Monday, August 2, 2010


Agaben is a very dense reading in that the chapters deal with many different issues and animals alike. The main concept Agaben addresses is the cognitive experience we have between man and animal. My question is, has the relationship between man and animal changed or has animal taught something about man verses what scientists haven't already answered?


There are many ways to describe how animals symbolize our society today. Zodiac signs, domesticated animals, symbolism, learning purposes (the zoo), transportation are just a few examples as to how we see animals. But why do we really look at animals in different ways? Are we fascinated by them, as they are by us?

John Berger explains, “What distinguished man from animals was the human capacity for symbolic thought, the capacity which was inseparable from the development of language in which words were not mere signals, but signifiers of something other than themselves. Yet, the first symbols were animals. What distinguished men from animals was born of their relationship with them” (Berger 9).

I will agree with Berger in this sense that animals can teach us many knew things. As the old cliché, “a dog is a man’s best friend”, suits well. We should look at animals and what they have done for us and in turn have domesticated them to help us as well. Berger also explains that animals lack human language, which in turn is ethnocentric. I could see where Berger would draw this conclusion in that animals can not physically speak to us; they use sound.

My question to Berger is how does communicating and understanding animals become second nature as if we treat them as our own? Does our communication help us as human communicate and understand them better?

FASSIN response.

First of all, I would like to thank all of you for a wonderful class experience.  I learned a lot from all of you.  Merci beaucoup.

For my last post I would like to focus on Didier Fassin’s article “Humanitarianism and the Politics of Life”.  As we discussed in class last Wednesday, Fassin brings up issues that seem to run counter to the common conception of humanitarian aid.  Briefly, I’ll list the “triple problematic of the humanitarian politic of life” discussed by Fassin:  First, it segregates lives that have the convenience of being risked (aid worker) from those that are to be sacrificed (civilian populations in battle zones).  Second, it separates lives within the organizations into lives deserving high protection (expatriates) and those whose lives are treated with limited protection (host country national staff). Third, it separates between “lives that can be narrated in the first person (expatriate) and lives that are recounted only in the third person (those who are being ‘helped)”.  

It is the third point that I want to focus on.  Part of the humanitarian mission is to witness and recount the atrocities of violence and catastrophe.  This practice brings an interesting problem to light as Fassin has explained.  The intervening individual is the one who tells the story to those who will listen.  This always leaves the victim, whose story it is, to remain voiceless. Third person testimonies are what the populations of ‘developed’ nations hear.  Here’s what Fassin has to say about that:  “[R]equirements of defending cause and the logic of their (the aid worker) intervention lead them to what might be termed a humanitarian reduction of the victim.”

This is something I have experienced first hand, and may have been guilty of doing as well (however, my experiences are not as "life or death" as many of the MSF volunteers) In aid organizations there is an occasional smothering pressure for results (number of women and children participating in a training, number of individuals effected by a certain project).  All needs to be documented and submitted to the HQ who in turn send the documentation to Washington, who then decide whether the mission is successful or not, whether there needs to be more or less people involved (affecting the staff – both expats and national), whether budgets need to be cut, etc.  Upper management is constantly encouraging people to do more, yet it often comes across as an emphasis on results on paper, rather than true results.  Those who do well are rewarded, those you have low numbers are reprimanded.  The result is skewed numbers, exaggerated stories and a “humanitarian reduction of the victim”.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Response to Mary Ann Doane and Henry Giroux

In this reading, Doane presents multiple illustrations about the word "catastrophe". The reading may me think that it is the way each separate news station presents the event to the world. For example do the new stations present the event to inform the viewer about what happened and ways that they could help or do they just repeat the same thing over and over again. Looking at the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the news stations presented ways to help and sayings such as "all proceeds will go to the victims of Hurricane Katrina".

The news segment in class showed that the news station was talk about housing and insurance, when in reality people just wanted to find families and places to live. They only emphasized pictures of what the hurricanes' damage was, instead of listing relief aid and information to viewers as to how they could help Katrina victims. I vote for finiding family first, then work back up from there in finding out the damage of the home. You can always rebulid a home and in the end the rebuilding of a family is stronger.

Looking at the Giroux reading, he presents the article in an odd way. I do not understand all of his argument fully, which should there be about a Hurricane that took many lives.

Overall, what happened to Hurricane Katrina and any disaster (most recently September 11th and after) should never have to approach it as an argument or present a theory, what happened, happened and the damge is done. Now the news stations should be focusing on helping the victims get back on their feet, if anything the news station may present the event as a "catastrophe" and turn it into something bigger. I vote on helping rebuild families, not rebuild a reputation of a news station that is already known for broadcasting the event every day.

Mary Ann Doane version with 9/11 postscript

Dear all,

Some of you asked to see the copy of Doane's article with the postscript about 9/11. I can't find a file copy of the article, but you can find it in this book:


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Time is television's basis

Mary Ann Doane argues persuasively in her essay "Information, Crisis, Catastrophe that "Time is television's basis, its principle of structuration as well as its persistent reference. The insistence of the temporal attribute may indeed be a characteristic of all systems of imaging enabled by mechanical or electronic reproduction." (pg.222). How would you interpret this statement?

When she wrote this things were quite different than they are today. Television indeed is constructed around time or constructs time itself. Our lives used to go around tv shows or news hours. There was something called appointment television and that is to be in front of the tv at a certain hour to see the news or anything that is going on. Today I think time has change in television. They are not able to schedule our time anymore, we decide what kind of information and at what time we want to consume it. Not only that, also time is constructed by social networks and everyday events of people we know. We crave twitter updates and facebook feeds as much as important events, or probably more. What does it mean that today we are helping to construct the history of tomorrow? That we are part of the history? We are not only spectators any more. Would anyone be able to organize this mess and make sense of it? To analyze it. I feel more and more we turn to citizen journalisms in crisis and catastrophe we are checking updates of the people in the place. Is a technological revolution and everyone is collaborating, the tv is only a part of it!

Monday, July 26, 2010

note on crisis ... or catastrophe?

The conversation today reminded me of the series of essays 'The Spirit of Terrorism' by Jean Baudrillard. They have been bound into a slim volume and I would recommend it if you ever want to explore the intersections of 9/11, globalization, terrorism, and mass media through the eyes of a French philosopher.

Tying into Doane's argument is his observation on the fall of the twin towers:

"Among the other weapons of the system which they turned round against it, the terrorists exploited 'real time' of images, their instantaneous worldwide transmission, just they exploited stock-mark speculation, electronic information and air traffic. ... The image consumes the event, in the sense that it absorbs it and offers it for consumption." (27)

He also states, "Terrorism invents nothing, inaugurates nothing. It simply carries things to the extreme, to the point of paroxysm. ... Terrorism is unreal and unrealistic? But our virtual reality, our systems of information and communication, have themselves too, and for a long time, been beyond the reality principle. As for terror, we know it is already present everywhere, in institutional violence, both mental and physical, in homeopathic doses. Terrorism merely crystallizes all the ingredients in suspension. It puts the finishing touches on the orgy of power, liberation, flows and calculation which the Twin Towers embodied, while being the violent deconstruction of that extreme form of efficiency and hegemony." (58-59)

He also says, rather provocatively, "There is no 'good' use of media; the media are part of the event, they are part of the terror, and they work in both directions." (31)

Anyhow, it's an interesting read ... I know some people were offended when we read it as undergrads, I think because he can 'read' something like 9/11 almost as if it were a public performance piece; personally, I think it's poetic and vastly brilliant.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Mary Ann Doane argues persuasively in her essay "Information, Crisis, Catastrophe that "Time is television's basis, its principle of structuration as well as its persistent reference. The insistence of the temporal attribute may indeed be a characteristic of all systems of imaging enabled by mechanical or electronic reproduction." (pg.222). How would you interpret this statement?

The way I interpreted her stance on the significant and leading role of time as it relates to the production and reproduction of the televisual is that TV centralizes, organizes time, and represents the loss of the body (the audience) to spectacle, which is best captured by the media event. The media event represents the absolute centralization and the near-complete ’binding’ of the media experience: we are all transfixed witnesses at the same moment in time, but our interpretations of the media event(s) and the emotional experiences we bring to our viewing will differ depending on a number and/or a combination of factors such as socio, political, economical, gender, racial…etc. What are some examples of significant media events that come to mind in such a case?

Doane also suggests that television promises us the chance encounter with the ’reality’ of a catastrophe. Television shocks, and then repeatedly assures; a comforting presence in an insecure world. "Televisual catastrophe is thus characterized by everything which it is said not to be .it is expected, predictable, its presence crucial to television’s operation" (pg. 238) She reiterates the idea that technological media produces distance, concealing and containing bodily violence. Do technological media block the shock effects of traumatic events, screening them, allowing them to be viewed from a distance? Give examples.

