CEE RECAP OF THE 2018 ROUNDTABLE
by Alissa Jordan, PhD (University of Pennsylvania)
At Friday Nov 16th's roundtable, “Bad Habitus”, organizers Dr. Stephanie Takargawa (Chapman University) , Dr. Trudi Lynn Smith (University of Victoria), and Dr. Kate Hennessy (Simon Fraser University) called into question the uncritical techno-centric habits that increasingly characterize the multimodal turn in anthropology. Dr. Coleman Nye (Simon Fraser University) described the experimental graphic novel ethnography that she built with collaborators over the past year, highlighting how visual mediums can be used to craft multilayered political and artistic citations. Yet, Dr. Nye and collaborators encountered numerous institutional barriers in attempting to fairly compensate participating artists using academic funds. Dr. Patricia Alvarez Astacio’s (Brandeis University) discussed her collaborative multimodal ethnography of color in the Peruvian Andes, where women weavers farm and process cochineal insects in order to produce vibrant red dyes. Alvarez described the challenges she and collaborators faced in selecting a media format that could both adequately convey the hapticity and materiality of the farming process while also remaining widely accessible to participants. Following Dr. Alvarez, artist-anthropologist Trudi Lynn Smith narrowed in on the organic processes of entropy currently transforming archival 16mm color film reels of ethnographic footage held throughout museums in British Columbia (and beyond). Originally produced as “salvage” ethnographic recordings, Dr. Smith described how these materials are now themselves imperiled by processes of time—-considered “fugitive materials” in the archive as their colors slowly disappear leaving only a pale pink tone.
Organizer Dr. Stephanie Takaragawa followed Smith, problematizing the structural alliances that multimodal anthropologists form when uncritically applying technologies as liberatory “new” tools. Taking off from Dr. Takaragawa’s critique, Dr. Shalini Shankar (Northwestern University) addressed how politically and socially marginalized communities have created new forms of organization using digital platforms. At the same time, Shankar warned anthropologists that digital platforms may significantly narrow dialogs according to geopolitical hierarchies, echoing long-established divides of literacy, resource access, and more. Following Dr. Shankar, discussant Dr. Jenny Chio (University of Southern California) inquired after the material and immaterial excesses and waste generated by digitally-centric anthropologies, imploring anthropologists to meaningfully engage with the leftovers of technical processes. Dr. Deborah Thomas (University of Pennsylvania; CEE), the final discussant, emphasized the double nature of technologies as tools that can be wielded both to support and dismantle existing structures of power. Concluding the round table with questions of technology and it’s audiences, Thomas asked 1) “who is the audience for [the materials] we produce”; 2) how do our uses of technology succeed---or fail---to speak with them in ways that resonate and; 3) what kinds of archives are we creating, and who are we creating them for?
A CEE RECAP of THE 2018 AAA EXECUTIVE SESSION
By Alex Chen
On Saturday Nov. 16th, Dr. John Jackson, Jr. (University of Pennsylvania) and Dr. Deborah Thomas (University of Pennsylvania) co-chaired an executive session on multimodal anthropology at the American Anthropological Association Annual meeting, bringing together a panel of experienced and emerging scholars whose fascinating experimental work spans everything from choreographed ritual art to 3D printed necklaces. Underpinning the group “provocation” on multimodality was the desire to create collaboration, space, and theory that engages with a world that is increasingly mediated by technology and social media.
Working primarily in photography, Dr. Ruth Behar (University of Michigan) relayed a serendipitous story of how a photograph she took of an interlocutor 40 years ago ended up as a tattoo on the interlocutor’s grandson while Dr. Arjun Shankar (Hamilton College) theorized on the ideas of refusal and of listening to images taken by one’s interlocutor. Listening was taken up by Dr. Laura Kunreuther (Bard), who pointed us to the importance of digital infrastructures in enabling and limiting multimodality while revealing the heavy editing process that underlies the apparent transparency of sound recordings. Dr. Maryam Kashani (University of Illinois) took up video opacity as a way to assert sovereignty for Muslim American communities struggling under increasing encroachment by the surveillance state, while Dr. Deborah Thomas screened a film that mined the archive of drone surveillance footage in order to prompt an affective response against state violence.
Yet joy and hope can also spring from multimodality. Dr. Harjant Gill (Towson University) presented his collaboration with Indian NGOs to use Virtual Reality as a means to promote dialogue and empathy on critical issues of gender and sexuality. Dr. Aimee Cox (Yale University) showcased her collaborations with conceptual artists like Saya Woolfalk and Simone Leigh, including a ritual performance in Manhattan’s Fulton Center and Transit Station that brought attention to the solar, commercial, transit, and ancient spiritual energies that animate New York City as well as an installation called “Potted Woman” that interrogated the embodied experience of enclosure. Dr. Elizabeth Chin (Art Center College of Design), taking on the provocation mantle, presented her work with students at the Laboratory for Speculative Ethnology – including a “hands up don’t shoot glove,” a beautifully sequined accessory that starts taking photographs for upload into the cloud as soon as the gesture is made – while donning a laboratory jumpsuit she fashioned from Dutch Wax Print fabrics from her collaborations in Uganda.
PENN MUSEUM 336
© 2018 The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania