I’m writing on the heels of giving thanks, and of converting our leftover turkey into curry for the rest of the week. It’s so hard to believe we’re almost at the end of the fall semester! It has been both exhilarating and exhausting, working through COVID, moments of connection punctuated by news of ailing loved ones and long stretches of screen-driven isolation. Yet December brings much to look forward to with our two fellows’ events this week and next (see below), and exciting plans for the spring! We have new connections developing with the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg; we will host a virtual conference and ethnographic film festival confronting issues of indigeneity in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan; and we will launch an “incubation grant” for undergraduates. And of course, we will also ring in the new year with two new fellows – Reggie Wilson and Jenny Chio! There will be much more to say about all this in the weeks to come. Until then, let us close out this year with the hope that 2021 will bring renewed faith in the processes through which we build community and hold one another accountable.
Deborah A. Thomas
R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology
Director, Center for Experimental Ethnography
OnDecember 3rd at 5 PM EST, The Center for Experimental Ethnography fellow Christina Knight and choreographer Jessi Knight of knightworks dance theaterwill discuss their forthcoming short film, “doomsday: field notes,” a fictional work documenting a mysterious set of ritual practices discovered by an anthropologist from the future. Read more...
On December 8th at 5 PM EST, Steven Feld's "Hearing Heat" listens to histories of listening to cicadas in Papua New Guinea, Japan, and Greece. Through a swelling intensification of intermedial recontextualizations, cicadas are amplified as a companion species thermosonic technology that bears ongoing witness to “the climate of history” in anthropocene atrocities ranging from rainforest destruction to nuclear escalation to precarious heat waves. Read more...
SPRING FELLOWS COURSES
THE PORTRAIT AS/IN ETHNOGRAPHY taught by Jenny Chio
Thursdays 3:30 - 6:30
When cameras are ubiquitous and millions of people post pictures of themselves online, what counts as a portrait today? In an age of selfies, surveillance, biometric "smart" identity cards, and movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and indigenous decolonization, can the portrait do a different kind of representational work? How do visual portraits (whether photographic, painted, drawn, or sculpted) operate differently from textual portraits (such as biographies, life histories, or profiles)? This seminar aims to resituate and rethink the portrait in ethnography, and by extension, the practice of portraiture as an ethnographic method, by exploring portraiture as a culturally conditioned, socially resonant form of knowledge production. All portraits, even self-portraits, rely upon a relationship: between the portrayed and the portrayer, the sitter and the artist, the interlocutor and the ethnographer. We will interrogate how portraits have shaped identity politics, and how portraiture, as a scholarly and artistic act, can radically re-theorize forms of social engagement. Drawing on multimodal and decolonial turns in anthropology, seminar participants will produce portraits of their own, using whatever medium/media might be best suited for their interpretive work. Registration is by permission of instructor. If you are interested in registering for this course, please complete the Registration Questionnaire and return it to Jenny Chio (firstname.lastname@example.org)by January 3, 2020.
KINESTHETIC ANTHROPOLOGY taught by Reggie Wilson and Deborah Thomas
This class investigates various forms of contemporary performance in relationship to Africanist forms and functions of dance, movement and action. We will concern ourselves with how the body knows, and with how we learn to identify the structures of movement that provide context, meaning and usefulness to various Africanist communities across time and space. Grounding ourselves within a history of ethnographic analyses of the body in motion, and within Africana theorizing about the affective power of the body, we will consider what people are doing when they are dancing. In other words, we will train ourselves to recognize the cultural values, social purposes, and choreographic innovations embedded in bodily action and motion. While we will attend to these phenomena in a range of locations throughout the African diaspora, we will also highlight aspects of the Shaker and Black Shout traditions in Philadelphia. The course will be divided between discussions centered on close reading of primary and secondary material (both text and video) and creative writing/movement exploration (no previous movement experience necessary). Registration is by permission of instructor. If you are interested in registering for this course, please complete the Registration Questionnaire and return it to Deborah Thomas (email@example.com) by January 3, 2020.