She concludes in her essay “If information becomes a commodity on the brink of extinction or loss, televisual catastrophe magnifies that death many times over” (pg.238). What does she mean by this?

I believe Technological life or the “logics of Television” to be inherently turbulent, spatially dispersed, contagious and conflictual. But it is precisely these paradoxes that bring about various possible viral strategies of transmission and flow of information and possibly the challenging of our time spent. In short, it is a dreadful and violent time to be alive, but it is also a dynamic, strange and intellectually challenging one.

How does the need of the Television industry to fill airtime with whatever information is at hand shortcut the process of shifting through, evaluating, editing information before it is brought to the public attention?

During the discussion I wish to delve into the documentary Trouble the Water and tie into the readings and in class excerpts by examining the ways in which media texts have reinforced and justified inequitiesv based on difference in gender, race, class, national origin, sexual orientation, and other categories of difference. Below is a utube link for Trouble the Water trailer:


In “Animal Capital”, Shukin uses the double-entendre of the word rendering.  The double meaning refers to the representation of animals and the act of processing animals.  This “double edged sword” effectively “signals a tangle of biopolitical relations within which the economic and symbolic capital of animal life can no longer be sorted into binary distinction… Animal memes and animal matter are mutually overdetermined as forms of capital, and its aim is to track what Bourdieu terms the “interconvertibility” of symbolic life and economic forms of capital via the fetishistic currency of animal life”. (p. 7)

In other words the representational or translational act of rendering animals cannot be wholly separated from the historical and current practice of rendering or processing animal flesh.  This is one of the central themes of Shukin’s “Animal Captial” and she includes three case studies that support her “cultural materialist approach” (in the words of T. Sipley) in the chapters “Automobility”, “Telemobiltiy” and “Biomobility”.  While we have read and discussed the concepts behind “Biomobility” in ch. 4, I found that ch. 2, on “Automobility”, traces the fascinating material history of the slaughterhouse, the automobile industry and modern film.  In summary, the Ford assembly line was designed on slaughterhouse rendering or disassembly equipment, and the most important ingredient in the film industry was gelatin made from animal rendering.  The apex of the history of the car, film and the animal is seen when the automobile replaces the animal as the primary mode of transportation.  Advertisements for the automobile begin to represent the car as an animal that is part of the natural landscape.  Overt examples of such advertisements show the car actually morphing into an animal.  When the car is translated as an animal “the destroyer of nature is naturalized”.  

I think this is the commercial in which Shukin refers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

RESPONSE TO SHUKIN READING (Introduction and chapter 4)

In the introduction reading of Shukin I enjoyed the fact that the author highlighted many of the ethnographers that we have been speaking in class. Agabem, Foucalt, Derrida and many other ethnographers were mentioned in this reading. She reexplained their argument as well provided her insight or questioned someone else's theory. What I particularly like about this article is that she speaks about two different aspects about 'animal' and 'capital'. On page 16 she says,

The ring in this book's title intimates, with simultaneously ominous and hopeful repercussions, that animal and capital are increasingly produced as a semiotic and material closed loop, such that the meaning and matter of the one feeds seamlessly back into the meaning and matter of the other.

Looking at the chapter 4 reading, Shukin continues discussing about 'animal' and 'capital' but in terms of biopolitics. For me the reading was a bit confusing, but she did not fail to address her arguments further. She is trying to focus on the life of the animal and again refers to the ethnographers listed above.

Looking at the films from Wednesday class, I enjoyed the Parenthesis film. I thought of it as kaleidoscope in that the author wanted to portray as sometimes viewing a film closed minded...and not seeing the bigger picture. The film had no narration just pictures and sounds; the only picture seen was of one animal. My question is, was this the point of her film, that some people only look at animals one way? Whether they would studying them or conducting an experiment, what purpose did this show, or was that the purpose to see right through the lens that we normally do not see?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Response, Shukin & The Era of Pandemic Speculation

I find myself haunted by the images from Ashes and Snow, and dazzled the fact (according to wikipedia) "critical reception of the exhibition has been largely positive."

The New York Times review noted "The earth-tone photographs are ... windows to a world in which silence and patience govern time." Just where this world exists is unclear. But the deep sepia tone connotes the idea that space and time are traversed in a single step, as we once discussed in relation to Fabian.

Colbert is overt in this conceptualization, suggesting his photos are "'a direct connection to ancient man and his Paleolithic cave paintings,' to a period of prehistory in which 'humans coexisted with their fellow beasts'" (Shukin, 19.) The term "ancient man," here and elsewhere, seems to rest on a generalized notion of all people who came before 1900. But the only thing authentically situated in the past are Colbert's colonial instincts.

These humans are said to coexist with their "fellow beasts." It is coincidental the "beasts" are all foreign to Colbert's native Canada, and none of what we can perhaps coin their "fellow humans" are white? As Shukin sharply observes, in "reiterating well-worn orientalist tropes, the East is both feminized and infantilized, semiographed as a terrain awaiting sexual discovery by the white male explorer. In virtually every photo, the eyes of the languid other are closed, enabling viewers of Colbert's exhibit to reproject imperialism's primal scene of intercourse with a passive virgin territory" (195).

Perhaps it this passivity that keeps me on edge in each frame. My first thought is that the animals have been visually caged, stripped of any natural prowess. But so have the women and children--held captive in a sort of mystical trance, frozen in postures that make me want to shout: "run! run!"

For in all its meditative babble, Ashes and Snow seems to interiorize a rather anesthetized form of violence. This is a perfect example:

Does this kiss truly represent peace or the fact child and animal have been rendered aesthetic props, a sort of human and animal interaction reminiscent of a circus spectacle?

Nowhere do woman, child, or (sometimes swaddled) animal appear to make noise--nor do any of them hold the gaze of the camera, which would implicate the viewer in the act of gazing.

They remain speechless, nameless fodder of the artist's fantasy. Perhaps it is safe to say they are mere signifiers in a larger cultural script. The rather frightening question is: What do they signify? What did audiences identify with in their raptured viewings?  

If I were feeling brilliant, I might even tie this in to the idea of the aura.


In response to Shukin’s analysis of pandemic discourse – did anyone else immediately think about the swine flu? I think it’s eerie how prescient this particular chapter was in light of the h1n1 phenomenon (I think it was published right around the time of the outbreak).

At the time the pandemic was at its height, I remember being amazed by how quickly the rhetotic turned deeply nationalistic, and became so clearly racialized. Conservative pundits had a field day of course. But I think there were more insidious examples of the racism and xenophobia inherent to the pandemic discourse, as well. The medical coverage, for instance, raised troubling questions as to why the disease was so fatal in Mexico (was it biological? Societal?) And now that we know it was less lethal than predicted, one wonders … was the media response an overreaction? And if so – why?

With all the talk about quarantine, I think the rhetoric revealed some interesting dynamics about how we negotiate and talk about the “borders” of our race and ethnicity, as well. This article was particularly revealing in this respect I think.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shukin, Chapter 4- Biomobility

I apologize for not getting this up last night, I hope everyone will still get a chance to look at it. Skukin's text brings up so many possible topics of discussion that it was hard for me to try to cover it all. Here are some questions to get us started.

In chapter 4- Biomobility: Calculating Kinship in an Era of Pandemic Speculation, Shukin discusses the implications and consequences of a global humanity united by the threat of pandemic. "If on the one hand," she writes, "pandemic discourse seems to unify a global humanity on the basis of its irreducible biological vulnerability to disease, on closer inspection it can be seen to effect racialized reinscriptions of cultural difference within the 'bare life' of the biologically continuous humanity it invokes." (187)

What does Skukin mean when she says that pandemic discourse signals that the survival of biological life itself is reemerging as an object of biopower? And in what ways does the media contribute to this pandemic discourse? Can the media shape the discourse in a positive way?

Shukin says that the species line emerges as a prominent material stress line in neoliberal culture and pandemic fears have begun to institutionalize speciesism on an unprecedented scale...

"The "small world" of the global village no longer popularly connotes an ideal of multicultural mingling in a world marketplace. Instead, in pandemic discourse the "village" re-emerges as a breeding ground of disease that must be quarantined from the space of liberal cosmopolitanism to which it had been intimately articulated but that it now threatens to infect"

What are some other examples of material stress lines in our culture? How does this speciesism and pandemic fear of the "small world" inform ethnography and vice versus?

What about our "liberal longing for posthuman kinship"? (188)

What does it mean to create a bestiary for our culture? What are some of the benefits and pitfalls of this idea? Is Colbert's brand just orientalism?

