Native & Visual

June 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last night we read a piece by John Jackson, An Ethnographic Filmflam.  The discussion of his research in Harlem brought up pertinent questions regarding the place of native and visual ethnography within the discipline of anthropology.  Importantly, the ambiguity of Jackson’s native status led our class to examining the multiple ways in which subjectivity produce ethnographers as individuals with knowledge and perspectives that are always limited and subjective.

Because film, video, and other forms of image production are a significant part of our everyday lives, I want to give the class a chance to think about how native and visual anthropology may raise important epistemological questions.  How might the many ways we define ourselves provide us with a lens and perhaps accompanying blinders?  To what degree can we understand the limitations of our positionalities?

The ethnographic film, The Last Kamikaze: Testimonials from WWII Suicide Pilots, provides one such opportunity.



Topography of Race and Desire in the Global City

June 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

Today we are discussing an excerpt from Martin Manalansan’s Global Divas.  His discussion of overlapping gay topographies throughout New York approaches the various ways that culture–namely race, gender, class, and ethnicity–produce multiple queer spaces throughout the city.   Although he refers to contemporary New York as a gay mecca popularly associated with whiteness, this image of the homosexual community omits much of the diversity characteristic of the metropolis.  Illustrating the ways that urban geography, historical specificity, and US-based notions of race produce various fantasies, desires, and cultural expressions, Manalansan reminds readers of the heterogeneity of the city’s queer community.

However, he argues that queers of color map this global city in different ways than their white counterparts while navigating the social hierarchies of race, class, and gender identity.  While Manalansan’s book primarily focuses on men who are part of a Filipino gay diaspora, his spatial and social mapping of NYC negotiates a cultural environment in which polarized racial categories of Black and White dominate (which should not be a surprise, given the US’s history of hypodescent).  Though there are certainly queer spaces in the city that are not simply divided along these racial lines, these alternatives tend to reflect white male desire while objectifying men who may be Asian, immigrants, and working-class.

One commonly referenced example of Black queer culture in New York is Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning (embedded below).  The film was praised for its examination of Black and Latino gay culture, which was (and is) frequently overlooked by mainstream audiences.  Of course, there are stimulating critiques of the film, but I won’t talk about them here.  If you would like to read about them, you can do a quick search in your favorite search engine (or click here).


Paris Is Burning from Billy Blaze on Vimeo.

Welcome, Dr. Faye V. Harrison.

June 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today DUCA94 welcomes Faye V. Harrison to the Link. Dr. Harrison is discussing today’s reading, an excerpt from Outsider Within, with the students. Normally, readers work through a text generating new questions. These new questions that arise when reading are what bring us some of the most exciting scholarship, as we tend not to have much interest in hearing the same arguments over and over.

Still, the chance to ask authors the questions that emerge from their work is greatly valued. While speculation is frequently part of the creative process for many theorists, the ability to get clear answers from the source is a rare opportunity of great value for students. With Dr. Harrison’s help, students in DUCA94 will be able to get as much as possible from the chapter, Everyday Neoliberalism in Cuba.

If you have any questions for our guest, leave them in the comments below. If time permits, we will make sure they are answered.

National Geographic Omissions

May 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

CA 94’s recent examination of the photographic image has offered a rich opportunity to discuss photography’s place in anthropology and in popular culture.  This is an important exercise, since it urges everyone involved to consider the day-to-day production of our own subjectivities.   At the same time, our readings have been helpful for CA 94 students thinking about how photographs and other media can be used as artifacts, methodological tools, and creative outlets for their own work.

The May 26 reading on National Geographic photography mentioned a number of immensely influential and talented photographers in its discussion of Western editorial photography between 1950 and 1986.  One such photographer was Henri Cartier-Bresson, an artists credited with being the father of modern photojournalism.  Even though his name was quickly mentioned, people unfamiliar with the art/profession/trade/science (you can pick whichever term works best for you) should know that he’s kind of a big deal.

Another name that stood out in the reading was James Nachtwey.  If you’re not familiar with his work, take a look at the documentary, The War Photographer.  The reason why Nachtwey caught my attention is that his work tends to evoke visceral reactions from viewers.  He’s well-known for producing images that convey fear, conflict, pain, and excitement.  In addition, he does all this in his coverage of war zones.  His work has appeared in many publications, but there is a marked difference between his National Geographic work and the images for which he’s best known.

Nachtwey’s National Geographic work:

The work for which Nachtwey is best-known: To read scholars talking about the contrast between National Geographic’s pages and those of other widely circulating magazines give us a sense of the different worldviews constructed by print media.  However, as Margaret Mead suggests in On the Use of the Camera in Anthropology, these things might not have meaning until we see the photos.  The contrast between Nachtwey’s images in different publications makes the production of vastly different narratives about the world and non-Westerners in the mainstream American media.

Nachtwey, like many photojournalists, stresses the difference that defines viewing subjects and objects of the gaze.  However, he also regularly produces troubling imagery that might inconvenience audiences with painful truths–and that is not part of the narrative reinforced or produced by National Geographic.

(At the same time, there are plenty of people who criticize Nachtwey for a number of things including his voyeuristic “witnessing.”  If you’re in that camp, feel free to chime in.)

Fantasy and Ethnographic Film

May 24, 2011 § 2 Comments

King Kong is a classic American film.  The 1933 original is an example of fantasy and horror that has played a role in shaping the popular imaginary of generations.  The story has been retold in the form of comic books, films, and a cartoon series.  The 2005 big budget film released by Universal Studies has grossed over $550 Million, illustrating the degree to which the imperialist fantasy from the early Twentieth Century remains a relevant tale to people throughout the world in the new millennium.

Danger in HybridityFatimah Tobing Rony’s piece, King Kong and the Monster in Ethnographic Cinema discusses the ways in which genres of fantasy, horror, and ethnographic film told similar stories.  I will not flesh out her arguments in this post, but you can read her work on DUCA94’s readings page.

Today in CA 94 we will examine the parallels between King Kong and Nanook of the North, an influential ethnographic film from 1922 (it was considered the first feature-length documentary).  Countless viewers have valued the film for its presentation of “authentic” Inuit culture in a well preserved environment–imaginably untouched by civilization.  However, this assumption is quite problematic, given the reality of cultural exchange between Indigenous communities such as the Inuit and their Western counterparts.  While Nanook of the North is a documentary style film, it reflects the creator’s notions of what Inuit culture ought to be rather than what it was at the time.  For example, the filmmaker (Robert Flaherty) received criticism for staging scenes such as hunts using spears instead of other commonly used hunting weapons (guns).

1933 Racial Imaginary not-so-far in the past.Ultimately, culture, power, and knowledge play large roles in the production of these kinds of film.  Today we will discuss how they manifest themselves in these particular stories as well as the media that we experience in the Twenty-first Century.  The second image in this post should illustrate some of the connections between popular notions of race from 1933 and the ways that we are still dealing with it today.  Ideas?  Please share them.

From Savage to Negro

May 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

This week CA 94 begins with historical anthropology. Lee D. Baker’s From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race 1896-1954 is a fascinating book that we will use to get a brief overview of anthropology’s history. Because part of the goal of this course is to permit all the student-anthropologists in the class to think about their work as public, Baker’s discussion of anthropology’s role in American politics and popular culture in the early 20th Century is especially important.

Although many individuals understand anthropology as a discipline firmly housed within academia, that this blog’s authors will consider how anthropological theory and praxis may be a significant part of their lives out of the classroom. Of course, the ideas that get developed here may not be as influential as those of Samuel Morton (a major proponent of Craniometry) had been in the 19th Century. Nonetheless, the authors sharing their thoughts on here will carry on the tradition of contributing to public discourse with thoughtful work that reflects contemporary perspectives in the discipline of cultural anthropology.

Because early anthropology was very much concerned with categorizing racial others, that is where the course begins.

Crahing into the Term

May 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

CA 94 is underway. Our authors are about to wow you as we learn about the discipline of cultural anthropology and its applications at Duke University and in Durham, NC.  Enjoy the trip!