The Graduate Certificate in Experimental Ethnography is aimed at students who want to merge creative and interdisciplinary practice through multi-modal methods with their scholarly production. The certificate is open to Penn students admitted and already enrolled in a terminal degree graduate program in SAS, GSE, Annenberg, SP2, Law, MPH/PennMed, Wharton and Design. Application for the certificate should be made in first or second year (contact us for other situations).
The purpose of the program is to prepare students to use multi-modal methods in independent research and professional and creative practice, to interrogate how scholars might expand the ways we learn and create; to explore how to communicate scholarship more diversely; and to use what is learned to transform communities.
For our November Third Thursday event, "Memorializing Otherwise" on November 19th at Noon, we joined Ken Lum, Deborah Anzinger, and Gabrielle Goliath in discussion about monumentalization and questions around intimacy and embodiment.
Is it possible to publicly narrate the past, and document the present, in ways that move beyond permanence and monumentalization? What would it mean to think in terms of materiality not in relation to landscape but instead in terms of embodiment?
Participants Ken Lum, Deborah Anzinger, and Gabrielle Goliath addressed these questions and others in conversation with participants. Gabrielle Goliath drew from her work"Elegy 7"which can be viewedhere.
"A DIFFERENT KIND OF CLASS": BLACK SPECULATIVE FUTURES
CEE Fall Fellow, Professor Christina Knight, was featured in an article in 34th Street Magazine this week. The article highlighted her fall course, "Black Speculative Futures," and the ways in which Christina Knight, her co-teacher Jessi Knight, and their students seek to reimagine the future. In the article, Professor Knight said of the course,
“I find that classroom spaces often times, in subtle ways, tell students that your personal archive, the way that you’ve come into the world, your parents, your background, what you dream about, occult practices that maybe are linked with your identity, all those things are meant to be put to the side so that you can do the serious critical work of thinking. And I think that I’m invested in students showing up as their whole selves; I want to think about what those kinds of [...] practices, those kinds of ideas, those kinds of dreams, what they can do if they can be sort of incorporated into our method.”
On October 30th, 2020, the Penn Museum hosted the closing ceremony for the exhibition, Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston. Part art installation, part memorial, and part call to action, this exhibition shed light on the “Tivoli Incursion” through compelling video and audio footage featuring firsthand accounts of people directly impacted by the violence (the three stories below are a few among several others featured in the exhibit). The exhibition was co-curated by Dr. Deborah Thomas, the R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn of AV Productions and Deanne M. Bell, Senior Lecturer Psychology, University of East London. The exhibition was fortunate to be featured in press releases such as the Philadelphia Tribuneand the Inquirer.
EnviroLab at Penn will be hosting a three day virtual conference from March 18th to March 21, 2021, titled, "Placing: New Engagements with the "Environment".
Taking inspiration from the EnviroLab ethos, which focuses on works-in-progress, the conference will attend to the processes by which we co-create places through ethnographic participation and representation. In this spirit, the organizers encourage the incorporation of field notes, photos, drawings, film, audio-ethnographies, maps or any other means of framing and analyzing emerging environments.
In the interest of deeper discussions around presentations and to engage with the paper’s methodological implication, the sessions will take the form of a roundtable, moderated by a grad student from The University of Pennsylvania's EnviroLab with an invited faculty discussant. Panel discussants include Marisol de la Cadena, Anand Pandian, Sophie Chao, Wendy Wolford, Waqas Butt, Steven Feld, and Naisargi Dave. Keynote speaker: Michelle Murphy.
Participants are asked to submit pre-recorded 5-8 minute presentations which will be available to watch the week before the round-table panel meeting. Presentations will also be screened to audience members synchronously before the round-table panel.
Presentations in any format are welcome, and do not have to take the form of traditional conference presentations. We welcome works in progress, and hope that our round-table discussions can serve as exploratory conversations to think together about the ethnographic engagements in emergent environments.
The synchronous portion of the conference will take place over 3 days with one or two panels per day between 18th and 20th of March, 2021. Please submit a 250-300 word abstract proposals by December 15 2020. You can submit your abstracts here.Conference proposals are due December 15th and interested participants can read more here.