Monday, July 19, 2010


Make up response

The open: Man and animal

According to Descartes animal are machines and humans are machines with minds but he base his concept in his religious views of the man. To this Agamben answers “Surely Descartes never saw an ape” and agues how hard is to identify differences from the natural science point of view. Also Agamben talks about the unclear boundaries between anthropoid apes and primitives populations.

Linnaeus was the first to place man among primates without any specific identyfiying characteristic besides philosophical idea that humans recognize themselves. (know yourself) HOMO SAPIENS
“man has no specific identity other than the ability to recognize himself”

Agamben states that is impossible to assign a characteristic to “homo sapiens” he says we are only a machine for producing the recognition of human. An “optical machine” according to Linnaeus “man must recognize himself in a no-man in order to be human”

Agamben agues that the production of man appears through opposition man/animal, human/inhuman he says is a machine that works by means of exclusion and he wonders what’s at stake here. The missing link is only determine by language, by an animal without language? By a man without language? This is the bridge Homo alalus- a non speaking man.

It is difficult and confusing to separate man from animal and it is very interesting how the definition has evolve. It is a very important question to raise today when we start deciding who is human and who is not among humans, who deserve human rights, it goes along the same line as Faucoult discourse about war.


Make up response

The open: Man and animal

According to Descartes animal are machines and humans are machines with minds but he base his concept in his religious views of the man. To this Agamben answers “Surely Descartes never saw an ape” and agues how hard is to identify differences from the natural science point of view. Also Agamben talks about the unclear boundaries between anthropoid apes and primitives populations.

Linnaeus was the first to place man among primates without any specific identyfiying characteristic besides philosophical idea that humans recognize themselves. (know yourself) HOMO SAPIENS
“man has no specific identity other than the ability to recognize himself”

Agamben states that is impossible to assign a characteristic to “homo sapiens” he says we are only a machine for producing the recognition of human. An “optical machine” according to Linnaeus “man must recognize himself in a no-man in order to be human”

Agamben agues that the production of man appears through opposition man/animal, human/inhuman he says is a machine that works by means of exclusion and he wonders what’s at stake here. The missing link is only determine by language, by an animal without language? By a man without language? This is the bridge Homo alalus- a non speaking man.

It is difficult and confusing to separate man from animal and it is very interesting how the definition has evolve. It is a very important question to raise today when we start deciding who is human and who is not among humans, who deserve human rights, it goes along the same line as Faucoult discourse about war.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

QUESTION: from Shukin and Costa reading

In the Nicole Shukin reading there were many researchers (some ethnographers) mentioned and everyone was trying to critique the other person. For example, Agabem, Derrida, Marx, Foucault, Chow, Deleuze and many others. I will discuss more of this reading in class but I wanted to start the discussion with the words 'animal' and 'capita;'. Shukin suggests:
"this book struggles , unfortunately with no guarantee of success, against the abstract and universal appeal of 'animal' and 'capital', both of which fetishistically repel recognition as shifting signifiers whose meaning and matter are historically contingent". (page 14)
Do you agree with this statement looking at the reading as a whole?

Shukin explains that
on one hand, "Animal Capital constitutes a resolutely material engagement with the emergent "question of the animal". On the other hand, "animal capital across Fordist and post Fordist eras, the book seeks to rectify a critical blind spot in Marxist and post-Marxist theory around the nodal role of animals, ideologically and materially, in the reproduction of capital's hegemony" (page 7).
Do you agree with this statement looking at the reading as a whole?

I will discuss more of my viewpoint in class along with trying to figure out the Super Bowl Nissan car example and how that ties into this reading. One of many questions in this book I have is, is 'animal capital' looked at in a political sense or depending on the theorists who is "politically" correct?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Footnote to Monday

Read this and thought perhaps Foucault was a prophet.

Russia is "publicly neutered" and who is going to save it?

Born into brothels

Lastly, Born into Brothels presents a lot of information in its first four minutes. It opens with moths beating against a light bulb and proceeds, with a throbbing score, to move between images of crowded streets, a child's face, men counting money, and prostitutes soliciting customers. After the title scene, we see rodents, disturbing excerpts of an interview with a child, and black and white images of prostitutes with clients.

The filmmaker then introduces herself with the voiceover and words, "It's almost impossible to photograph in the red light district."

How does this introduction predispose the viewer to interpret the rest of the film? How does it position the filmmaker in regards to the story? Did she gain your trust as a voice of authority in the first 20 minutes?

Maureen first of all thank you for your post it was very interesting and fun to read!

In the first 4 minutes she presents an atmosphere of despair. Who knows why she choose the light bulb for the first scene maybe she felt she was the only light those kids had… The first minute and15 seconds everything is slow the music and the pace. We see close ups of the kids faces and we see the surroundings, or what she saw at least. My answer is yes after the first minute you know how she feels about this, you don't know anything about the documentary but she is already setting up a very sad environment. She is giving the audience her vision as a VISITOR as an outsider. I am sure she had good intentions that is not in doubt here and I know how you said Maureen that is very easy to criticize her but I do think that represent everything like someone from outside. "I knew I couldn't do it as a visitor I wanted to stay with them and live with them and understand their live" What she really wanted was to impose her settings of right or wrongs according to the west. As the article you posted (thank you for that also, very interesting) there are a lot of things going on but she decided to present a part of the truth totally distorted by our own believes like Pooja was saying yesterday. What we have in our head is the model of education or labor. Why she didn't put in context this information or give voice to other people? We just see through her eyes.

After this intro of 1.15 the pace is fast and the music changes. After this second set that has more images of the surroundings and less faces the music fades and we have a big close up of a rat. That could had been an scene here in New York no need to be in Kolkata to see that. What was she trying to say? And then she contradicts herself. She doesn't want to be a visitor but the way she presents her documentary so far is setting her as an outsider. Even in New York I think I noticed the rats more when I arrived here now I don't even care it won't be the first think I put in a documentary about New York. Anyways she had an intention and she was frustrated about what she experienced. I wonder why the camera project? Why not just trying to "understand" like she said. She was trying to do something else, she was trying to empower and to change. Like Chris said the documentary suddenly take that path is a documentary about how she struggles to fulfill her dream, this idea of what she thought was the right option for them.

After the rat comes the interview "the man that enter this building are not so good" again in all this time doesn't seem to me she wanted to understand she is telling me her point of view and definitely not earning my trust. Then she starts her statement about how difficult was to photograph here (it didn't seem to me like she had any problem to access) and then my least favorite phrase "I knew I couldn't do it as a visitor I wanted to stay with them and live with them and understand their live" I think this is the problem is very nice of her of wanting to stay with them instead of a five star hotel but she is indeed a visitor and that was the only way of telling this story and she forgot about that or at least gives that impression.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Response: Incitement/Resistance

I agree with Maureen in the senses that that there are many themes one can touch upon, but since its relevance to the study of Ethnography, race, class and gender and other fields in the humanities, I decided to pay particular attention to Chow’s “Keeping them in their Place: Coercive Mimeticism and Cross-Ethnic Representation”. Chow delves into and investigates the subject of mimesis. According to Chow, there is a suggestive affinity between caged animals on the verge of extinction but preserved (in zoos) and the predicament of those labeled as ethnic whether in white capitalist societies or observed. Chow argues that however much concentration an onlooker (i.e. a subject not labeled as ethnic) might devote to those 'inside the cage', something will always seem 'out of focus' (Chow 96-7), and it is this condition of out of-focussedness which she thematises. I could not help but draw on a similarity between Chow’s take on the ethnic subject and the movie Born Into Brothels. There was a specific part in the middle of the film where the children of the prostitutes were taken for an outing at the Zoo and were constantly taking pictures of the caged yet wild animals. The boy (named Manrik if im not mistaken) described the caged animal and the poor and degrading treatment it received almost as though he was implying or hinting to the viewers (gazers) that the children of the brothels are in the exact same predicament as the animals. The children were asked to take pictures of the animals, yet they were being filmed and being gawked at, if you will by us (the viewers).
The question she seems to pose is whether such an image can ever be in focus and concludes that 'however benevolent and complimentary the visitor might be, the image produced of the animals - in this case, the third-world cultural workers, the ethnics caught in the plight of post imperialist nationalisms - is bound to be out of focus because they are the products of a certain kind of gaze to which they are pre-supposed to play as, to act like, to exist in the manner of something'”(100).

Questions: Camaroff & 'Born into Brothels'

Camaroff presents a provocative look at the branding of culture, perhaps best summarized with the line,

"in an age in which 'fantasies work where reality fails,' contemporary advertising techniques, those neoliberal weapons of mass instruction, are replicated in the production and alienation of culture; culture, that is, not in the anthropological sense of the term, but in the guise claimed by those who would assert a collective subjectivity by objectifying it for the market." (18)

My first question is quite broad, but: What examples of the commodification of culture or national identity can we think of?

One striking example is Aveda's Uruku makeup line. This is Aveda's official version of the partnership. (It's under five minutes and very interesting.)

These are samples of their ads:

And an image from a fashion show with Chief Tashka Yawanawa. Yes, I believe he is applying eyeliner.

And we seem to have arrived again at the idea of an aura. I think anthropology may use it in a specialized sense, and I know professor Rangan spoke of its allusion to 'power over the viewer', but I can't find a definition outside the general:

1. An invisible breath, emanation, or radiation.
2. A distinctive but intangible quality that seems to surround a person or thing; atmosphere. (Free Online Dictionary)

Camaroff writes of "the aura of ethno-commodities" and debates if it dies with their reproduction. Yet he posits perhaps "authentic reproductions, like 'genuine fakes,' tend to underscore the uniqueness of the original." (20)

This language made me wonder what consumers seek in the marketplace of culture. What is the appeal of "licensed shamans," "ancient Shapibo ceramic artwork" and "retreats in jungle lodges"? (2-3) Does it tie into the anthropological impulse? Is it an attempt to escape the trappings of consumerism ... by falling into its newest manifestation? What sort of 'aura' does it hold in Western eyes?

Lastly, Born into Brothels presents a lot of information in its first four minutes. It opens with moths beating against a lightbulb and proceeds, with a throbbing score, to move between images of crowded streets, a child's face, men counting money, and prostitutes soliciting customers. After the title scene, we see rodents, disturbing excerpts of an interview with a child, and black and white images of prostitutes with clients.

The filmmaker then introduces herself with the voiceover and words, "It's almost impossible to photograph in the red light district."

How does this introduction predispose the viewer to interpret the rest of the film? How does it position the filmmaker in regards to the story? Did she gain your trust as a voice of authority in the first 20 minutes?

Also, the film did win an Academy Award, but amid a large chorus of praise in the U.S. media there was a smaller voice dissent. This article seems to present all the major criticisms of the film and may help inform our discussion.

--posted by Maureen

Monday, July 12, 2010

Response: Incitement/Resistance

There are more themes for today than can be rightly analyzed here, so I am going to restrain my response Foucault's arguments on censorship and silence--or more aptly, "not one but many silences."

The Incitement to Discourse was written in 1978 but if anything has become more relevant with time. American society appears ever more inundated with discourses on sexuality. I've heard it argued people today, following the 'sexual revolution' of the 1960s, have escaped 'puritanism' and arrived at a state of liberated sexual consciousness. But I think it is important to question the limits of this discourse, its agents, motivations, and ends.

I would add to Foucault's consideration of science, medicine, and psychiatry the reach of pharmaceuticals, mass media, and global corporations in shaping our understanding of sexuality. These agents produce imponderable and often inescapable amounts of advertising, products, and pornography. Within these are held concepts of desirability, normalcy, and beauty. Within them are scripts on acting (and looking) 'male' and 'female.' And perhaps we could also add messages on the nature of humanity itself.

The end of this messaging often seems not to be satisfaction but a constant state of desire--for 'better' bodies, a 'perfect' diet, a state of fantasy, another means of arousal.

I think it is very important to distinguish quantity from quality. The question is: Have we really transcended censorship or simply shifted our silences to different arenas?

In The Beauty Myth Naomi Wolf argues "The representation [of women's bodies] is heavily censored ... In the United States and Great Britain, which have no tradition of public nakedness, women rarely--and almost never outside a competitive context--see what other women look like naked; we only see identical humanoid products based loosely on women's bodies."

She notes "... we are asked to believe that our culture promotes the display of female sexuality. It actually shows almost none. It censors representations of women's bodies, so that only the official versions are visible ... we see mock-ups of living mannequins, made to contort and grimace, immobilized and uncomfortable under hot lights, professional set-pieces that reveal little about female sexuality." (135, 136)

Women's magazines are well documented offenders in this regard: selling a monolithic, light-skinned, anorexic brand of 'beauty' that is puzzling both in it unoriginality and unattainability.

Oddly, the more images of sexuality we are exposed to, the more constrained our exposure seems to be. I don't think it's safe to say the media inundates us with sexual imagery; I think it inundates us with a particular brand of sexuality. Perhaps one of its own creation. One need look no further than the latest blockbuster to see its form: Heterosexual, scripted, oddly sanitized, yet invariably peppered with 'explicit' sex scenes which, interestingly, audiences generally deride as entirely unrealistic.

Today more than ever it seems fitting to ask: Is there something subversive in the sexuality of real people? Who represents--or shapes--our sexuality as a culture, and why are they chosen? What constituency do they represent, or cater to? Clearly these topics approach space for infinite analysis, so I can only conclude with further questions. Who are the agents of power in today's discourses on sexuality? Do they present a break from the past or merely a restructuring of it? Are we still in an age, as Foucault describes, of "a fable that is indispensable to the endlessly proliferating economy of the discourse on sex"? (35)

- posted by Maureen

Sunday, July 11, 2010


For me, this week’s reading brought together a number of the concepts we’ve been studying in class: notions of authenticity, power, biopolitics, representation, language, and difference.

Foucault argues that from the 18th century onward, the taboos of the “age of repression,” disappeared, and discourses concerning sex proliferated – in the church, medical establishments, government, legal and educational institutions, and so on. He further adds that this shift was in no means accidental: One had to speak of sex so that it could be “managed, inserted into systems of utility, regulated for the greater good of all…” (24).

How does Foucault’s analysis of this “incitement to discourse” relate to his theories on biopower? To shifting conceptions of the individual body vs. populations? public vs. private? discipline vs. regulation?

Is this “discursive growth” around the subject of sex a good thing, a bad thing, or both? What does Foucault think?

Chow draws on Foucault’s theories to reveal and problematize the seemingly enlightened yet ultimately racist assumptions that the discourse of ethnic/cultural difference can generate. She argues that liberal anthropological (multi)culturalism, with its “regard for cultural difference, (17)” can often serve to reinforce racism instead of challenging it. As example, she points to the paradox that racial violence is often most apparent in places where people give the most lip service to issues of “diversity” and “awareness.”

She also addresses the problem of mimeticism (imitation) in cross-cultural representation. Many post-colonial scholars have addressed the ways in which the ethnic subject is expected to “copy” the ways of the colonizer, but fail to note that they are also expected to resemble what is recognizably ethnic: “the original that is supposed to be replicated is no longer the white man or his culture, but rather an image, a stereotyped view of the ethnic” (107). Chow goes on to illustrate how ethnic people and minorities can internalize and perpetuate these stereotypes, particularly through the process of self-representation (what she calls self-mimicry).

I found her critique of self-representational texts an interesting contrast to Fabian, and also thought-provoking in the context of the autoethnographies and indigenous media films we’ve been watching.

Can you recall examples where ethnographies written/created by a colonized or ethnic subject seemed to reinforce stereotypes? Conversely, can you think of examples in which a colonized or ethnic subject has reclaimed a stereotype in a way that challenged or resisted the status quo?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

RESPONSE: Frota and Moore

My post is in response to the quote at the end of Chris’ post: “The Kayapo appropriation of the medium of video reaffirms the notion that it is people who make their own history and that in the age of "the global village" one makes history by controlling the media of self-representation” (pg 278).

In the film we watched in class yesterday, I found it fascinating how the Waiapi strategically appropriated western technology, not to affirm/advance their position in “the global village,” but - on the contrary – to promote their autonomy from the dominant Western worldview. Moreover, I was surprised at how readily they acknowledged the seemingly contradictory nature of this exercise. It was clear that the appropriation of Western tools constituted a form of resistance to them, even as they took advantage of the realities of globalization. In other words – if the Kayapo considered the camera as a weapon, it was a weapon that they’d turned on its original wielders. This I think is an interesting contrast to the “oh, if only we could go back we would be better off perspective” that Chris addresses, which considers Western technology an infiltration, regardless of who’s controlling it.

I was also struck by how the use of video was not simply a matter of “externally-facing” communication, a means to make the “general public” aware of their situation, but a “internally-facing” communication, as well. Both the Waiapi and Kayapo spoke at length about how video could be used to strengthen ties with neighboring relatives, preserve their culture, and to record their histories. Here, I think the identity-forming potential of video played as important – if not more important – a role as its potential for transmission to Western societies.

For me, Indigenous Media raises a lot of complex questions about authenticity, manipulation, and the exploitation of cultures that have already experienced subjugation by dominant Western societies. Regardless, in today’s globalized world, I still think it offers some productive models for both raising awareness of non-dominant cultures, and promoting the alliances and traditions that preserve those cultures.

