Arts. Routledge.

Cox 2012. 'Military aircraft noise and politics of spatial affect in Okinawa'. Sound, Space, Sociality in modern Japan (eds. Stevens/Hankins). Routledge.

Grasseni (ed.) 2007. Skilled Visions. Berghahn.

Herzfeld 2004. The Body Impolitic. Chicago.

Ingold 2000. The Perception of the Environment. Routledge.

Walter/Grasseni 2014. «Digital Visual Engagements», Anthrovision[Online] 2.2|2014.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The Enskilment of Media Practices - Reflections on Learning Portrait Photography in Dakar (Senegal)

Author: Simone Pfeifer (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz )  email

Short Abstract

Through critically engaging with my own practices and learning of portrait photography in Dakar, I show how the enskilment of media practices introduced me to specific forms of sociality and to aesthetic, sensual and experience-based dimensions of femininity and the shaping of relationships in Dakar

Long Abstract

Media practices like other practices are highly skilled practices that not only involve sensuous, aesthetic and embodied aspects, but are shared and learned socially. Taking the Skilled Visions approach as a starting point for my reflections on learning the practices surrounding portrait photography in Dakar, I show how the enskilment of media practices introduced me to a specific form of sociality and to aesthetic, sensual and experience-based dimensions of femininity, self and the shaping of relationships in Dakar. Through reflecting my own processes of learning and doing portrait photography, dressing up, posing in front of the camera but also learning to take images and circulating and talking about photographs on Facebook, I show how the cooperative process of learning these media practices enables and broadens our understanding of the social worlds we encounter and how they mediate anthropological knowledge on very different levels. With my example of the practices surrounding portrait photography I can 'decentralise' photography and the resulting focus on vision and seeing, and see photography embedded and entangled with social processes, other senses and other media practices. These 'mediations' and engagement also allow for the critical analysis of digital media practices on Facebook: how they are on the one hand continuations of previous forms of (social) media practices, e.g. of closeness and distance and how they on the other hand offer new forms of publics, expanding relations and participation. The paper will be developed as a photo-essay that includes photographic montages of my interlocutors.

The ‚Hunnic Eye': Learning to See in Popular Reenactment.

Author: Anja Dreschke (University of Siegen)  email

Short Abstract

In my paper I employ the concept of 'skilled visions' to explore how the notion of an 'aesthetic of authenticity' as a mediatized way of perception is embodied in historic reenactment.

Long Abstract

During the last decade mimetic practices of imagining, embodying and situating (past) events evolved into a form of vernacular culture symptomatic of an increasingly mediatized world. To explore popular reenactments as modes of knowledge production I draw on the example of the 'Cologne Tribes', a community of amateurs whose members reenact the historic life worlds of the Huns and Mongolians as a leisure activity. In their performances they creatively appropriate globally circulating audiovisual media representations, which are transformed into diverse forms of bodily and material self-staging. From a media anthropological perspective this process of remediation can be considered as a complex exchange of signs, persons and things (Schüttpelz 2006) in which visual, sonic and textual inscriptions are translated into bodily actions and material artifacts as media to experience alterity.

Though most 'outsiders' consider the knowledge bricolage performed in hobbyists reenactments as false, fake or fantasy, the construction of 'authenticity' is a matter of continuous negations among the 'insiders'. To address the 'insiders' ability to discern what is 'authentic', the Cologne Tribes developed the local notion of the 'Hunnic Eye' ('Hunnischer Blick') which is a certain skill obtained in a longstanding process of training and refinement structured by different levels of apprenticeship and expertise. In my paper I employ the concept of 'skilled visions' (Grasseni 2012) to explore practices attributed to the 'Hunnic Eye' as mediatized ways of perception and multisensory approaches to an 'aesthetic of authenticity' that is basically constituted in the eye of the beholder.

Filming as skilled engagement: representing an apprenticeship in initiatory hunting

Author: Lorenzo Ferrarini (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I discuss the filmic representation of my own enskilment and apprenticeship in donsoya, a form of initiatory hunting in Western Burkina Faso. I approach film as technologically-mediated learning and potentially a sensory apprenticeship for the viewers/listeners.

Long Abstract

In this paper I discuss the filmic representation of my own enskilment and apprenticeship in donsoya, an initiatory society that joins hunting with knowledge of herbal medicine, divinatory practices and amulet-making.

I approached the knowledge of donsoya through apprenticeship, as a focal interest and as a methodological device, with my own initiation and practice of hunting in Burkina Faso. A documentary film - Kalanda - The Knowledge of the Bush (kalandafilm.com) - is part of the outcome of the research. The film narrates the apprenticeship providing an overview of the multifaceted knowledge of donsoya, in a collaborative work that involved the filmmaker in the role of student and the hunters in the roles of teachers.

