AAA panel: CONFLICTING ACCOUNTS: A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION ON VISUAL ETHICS
Chair: Terence Wright, University of Ulster, UK.
This roundtable discussion, organised on behalf of the Society for Visual Anthropology’s (SVA) Ethics Committee, seeks to continue the SVA’s tradition of nurturing debate and critical reflection on the ethics of anthropological imaging.
The theme of this year’s roundtable focuses on visual ethnography in situations of conflict. For the purposes of the discussion ‘conflict’ may be defined loosely - as an intense rivalry between groups or as open warfare. We aim to investigate the responsibility of photographers, filmmakers, ethnographers to present a ‘balanced’ representation of the conflict. Is there an obligation to present points of view from both sides? Or does this depend on the nature of the conflict itself? For example, while one might consider it important to give accounts from both Republican and Loyalist perspectives in the Northern Ireland conflict, it may not be considered so important where repression appears quite obvious, as in the struggle for democracy in Burma/Myanmar. In such instances, is it necessary for the ethnographer to state his/her own position with regard to the conflict? Or remain aloof, aiming for a standpoint of ‘objective’ research and reporting? Or do we rely on the anthropologist to provide the ‘alternative voice’? How do we avoid, or come to terms with, imposing our own ethical or cultural values on such situations? We might also consider some of the conflicts that the anthropologist may encounter. What are the dangers of ‘embedded ethnography’: getting assistance from (or working with) the police, military, NGOs or other interest groups who might be operating to agendas that conflict with those of the ethnographer? Furthermore, do conflicts arise out of the photographic or the filmmaking process itself? The formal qualities of the medium can be used to slant the argument to favour one side over another. What are the dangers of this occurring subconsciously on the part of the ethnographer?
Taken together, the intent of this roundtable is to give practitioners an opportunity to discuss the ethical implications of in-progress or recently-completed visual research, and to draw upon the collective input of roundtable attendees to plan for or rethink our visual responsibilities.
For those interested in participating, please provide a brief description (max. 150 words) of the particular scenario or issue you wish to contribute to this year’s discussion as soon as possible, and by 5 April at the latest. Decisions will be made by 10 April, and contributors will need to register for the conference via the AAA’s web-based system by 15 April. All correspondence should be sent to Terence Wright: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The roundtable will take the form of a series of brief, 10-minute presentations by participants, culminating in an extended period of group discussion and debate.
Please note: As per AAA participation rules, presenting as part of a roundtable counts as a person’s one “major” role, the same as giving a paper or poster.