Questions from Frota& Moore response

Questions from Frota& Moore response

Frota states that the Navajo film project is different from Mekaron Opoi D’joi because Adair and Worth explained to the Navajo the reasons why the Navajo should make films even though their interest was low. Is the Mekaron Opoi D’joi project similar to the Navajo project in that the filmmakers came with specific research goals that they wanted to see completed? Why or why not?

I think the project is different because in the case of the Kayapo the anthropologist show them the possibilities and the benefices of this new tool of this “weapon”. The case of the Navajo is completely different they were expose to a tool that they didn’t find useful. They thought it wouldn’t hurt but also it wouldn’t do any good like the example with the “sheeps”. They were instructed to do whatever they wanted with the cameras and yes the anthologist had a goal. The goal was to analyze footage like if it was language to read video language like if it was and extension of their culture and not the result of people just exposed to a new technology.

With the Kayapo there was a goal also the goal was to “empower” like we said yesterday to made them realize the power of this tool and with that awaken their interest. I think the projects are totally different but I don’t know to which extent any of these projects is related to work of an anthologist or an ethnographer.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Questions: Frota & Moore


On pg. 264-265,  upon arriving in the Kayapo village, the filmmakers and anthropologists show the Kayapo scenes of news broadcasts from the Raft War and footage of the chief from a neighboring village.  Frota says that from the Kayapo’s reaction to the screening, the logical extension was for the filmmaker’s to hand the Kayapo the camera.  Do you see this as manipulative in order to pursue an objective on the part of the filmmakers and anthropologists (as an [auto]ethnography)?  Frota states that the Navajo film project is different from Mekaron Opoi D’joi because Adair and Worth explained to the Navajo the reasons why the Navajo should make films even though their interest was low.  Is the Mekaron Opoi D’joi project similar to the Navajo project in that the filmmakers came with specific research goals that they wanted to see completed?  Why or why not?

The political role of film is showcased in Frota’s project.  The Kayapo, according to Frota, understood the power of media in a modern Brazilian state.  The chief refers to the camera as a weapon (Moore also references this role: “the imbalance between those behind and those in front of the camera [is] that of its ever allegorized twin, the was time to hand it over"), one that can help them subvert the dominant control of Brazilians. However, this is not expressed by the chief until the anthropologists and filmmakers screen multiple political, local and metropolitan videos for the Kayapo.  Where does ethnography and politics diverge or meld?  Should outsider anthropologists enter other cultures to help empower them?  Is this a reactionary method in opposition to the participant-observation model of ethnography?

Consider this: “Who are we to keep technology from them? In our society it is all too
commonplace to see "primitive cultures" as a set of survival skills and traditional customs incapable of articulating with current history” (p.269).  This is Frota’s response to the underfunding of the Brazilian state, hindering the Mekaron Opoi D’joi project while the anthropologists/filmmakers were unable to return to the Kayapo villages. This is an interesting statement and I would like to know what the class thinks about it.  Cultures outside of the capitalist states of modern times are often subjugated and exploited.  Not only by labeling them as “developing” or “third world” and taking advantage of their land and resources for the benefit of those in powerful positions, but also by using them as a model of simplicity. The “oh, if only we could go back we would be better off” perspective.  There seems to be a growing view in popular opinion that the “tribal” way is a desirable and perhaps necessary quality to be happy.  Maybe they’re right and maybe not. More importantly this view keeps those who actually might want technology and change from achieving that goal.  Cultural tourism, eco-tourism, and the like directly force the subjugation these peoples. 

How about we also discuss this quote which I found interesting:  “The Kayapo appropriation of the medium of video reaffirms the notion that it is people who make their own history and that in the age of "the global village" one makes history by controlling the media of self-representation” (pg 278).

Response to Through Navajos Eyes

I, much like Daniela, knew little to nothing about the Navajo Indians (and based on the reading and interviews by Worth and Adair) are a people with very little exposure to or experience with film or picture-making, so it was fascinating to see how they used motion picture cameras to analyze the relationship between their language and culture and the way they structured their world through film. The project itself is most certainly ground breaking in the sense of its purpose; the idea of bringing Six Navajos to see if motion picture film, conceived, photographed, and manipulated by them would reveal aspects of cognition and values that may be inhibited, not observable or analyzable when the means of investigation is dependent on verbal exchange and particularly when it is done in the language of the investigator. The film that stood out the most to me was Intrepid Shadow and how Al Clah attempts to reconcile the western notion of God with his traditional Navaho notion of gods. I also saw that the circle was very symbolic in that it represents our forever quest for peace and tranquility.

The fact that this particular project” is considered by many (and indeed declares itself) to be the originator of the model of "handing over the camera to others" makes me wonder if it also paved the way for similar projects such as “Kids with Cameras” and “ Eyes on Gaza’s Children” initiatives and entire non- profit and human rights organizations whose sole purpose is handing used and up to date cameras to Palestinians children in the Occupied territories of the West Bank And Gaza. They would document everything from their day to day activities, but mostly human rights abuses often perpetrated but rarely highlighted or captured in such detail.

If it weren’t for this particular project and the terminologies that sprouted and stemmed from such “Politics of representation” and “multiculturalism” and the recognition of film as a legitimate field of study, the plight of many marginalized and disenfranchised across the world would seize to be heard or given much attention to.

But certain questions linger in my mind regarding this project: Do we as viewers and absorbers of their stories actually see through their lens? Do they get to see through their lens? How can this project be titled through Navajos eyes if the very people who were provided with the basic tools were under the watchful instructions of non Navajo filmmakers?

Response to Through Navajo Eyes

The shorts, to me, were quite interesting.  I agree with Maureen in that the authors/creators of the project seemed to have some idea of the outcome even before they started the project.  I wouldn’t go so far as to deem their effort as failed or even mundane, however, perhaps slightly inductive is suitable.  Well read social scientists will no doubt make assumptions about specific outcomes of their fieldwork.  No anthropologist can divorce themselves from their own cultural environment, and these include assumptions about their research.  To state the opposite would be dishonest and misleading.  Anthropology is defined as the holistic study of human beings and up until the post-structuralist, post-processual movement this primarily concerned “the Other”.  Through this early experiment we might begin to see the field shifting to include the other and the observer together to create a “shared” anthropology (note that this “shared” anthropology is still subject to biases).  It’s methods were unique and ahead of their time and through respectful retrospective analysis we might be able to uncover some very useful insights into the effectiveness of an “autoethnography”. 

Of course, I have biases as well (as I stated I think we all do).  One being that I believe anthropology has evolved into a fascinating field that possesses a practical value.  In the past it was the way Western social science attempted to understand the differences and similarities of the whole.  It is a multi perspective view, often one-sided, often short-sighted, but always changing and important. It’s roots are ethnocentric but it has branched out to encompass multiple views from multiple cultures. 

The idea to include a “native voice” in ethnography is noble. It broke the previous model and I believe the intentions were to better understand people as a whole, not to portray a certain culture as a novelty.

Through Navajo Eyes has the possibility - like other ethnographic or autoethnographic films - to continue to be analyzed.  Unlike a written ethnography the visual ethnography can be viewed and interpreted in a much more abstract, and often more informative way.  I am reminded of a Jean Rouch film he made in Senegal (I think).  He filmed a funeral procession that included possessed dancers dancing to a crew of drummers.  There were questions about the reasons why the rhythm was “out of synch” to the dancers at times.  This was answered when an ethnomusicologist slowed the film down to see that the possessed dancers and those merely in accompaniment were dancing to different drummers.  In fact, the drummers were following the rhythm of the dancers.  That speaks to the importance film can have in ethnographies.

RESPONSE: Through Navajo Eyes

In the reading, I was intrigued by the authors’ analogy of filmic conventions to the rules of speech. They ask: if the ability to learn language is indeed innate, are there also certain filmmaking/viewing conventions—“universal patterns” of organizing visual information-- that can be understood and analyzed by people from another group?

Though the authors do not take a definitive position on this question, and take pains to acknowledge the cultural relativism at play in their field, I think their answer would be yes. This for me brought back some of the ideas we discussed during the first week, particularly Derrida’s decontructionist critique of semiotics, and his distrust of drawing definitive or overarching conclusions from any given sign system.

In general, I found that the authors’ analysis shared many of the same characteristics – and criticisms-- as those of structural anthropologists. There were a number of passages that struck me as ethnocentric (notably the passage on page 29 on “guided innovation”), and I found some of their conclusions (notably the passage on “walking) quite underdeveloped considering the relatively narrow range of source material.

That said, I understand that the project pre-dated postructuralism by many years, and that it was an important turning point in the fields of cultural anthropology and film theory. I was also impressed by the timeliness of its central concepts in contemporary Youth Media studies, which aims to give voice to disenfranchised young people by giving them access to media tools.