My engagement with donsoya during fieldwork presented a series of epistemological, practical and ethical challenges. I will detail how I addressed these through a) the technological strategies I devised to evoke the enskilment of my perception in the viewers/listeners; b) the narrative devices I employed to condense a year's apprenticeship; c) the collaborative methods I put in place to ensure I respected the restrictions on the knowledge of donsoya.

The making of the film often became a form of technologically-mediated learning, with the hunters teaching to me as they performed for the camera. But the film as a product was also conceived by them as a form of teaching, reaching beyond West Africa to uninitiated audiences.

Contested Framing: Cinematographers' visual training and virtuosity in the film industry.

Author: Cathy Greenhalgh  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the working culture, practices, strategies and regulations of “framing” (composition through the movie camera), as part of the repertoire of feature film cinematographers’ skilled vision, aesthetic praxis and technological oeuvre.

Long Abstract

The paper utilizes ethnographic insights from interviews and fieldwork with cinematographers from over twenty years of research and teaching in this field. It investigates the working culture, practices and strategies of "framing" (composition through the movie camera), as part of the repertoire of feature film cinematographers' skilled vision (Grasseni, 2009), aesthetic praxis and technological oeuvre. Cinematography requires particular expertise, aptitude and ongoing "vigilance" to cope with changing circumstances. "Having an eye" in this profession involves both explicit and tacit knowledge, demanding a combination of rule use (histories of film, photography and painting), 'community of practice' (Wenger, 1999) knowledge, habits and procedures as well as technical and creative invention. Combined with movement and lighting, framing influences meaning and enhances narrative drama, organizing temporality and space, and sensing of embodied and affective events. Decisions about point-of-view and character may produce precise mise-en-scene (blocking, placing of all elements within the action), but these are influenced by cultural, economic and industrial factors such as union division of role responsibilities (Greenhalgh, 2003). Collaborative creativity and crew hierarchy require distributed cognition (Hutchins, 1996), knowing as aesthetic understanding (Gherardi, 2006), and attention to organizational aesthetics and management (Strati, 1999). This milieu affects how responsibility for invention and framing are located. Training standards for framing have become constrained to simple rules promulgated in manuals and institutions regarding the craft. Production control over the aspect ratio (rectangular shape of the frame) for different output formats (television, cinema, internet), has become a site of contestation and vigorous discussion within the profession.

A Tool for Thought - Reassembling Visual Knowledge through Korsakow

Author: Franziska Weidle (Georg-August-University Göttingen, Germany)  email

Short Abstract

In "linear documentary land", we are trained to see stories wherever we look. Drawing on my ethnographic study of Korsakow, this paper seeks to illustrate the potential of multilinear actor-network designs for challenging narrative as primary organizing principle in the appropriation of actuality.

Long Abstract

In "linear documentary land", we are trained to see stories everywhere we look. However, as noted by Grasseni and Walter (2014 on Digital Visual Engagements), digital affordances encourage reflections upon this particular "schooling of the eye", the power relations it is embedded in as well as the creation of counter-practices for ethnographic analysis and representation.

Florian Thalhofer's Korsakow System offers an alternative format for engaging with the world. As software for creating interactive, rule-based nonfiction, it enables filmmakers to curate audio-/visual material in a multilinear way rendering the construction of an overarching narrative obsolete. The software's algorithm invites makers and audience alike to notice possible connections and rhythms amongst multiple facets of the material.

Adrian Miles, one of Korsakow's strongest advocates, uses the software for thinking and teaching interactive documentary as "the enabling, discovery and choreography of a network of things" (i-Docs, 2016). Drawing on my ethnographic study of a group of media practitioner-researchers who produce knowledge through their creative practice with Korsakow, I investigate how multilinear "actor-network designs" (Storni 2015) challenge narrative as primary organizing principle in the engagement with the messiness of the world.

On the level of reception, however, the promising theoretical notions discussed above remain mostly unrealized at this point: the empirical data suggests a lack of literacy, interest and meaningfulness in audience engagement with Korsakow. Thus, my own research and teaching practice with Korsakow aims at facilitating further insight into the potentials of reassembling visual knowledge dissemination through multilinear spaces.

»Not only an ordinary meadow«: Enskilment and modes of perception in epistemic cultures.

Author: Judith Willkomm (Universität Siegen)  email

Short Abstract

Referring to Grasseni's (2007) concept of skilled vision I will outline the interplay of media technology and skilled senses in scientific practice and refine the findings with Knorr Cetina's (1999) theory of epistemic cultures and the modes of listening described by Pinch & Bijsterveld (2012)

Long Abstract

How do you learn to listen in the field? Which recording equipment is needed to make good field recordings? Where are the limits of the media and the hearing abilities? These questions arose while I was doing an ethnographic research on biological field studies about animal communication. For the scientists I observed, sound recordings are their main database. But of course they do not only record when they are outside in the field. They also develop certain skills of factual sensuality to learn how to do the recordings, to observe the animals in the field and to handle them. Referring to Grasseni's (2007) concept of skilled vision I will outline the interplay of media technology and skilled senses in scientific practice. Furthermore I will refine the findings with Knorr Cetina's (1999) theory of epistemic cultures and the modes of listening described by Pinch and Bijsterveld (2012). I will argue that these modes can also be used as analytical categories for other forms of perception. Within the observation process watching, listening, touching, smelling and tasting are often combined with each other and coupled with the media of science. Ultimately these modes of perception produce very different kinds of knowledge within their epistemic cultures but also help to define them.

Grasseni, Cristina (Hg.) (2007): Skilled visions. Between apprenticeship and standards. Oxford.

Knorr Cetina, Karin (1999): Epistemic cultures. How the sciences make knowledge. Cambridge, Mass.

Pinch, Trevor; Bijsterveld, Karin (Hg.) (2012): The Oxford Handbook of Sounds Studies. New York.

"I show the life, I express my life", visualising deaf experience. An anthropological research on artistic representation about the political debate of deafness in a public arena.

Author: Fabrizio Loce Mandes (Queen's University Belfast)  email

Short Abstract

My paper is based on ethnography focusing the interactions practices and construction of Deaf culture. I want to discuss an artistic project built on a cooperation between deaf artist and ethnographer to represent, with different media, a multi-sensory perception and a political view of deafness.

Long Abstract

"Deafness" is used by people with hearing loss, health care professionals, associations and institutions with different connotations compared to specific contexts: not only to indicate a physical condition, but also to the recognition of a culture, a language and a set of practices that are shared and accepted by the community.

During the ethnographic research, members of the National Community of Deaf in Perugia (Italy) organized a theatre and art lab that has gradually assumed central role in the activities of the institution as instrument to achieve multi-sensory forms of narrative, representation and interpretation of experiences of deafness. In this paper I will focus on artistic project that cross ethnographic materials and ceramic art to investigate the deaf social life and sensory experience. Using different media and multisensory devices, mostly visual and tattily, a deaf artist wanted to produce knowledge and take part in a debate about deafness in a public arena.

The debate that revolves around the Visual Anthropology highlighted, through theoretical and methodological approaches, the power of visual materials, in particular those products through partnerships with the social actors. Specifically, the intent was to show how the ethnographic footage may be used as tool for the representation of the experience, without making necessarily an ethnographic documentary.

Narrating his experiences and at the same time an ethnographic fieldwork, was tackled by the artist through three moments which he defines "crucial": the biological condition of the disease, the political/health path of oral enablement, concluding, the Sign Language as communication choice.

Expressivity in technical activity: the luthier's craft

Author: Pablo Rojas (Universidad de Concepción)  email

Short Abstract

The present paper develops the idea that although efficacy is a central dimension of technical activity, the former is not exhausted in a result-oriented engagement with praxis, but is rooted in an expressive dimension. Luthiery will help bringing the stylistics of craftsmanship to the fore.

Long Abstract

From the moment the unfolding of skill manifests what could be called a harmonious efficacy, it could also be said it bears a technical dimension. Such dimension does not necessarily rely on the objects or tools that a given activity profits from, but on the performative quality of the latter. Indeed, efficacy constitutes the main query of technical activities and skills, not only in the result-oriented sense of the term, but also in an aesthetic one, or what could be considered to be an expressive sense. That is the chief issue raised by the notion of harmonious efficacy. It captures a dexterous ensemble of practices characterized by action which satisfies a tacit standard of fluidity and expressive fulfillment. In short, an aesthetics of doing, or a stylistic. Appreciating their efficacy always supposes aesthetic qualifications (fluidity, clumsiness, gracefulness) and drives us back into their expressive dimension. However, technical activity is often seen from the perspective of the objects it produces, without acknowledging the discontinuity in principle between technical activity and utility. By drawing attention to luthiery, I seek to point out the expressive dimension of technical activity. The gestures that engender and perpetuate the craft are populated by values instituted by collective life. The luthier hence perceives the instrument as well as the tools involved as reticulates, that is, knots of aesthetic, mythic, practical and traditional threads.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.