Tuesday, July 6, 2010

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.

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