As for the films themselves, I agree that they were visually beautiful, particularly the closeups of hands engaged in material activity – weaving, drawing in the sand, washing, etc. I also thought it was interesting that many of the films avoided linear chronologies, and that they varied so significantly in their pacing (ie. Intrepid Shadows employed rapid jump cuts, while Old Antelope Lake and the Weaver seemed much more stable/static).

Through Navajo Eyes

I watched Through Navajo Eyes before reading the assigned articles and had a lot of questions that, for the most part, were answered by the readings. I thought the films were beautiful and like Maureen wondered why silent black and white film was chosen as it gives the films a certain feel that I think needs to be taken into account when looking at them as autoethnographic.

I think they were incredible to watch because of their beauty but also because of each film was so different from the next. They made me want to give everyone a video camera and see what they could come up with. For instance, "Intrepid Shadows" stood out to me as the most abstract of the five(I think there were five... two on one tape?) films. I don't think in it makes sense in any way to argue that these five films constitute a complete ethnography of the Navajo people, but I think it is probably better to think of anthropological studies as just pieces or small recordings from a culture rather than subscribing to the camp of attempting to understand an entire people by interpreting a two month visit with them.

I also thought the question of what can fall under the canopy of autoethnographic was in interesting one. As Pooja wrote, according to Mary Louise Pratt...
"if ethnographic texts are a means by which Europeans represent to themselves their (usually subjugated) others, autoethnographic texts are those the others construct in response to or in dialogue with those metropolitan representations."

I think that these films may be an example of the beginnings of autoethnography, but that's such a tricky thing to really define. How can these texts ever really be autoethnographic? Through Navajo Eyes was a project that was conceived by ethnographers and carried out by them. Even their involvement in teaching the Navajo people involved in the project to use video cameras can be seen as problematic. I think it may have been Daniella who mentioned in class during one of our discussions that problem of technology in autoethnography. Unless two cultures who were matched technologically trade autoethnographies it's hard to really call the films essentially comissioned by Western anthropologists autoethnographies.

Monday, July 5, 2010

First thoughts on the Navajo project

Before the readings I thought that a third person had edited the documentaries and I was really confused, now I know that they tough them how to edit and that makes more sense to me. I took a lot of notes while I watched the films so I would remember and try to analyze what I saw but it really didn’t make a lot of sense to me. There are some beautiful shoots like the one of the book and the wind blowing the pages or the wheel in “Intrepid shadows”.

The readings made me think of my own process of learning to film of how I used to shoot differently when I had less knowledge of visual time, of how I see now some of my old footage and to me it seems more realistic, naïve. I wonder how more or less knowledge would have changed the Navajo Project? Maybe it was better not to teach then that much who knows or maybe you need to know the rules to break them.

I understand the time and the importance of the project but I don’t know anything about their culture and I don’t see how they could draw conclusions out of it. We learn language in our first 5 years of life and even though not everyone is a writer or a good storyteller. I don’t think it was possible with this project to determine “how members of another culture use film” not that was the end or I even know exactly what was the end.

Notes on Week 5 materials on "Autoethnography"

Dear all:

Since we didn't have a chance to meet today, here is some info to help contextualize the link between the Through Navajo Eyes project from 1966 (which you're blogging about) and the readings on Indigenous Video Movement which would follow in the 1970s-1990s (which you'll be reading for Wednesday):

It's important that we think historically about the Navajo Project and the Indigenous Video Movement, and situate them as products of specific historical, political and technological events:

The Navajo Project is considered by many (and indeed declares itself) to be the originator of the model of "handing over the camera to others". When thinking about Worth and Adair's research objectives, do keep in mind that this project predates the "poststructuralist" turn in ethnography (Marcus-Cushman, Fabian) by 20 years. It also predates the emergence of Screen/Film Theory as a discipline and "visual anthropology" as a sub-field of ethnography with devoted conferences and journals. The Navajo Project, along with the "participatory ethnography" method of the filmmaker Jean Rouch in the 1950s played an important role in legitimizing the practices of "shared anthropology" and also in legitimizing film as an object of academic study.

The Navajo Project was also an important moment in the history of the "politics of representation" -- "culture" would become a keyword in the 1970s and onward, and with the emergence of cultural studies, poststructuralism, and discourses of multiculturalism, "diversity" would also become a major academic buzzword in the 1980s and onward. So before designating the project as "racist," we need to keep its historical context in mind.

A series of events intervene between the Navajo Project and the Indigenous Video Movement, which would adopt the "autoethnographic" (more on this below) model in the 1970s and onward. One major event involved the postcolonial movements toward self-determination, and the radicalization of the academy in the 1960s, all of which led up to the poststructuralist turn in anthropology in the 1980s.

The 1970s and 80s also saw some largescale changes in the global dissemination and penetration of mass media. One important development was the emergence of VIDEO technology in the form of cheap, portable, and user-friendly camcorders. 16mm (used in the Navajo project) and 8mm were popular as amateur filmmaking technologies before then, but there was no real "equivalent" of video until video. Broadcast TV and VCR technology were another major and aggressively marketed force--there was a lot of excitement in the late 1970s and 80s, well into the 90s, around public access TV, pirate radio, community TV, alternative video, guerilla TV, deep dish TV etc. While on the one hand this has been described by some scholars as an intensification of what was felt to be "American imperialism" in the form of syndicated American TV and film programming, there was simultaneously the possibility, others like Frota and Faye Ginsburg argued, of having locally produced media from remote places no one had even heard from before, at a relatively affordable rate.

The Frota piece should evidence this sense of celebration and excitement around the new and relatively democratic-seeming possibilities surrounding video--these rapid technological changes were thought to have a real potential for transforming representational politics. Indigenous Video was felt to be a change both at the level of the economic base and the ideological superstructure; hence the emphasis on providing access to "others" to the means of production of discourse. Technological changes in media have obviously happened very quickly since then, with the emergence of digital technologies, social networking, which we're not really going to get into. But the Indigenous Video Movement should give you a picture of the excitement around "democratic social media" at a moment well before Web 2.0.

But in order to critically examine the phenomenon of Indigenous Video on Wednesday, we need to consider what kinds of assumptions it made about the relationship between media and political change. When reading, try to consider what aspects of the Navajo Project's research interests Indigenous Video scholars like Frota want to turn away from, and the stakes of the same. How does Rachel Moore critique this? How are the aims and problematics of the Through Navajo Eyes project and Indigenous Video distinct from each other?

Finally, here is some background on the term "autoethnography," which is used to describe this week's materials on the syllabus:
This term is used differently by different scholars. The sense in which I've used it is derived from the scholar Mary Louise Pratt, who coined the neologism "autoethnography" in her seminar critique of European travel-writing: Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992). She describes autoethnography as follows: "if ethnographic texts are a means by which Europeans represent to themselves their (usually subjugated) others, autoethnographic texts are those the others construct in response to or in dialogue with those metropolitan representations." Pratt's understanding of autoethnography, which emphasizes transculturation, hybridity, and ideological struggle in cross-cultural representation, provides a theoretically sophisticated rubric through which to revisit the impetus behind Worth and Adair's notion of "biodocumentary" in Through Navajo Eyes. How does the discourse of Indigenous Video scholars like Frota dovetail with or depart from Pratt's understanding of autoethnography?

A less predominant use of autoethnography is the use of the term as a shorthand for self-reflection or reflexivity in ethnographic work. For instance Carolyn Ellis and Arthur P. Bochner propose "evocative" or "autobiographical" narration on the part of the ethnographer as a postmodern strategy for challenging devices of "ethnographic realism" like empirical evidence, self-present voice, and coherent subjectivity.

Rey Chow (who we'll read next week) has recently appropriated the notion of autoethnography in her book Primitive Passions (1995) to describe situations where cultural or ethnic "others" engage in an act of self-othering or self-orientalization in a bid to enter into a profitable situation of exchange with the West. She argues this is done by drawing on marginalized or deviant groups within the other culture, and reifying those groups' subalternity as a means of rejuvenating and modernizing the image of the dominant social groups. Chow locates this self-orientalizing tendency as the flipside of the liberatory impulse of autoethnography, whose advocates typically assume that something in a state of repression needs to be "set free" or "liberated".

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Response, "Through Navajo Eyes"

Frankly, I feel the authors of this project took themselves a little seriously.

"A working hypothesis, then, for our study was that motion picture film, conceived photographed, and sequentially arranged by a people such as the Navajo, would reveal aspects of coding, cognition, and values that may be inhibited, not observable, or not analyzable when the investigation is totally dependent on verbal exchange ..." (page 28)

It appears to me they set up production so they could attempt to crack the subsequent films like some sort of code.

