Roundtable - Executive Session Status Awarded
Sponsored by: AAA Executive Program Committee
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: The Visual, Truth and reconciliation
Secondary Theme: Technology
Recently American Anthropologist renamed its visual anthropology section as multimodal anthropology. The decision was a significant one, marking the many changes in film, photography, podcasting, performance, and design that have been facilitated, at least in part, by the digital age. Collins, Gill and Durington write, “...these changes suggest a new framework, multimodal anthropology... that works across multiple media... [and] also engages in public anthropology and collaborative anthropology through a field of differentially linked media platforms.” We take these words as a departure point for this roundtable, structured around three provocations which we believe form the basis for multimodal explorations.
Provocation One: Multimodal anthropology bridges the previously imagined divide between visual anthropology and the rest of the field. Over the past fifty years, visual anthropology has been viewed as merely epiphenomenal to the anthropological project (Ruby, 1996). However, given the recognition that we all live in a media saturated environment, insights from visual and media anthropology have now taken center stage with regards to how we can and do analyze 21st Century social life. At the same time, multimodal anthropology recognizes that an ‘ocularcentric’ view of social life does not fully recognize the many sensory modalities that anthropologists must reckon with. How, then, does multimodal anthropology draw from and bolster our already robust theorizings regarding the sensory worlds in which anthropologists work?
Provocation Two: Multimodal anthropology provides an avenue to ask new and vital questions of our ethnographic engagements. All too often ethnography as fieldwork and post-fieldwork ethnographic writing have been seen as separate but exclusive parts of the anthropological task. And yet, multimodal anthropology forces a reckoning with the relationship between form and the content of fieldwork. That is to say, if one wants to best reflect the tensions, insights, and unique context of fieldwork, the form that one’s ethnography might take is no longer necessarily textual. For example, for those working on issues of urban space, fashion, affect, and the like, sonic, visual, and performative methods and products may be more useful and divulge theoretical insights more effectively. When and why might we choose one type of product over another and how does this reflect our unique ethnographic projects?
Provocation Three: Multimodal anthropology necessarily forces conversations regarding the collaborative, participatory, and public nature of ethnography. Traditional anthropological practice has maintained the illusion of the atomized fieldworker going to the field, working with participants, and developing insights that are, no matter how dialogic, imagined as their own. Multimodal anthropology, on the other hand, changes the relationship between ourselves and our research subjects because of the inclusion of sensory methodologies which initiate new points of access and contact which, however anxiety producing, changes how we characterize the purpose of our work. In turn, multimodal projects foreground the ethical prerogatives of anthropological work and may therefore be an avenue towards unsettling, if not altogether de-colonizing, anthropology (Bonilla, 2016).
Each participant will use their own multimodal projects to ‘splinter’ these provocations, wrestling with the emerging challenges that come with conducting multimodal ethnographies.