But then, who is to say a culture has a monolithic aesthetic code? After spending the past year in a program in which 14 people were making individual films, I can say after every screening there were 14 opinions about what we had just seen. Could there be a book titled "Through American Eyes?"---or why do we assume our own perspectives to be more nuanced than those of populations "such as the Navajo"? (And I note they too own "American eyes.")

Later they do draw conclusions from the construction of various shots: For instance, there are few close-ups of faces because of the Navajo respect for privacy.

But this is a value that they were already aware of, and so I'm unsure how the filming has necessarily brought out the "inhibited, not observable."

Viewing the films brought up several important questions in my mind: Why did they decide not to include any diegetic or non-diegetic sound? Why did they use black and white film, when it was the 1960s? Who did filmmakers intend their audience to be?

I can't say these were particularly 'enjoyable' shorts to view, nor did I leave with a greater understanding of the Navajo. Though I don't think this was necessarily the point: They seem created more for anthropological analysis than for general audience consumption.

This in itself is an audacious equation: Rather than studying objects of cultural expression, the ethnographers prompt creation of non-traditional objects and then analyze them for cultural meaning.

While the authors did admit to being haunted by the question of "why" they were making the films, they never seemed to seriously doubt their "hypothesis" of what these films would ultimately reveal.

I'm not convinced the results are particularly revelatory.

-posted by Maureen

RESPONSE to Povinelli/Week 4

In response to Jen’s question on the role of Ethnography in discrediting indigenous perspectives or creating an ethnocentric binary between indigenous societies and the western world i would say that is an age old question that has it pros and cons and one that cannot be simplified easily, as I’m sure many ethnographers are still grappling with this question. The field of Ethnography has and continues to serve as a tool in better understanding the “natives” or the “other’s” experience and has become, in effect, the description of indigenous non-European peoples by Euro-Americans, which in short are descriptions of so-called primitive people, thus creating the ethnocentric binary and gap between them. However, its danger lies when the Ethnographer approaches his/her field of research with pre conceived notions and attempts to reconfirm them by fixation and overemphasis of such notions. This is what I believe leads to misinformation or lack of concrete information. However, my feeling is that they should be praised for trying rather than be blamed for failing. In Povinelli’s cases, she delves into the heart of the Aboriginal community and her work challenges Western notions of “productive labor” and longstanding ideas about the role of culture in subsistence economies. Her work and analysis shows how everyday activities shape aboriginal identity and provide cultural meaning. In addition, raises serious questions and issues about the validity of Western theories about labor and their impact on the identity of the community.

Ethnographers have a responsibility towards the people and culture being studied. There will be mishaps along the way, but self awareness and constant updates on ethical human research and c is vital in preserving the native’s story and transporting it to the rest of the world.

Response to Through Navajo Eyes

This film explores the experiment with a culture reluctant and unfamiliar to technology. A trio of anthropologists and ethnographers set out to film this indigenous population along with two other groups in Brazil. Preserving their culture identity without the power of film destroying it, the group does get a look into this culture and their way of life in the “modern society”.

Looking at this film I was interested in the way the Navajo people kept their original culture roots even though technology was on their land. To clarify in Monica Frota’s reading, Frota explains, “Because the Navajo did not find film to be of any particular relevance to themselves, the project fell outside the most fundamental parameter that defines the existence of indigenous media experience”. From my understanding, the ethnographer filmed this culture in their familiar setting doing everyday tasks without the use of technology disturbing their lives or the environment around them.

Further, even though this film was an experiment through indigenous cultures the main question of keeping the line of culture identity and self-representation throughout the whole film. Language is not the issue with the group; moreover it is the approach and understanding of why ethnographers wanted to study this culture. They are not out to “prove” anything, they are out to find a culture and to see how they experience technology through their eyes, as well as are that we take for granted, sometimes everyday and exploring that phenomenon further.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

RESPONSE to Povinelli/Week 4

In response to Erin’s question about the relationship between the bricoleur, the hunter-gatherer, and the gleaner – I found myself thinking of this question in terms of the individual’s relationship with his/her environment.

As we’ve discussed, Lévi-Strauss posits that since the Bricoleur is forced to make do with whatever is at hand, his universe is “closed.” The Bricoleur’s productivity is thus one of appropriation. By contrast, engineers have the ability (the “transformative power”) to create new tools and materials for specific purposes. Their world is therefore “open.”

For Povinelli, the Belyuen’s interactions with the land around them are not only productive, but world-forming in a broader sense. Though the labor of hunter-gatherers has been often portrayed as “unable to coagulate fully in things or landscapes,” the intentional, appropriative activity of hunting-gathering challenges and ultimately changes the meaning of productive action in Western theories of culture and society. “For Belyuens, hunting gathering is an activity and a discourse; it is a form of production in the fullest cultural and economic sense of this term…”

The gleaners in Varda’s film posit yet another model of productivity from the bricoleur and the hunter-gatherer. I was particularly interested by the characters in the film for whom gleaning was not in any way associated with their survival, but a conscious and intentional choice to reject the world of capitalist production/consumption. The michelin chef, the junkyard artist, the man in the rubber boots (a kind of urban hunter-gatherer) – all intentionally appropriated the waste of others to create new materials and tools that never existed before. In this fashion, they further complicate the bricoleur/engineer distinction by transforming – or ”opening up” -- their worlds according to their own rules of appropriation and reuse.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

RESPONSE to “The Science of the Concrete”: the bricoleur and the engineer

In Levi-Stauss’s model, the bricoleur is defined as “someone who works with his hands and uses devious means compared to those of a craftsman”.  This is the loose French translation that Levi-Strauss (LS) uses to differentiate between modern, Western science (the engineer) and what LS explains as the traditional Neolithic, or early historical man’s science.  This early science is also employed by ‘primitive’ cultures which Western ethnographers of LS’s day chose as subjects. 

LS writes that an important difference exists between the engineer and the bricoleur.  The bricoleur, when looking for a specific tool or method for a certain project, looks to past uses of this tool and is limited by this history.  The engineer on the other hand has a limitless toolkit since he looks to the universe for methods and has more than his own history examine. LS explains that this is why there was “several thousand years of stagnation” between the Neolithic revolution and modern science.  He is basically saying that “primitive” groups have been using the same “toolkit” they have been using (here he groups “them” all into a large group with common descendants presumably) since the early domestication of plants/animals, metallurgy, and trad medicine. 

It is interesting to note that while LS uses certain phrases in this passage to equally qualify these two distinct modes of scientific thought - e.g. “These are certainly not a function of different stages of development” - overall his argument is laden with ethnocentrism. For example, portraying the early science used by “primitive“ people as stagnate, the cultures as stuck in their past or histories.  There are also undertones to his argument that bring back Derrida’s critique of LS in “The Violence of the Letter”, where the ethnocentrism expressed is not overt but buried in the presupposed logic that “primitive” societies possess greater integrity than modern Western cultures - in other words “the noble savage” perspective.     


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Povenelli/ week 4

To understand Povenelli's arguement, it seems first important to understand Marx's conception of labor in the Western world. Marx believed that through capitalist modes of production, labor itself became a commodity and that this drastically restructured power in society to the point where an almost unbridgable divide between the burgeious and proletariat developed. This capitalist structure directly informs our current economic policies and philosophies- Povenelli's work takes issue with the way in which the government has applied a "Western political- economic framework" to the Aboriginal Belyuen community of Northern Australia and attempts to assess its labor practices determine its land rights according to Western models of productivity that cannot really be applied to them in a fair or meaningful way.

It seems helpful, also, to discuss Levi-Strauss' concept of the engineer and bricoleur here. I tend to agree with Maureen. As she stated in her post:
"Levi-Strauss seems to have observed a cosmetic difference--perhaps in varying types of 'labor'--and spun a mythology of his own."

How might this be applicable to the Australian government's catagorization of the Belyuens as transient people- hunter-gatherers?

According to Povenelli:
"From a perspective of classical political economy, "Fourth World" hunter-gather peoples neither sufficiently produce(or differentiate) themselves as subjects in relation to natural objects and animals nor are they sufficiently productive in terms of transforming objects and animals into depositories of value. At most they 'own' (because they in some way make) the things they hunt and gather but not the land on which they pursue these practices."

How can "anthropologies and histories and cultural and political-economic approaches" account for the "entanglement of cultural expression"- specifically Aboriginal and Western- in political economies?

How are dominant government institutions such as law and economic policy used to discredit indigenous perspectives?

How has ethnography played a role in discrediting indigenous perspectives or creating a ethnocentric binary between indigenous societies and the western world? And how can we reverse or prevent this?

How are the gleaners in Varda's film like the Belyuens? and how can their rejection of capitalism and relationship to the land be related to Povenelli's article?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Response, "The Science of the Concrete"

I find this conversation interesting on the heels of last week, as again I question why the distinction between 'engineer' and 'bricoleur' is so important Levi-Strauss would devote a massively dense chapter to its construction.

It seems separation by place and time was not enough to satisfy his need for 'otherness'; he has also journeyed to the roots of thought, invention, and spirit to suggest there are fathomless differences between the functions of "the savage mind" and those of his own society.

In answer to Daniela's last question, I do not agree with placement of the artist in the engineer and bricoleur dichotomy, as I do not agree with the premise.

The distinction between engineer and bricoleur itself strikes me as rather arbitrary.

Engineers also work within the constraints of the physical world; he or she does not "change the world" (p. 22) so much as restructure it. Even artificial intelligence is arrived at by way of manipulating materials and laws of the natural world.

Similarly, bricoleurs rely on scientific principles to understand the fusion and use of materials. What is "mythical" about this process remains unclear to me.

Levi-Strauss seems to have observed a cosmetic difference--perhaps in varying types of 'labor'--and spun a mythology of his own.

Remembering Derrida's earlier critique, I also suggest Levi-Strauss is at his most ethnocentric in the moment he is claiming not to be.

Even though the chapter does include some equalizing language, his entire approach is that of the scientist: deconstructing, categorizing, and labeling, while writing of these two disciplines as if he is not engaged in one.

I would also argue this tendency in the west--to divide up disciplines into distinct zones, and then shuttle students between 'art' and 'history' and 'science' class--is not a very productive enterprise, and leads to a limited understanding of the interconnectedness of all practices.

And so I wish Levi-Strauss had stayed on the categorization of fruit, which I can see as having some practical benefit; drawing lines between 'bricoleur,' 'scientist,' and 'artist' I do not.

- posted by Maureen

Make up response: Ethnographies as Texts (Marcus and Cushman)

I believe what Cushman and Marcus meant by ". Ethnographies have been punctuated with explicit us-them differences, in which the "us" is monolithically referred to as the West... and is contrasted to the 'them', which is the specific village, group or culture as subject of the ethnography"(p. 49). Experimental ethnographies have shifted to a "me-them" form of contrast” is that we should constantly challenge this monolithic world view, the narrative text exists as a critique of the very foundation of contemporary civilization—the objectification of self and other and in many cases the redundancy and destructive usage of the West versus East dichotomy, which is a result based upon a monolithic view of human existence. The challenge to this objectification created by narrative ethnography opens the possibility that we can develop a dialogic language of ethnography which allows us to confront the flux and ambiguity of existence. By doing so human colleagues can create themselves from something NOT inside or outside them, but rather BETWEEN them. It is precisely the between that fosters the dialogue that is needed to remind us that we are all in fact human with stories story to tell and share (sharing in my opinion is an offshoot/and extension of the between). Narrative ethnography meets this demand by placing at our fingertips the possibility of both reflexively understanding the story of the self and other as well as developing the language to authentically represent that story.

The science of concrete/ week 4

In the first chapter Levi Strauss established two types of gaining knowledge. One is the “science of concrete” or mythical though and the other the scientific investigation.

The Mythical though “and exploration of the sensible world in sensible terms. This science of the concrete was necessarily restricted by its essence to results other than those destined to be achieved by the exact natural science” (p16) Scientific though in the other hand have an answer for what we can’t see. To explain this definitions Levi Strauss draw an analogy. Can you explain what he means by ‘bricoleur’, ‘bricolage’? And how this concept is related to these ways of acquiring knowledge.

Does Levi Strauss put any of theses approaches over the other one?

Levi-Strauss argued that artist “is both something of a scientist and of a ‘bricoleur’” structure and event. He based this argument on "to understand a real object in its totality we always tend to work from its parts" (p 23) What is he saying here? Is he triying to say than an artist is something in between an ethnographer and a scientist, a translator of the world? “reduction in scale reverses the situation. Being smaller, the object as a whole seems less formidable. By being quantitatively diminished, it seems to us qualitatively simplified.” Is he saying that this way is easier to grasp concepts, that the artist is in between worlds, theory and practice, myth and science. Do you agree with him?

Friday, June 25, 2010

MAKE-UP RESPONSE: Foucault and Berger WEEK 3 (in response to Jen)

The evidence of biopower can indeed be observed in the modern state(s).  A merger of Foucault’s biopower and Berger’s “enforced marginalization” of animals brings to mind an evolutionist view which justifies using animals in product testing, hormonal altering of livestock, genetically modified foods, and countless other exploitations of the environment to further our human endeavors, for the good of the people.  These practices are fueled by politics and capitalism in that they are viewed and posited as necessities for the good of the people.   When genetic sciences are applied to Homo sapiens however, it gets (even more) scary.  When a state has the authority to decide what is to be cloned or modified, the results - keeping biopower in mind - will be racist. 

Foucault of course is more interested in the control biopower possesses over and between states, cultures and especially races.  Nazism, and the apparent threat that the Jews imposed upon the nationalistic foundations of Hitler’s Reich is an example of how biopower is utilized not only to improve the quality of life of those in power but to protect the state in order to keep that power.  The Jews were a threat to the Nazis because they were community-minded (exclusive) and because the Third Reich needed an enemy in order to maintain control over their own people.  An internal enemy. Here we see the reason why Foucault describes Nazis as “suicidal”.  They needed to fight the inferior race to secure their control over their people, the state.  In doing so, they expose themselves.  Aggression breeds dissent and this places the state in a position of heightened power and added conviction.  The state uses the “aggression” of others as fuel for their own exploits.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Of course, the Nazi state was especially horrible, brutal and effective at enforcing and motivating a population to concede to principles and ideals the state thought were ultimately essential (and Foucault goes into this concerning Nazis, but to be honest I don’t entirely understand it - something like a trifecta of disciplinary power, biopower and self-destruction).  But isn’t it obvious that the foundation of this practice is still alive and well in the US of A?  The red scare of the mid-20 century gave way to a new enemy, a new fear (a new state, a new race) that now, even in post-Bush years, poses a threat to our security and - if one is sold on the awfully convincing military industrial complex- also serves to boost our economy among other things. These things combined position America at the top and all others are a necessary threat to secure the power. Any aggression from the “inferior” race serves to heighten the power, the conviction, the crusade of the democracy wielding state, simply because it reinforces the threat. This is an external threat (Al-Qaeda, Iraqi insurgents, etc) and an internal threat (terrorist cells, islamic radicals, and in the Bush days... anyone who didn’t hop on board the “patriot train”... “you’re either with us, or against us”).  Yikes.     

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Response, "The Open: Man and Animal"

Agamben presents theories from many disciplinestheology, biology, taxonomywhich have attempted to delineate various forms of life: human, animal, vegetal, and even what we consider non-living or inanimate beings. In so doing, he reveals how arbitrary the practice can be.

What I find of particular interest in many of the examples is the authors seem to begin with a conclusion (ie. humans are superior to animals) and then work backwards to determine why. This makes me wonder why these distinctions are so important, or have been to so many throughout history? Where would be without them, and what do they allow us to justify or ignore?

In Misogyny: The World's Oldest Prejudice, Jack Holland writes "In the dominant version of the Fall of Man myth common to both Greek and Judaeo-Christian myths, man came before woman, created autonomously by the gods or God. Man therefore was seen not only as having a special relationship to the Divinity, but also as being somehow separate from the rest of nature itself. He was a separate creation, set apart from nature, with a unique relationship to his creator. The creation of woman ended that relationship, and introduced into man's world all the features associated with nature. Man was suddenly subjected to the same needs and limitations as any beast, including copulation, the pangs of birth, the struggle for existence, the experience of aging and of pain, the deliberation of various illnesses and finally the ignominy of death." He references this myth as a mark of many dualisms with vast implications: "between soul and body, man and God, man and woman, the world of the spirit and the world of the senses," as well as man and nature.

Clearly the act of distinction and categorization is far from neutral. Following the story above, throughout much of Christian history woman has been associated with the 'inferior,' nature, flesh, (which lead to death), and man with the 'superior' realms of logic and spirit (leading to eternal life). This conflation of nature with the negative is evident in many of the writings Agamben references, and its further conflation with female nature led to the degradation of both.

In the vein of categorization, the readings this week have reminded me of Caster Semenya, and the battle which science has set out to "settle" over the "question" of her "gender." (Excuse the quotations, but they are merited.) The inability to define the gender of any given individual seems to incite fear, anxiety, and disgust. Again, why is this distinction so important to us, our functioning, and our understanding of ourselves and the world?

On a different note, this week's discussion also brought to mind the question of plant's rights.

And if you haven't listened to 'The Opposite of Tarzan," I highly recommend it. It's a sort of inverse of L'Enfant Sauvage, and massively intriguing.

- posted by Maureen