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Kate Hennessy

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July 27, 2016

VAR SUPPLEMENTS: David Kloos on Future Archives and Everyday Life in Indonesia

July 27, 2016 | By | No Comments

Classroom Activities and Discussion Questions   

David Kloos’s “Living in a Makeshift World: Mobility, Temporariness, and Everyday Life in Indonesia” (VAR 31-2, Fall 2015) uses images from Recording the Future (RtF): An Audiovisual Archive of Everyday Life in Indonesia to analyze the experiences and agencies of domestic migrants in Indonesia. The following set of questions and resources provide teaching tools for use in both graduate and undergraduate courses.

Questions for classroom discussion
Content

  1. How does internal migration change Indonesian society? How do social, economic and political changes, including the forces of globalization, change the practices and experiences of internal migrants?
  1. Is it useful to call Indonesian domestic migrants a class, or – in the words of Johan Lindquist – part of the Indonesian “underclass”? Why (not)?
  1. What is meant with the concept of “everyday life”? How does it differ from other approaches, within anthropology and other disciplines? Do you find the concept useful as an analytical category? Why (not)?

Methods

  1. What information does RtF provide about the lives and positions of internal migrants? How does this information differ from other (oral or textual) types of information, as provided, for example, in policy reports or (written) ethnographic descriptions? What are the limitations of verbal/textual and visual sources?
  1. What can visual sources – and the rich information it contains about dress, built environment, the use of (public or private) space, material objects, and body language – tell us about the expression, salience or relative (in)visibility of class?
  1. What can a resource like RtF tell us about processes of place-making, in Indonesia and elsewhere? More generally, what do you think visual images can tell us about the social relations and meanings involved in the imagination, demarcation, or “making” of particular places (a neighborhood, a village, a house or compound, a harbor, a marketplace, shop or a restaurant, and so forth)?
  1. What are the various levels of mediation in RtF? In your opinion, how should a scholar working with this (or similar) material in order to engage in scholarly analysis, deal with its mediated nature?
  1. RtF – and related projects like the British Mass Observation project (see below) – seek to record or register aspects of human life that are generally seen as self-evident or “ordinary,” and thereby (apparently) unimportant. Can you think of aspects in your own society, that are so ordinary that no one every seems to record it or give it much thought? Would it be worth your or anyone’s while to film or write about it? What if it is forgotten? Would this be bad? Why (not)?
  1. Technology is changing fast. Around the world, many or most people have a mobile phone with a built-in camera and an internet connection. How should this affect longitudinal projects like RtF? Is it still necessary to make these systematized recordings? Is a resource like RtF gradually replaced or made unnecessary by online video archives like Youtube? Why (not)?
  1. What role does sound play in an audiovisual archive like RtF? In the videos, what kind of sounds do you hear? Would it be useful to focus the analysis on sounds, rather than images? What kind of questions might be asked?

Modes of representation

  1. What are the advantages of combining text and image in scholarly analysis? Should there be a hierarchy, or not? How can text engage with image and the other way around? Does it require a particular “writing” style? Does it require particular tools?

Additional information about Recording the Future, sources of inspiration and possible comparisons

For more information about Recording the Future and its various products, see the project website, and this essay by project coordinators Henk Schulte Nordholt and Fridus Steijlen. For more clips from the archive, see the RtF Youtube channel.

Important sources of inspiration for RtF, also useful for discussion in class, are Mass Observation (1937-present, currently housed by the University of Sussex) and Michael Apted’s UP Series (see, among others, this useful debate in Ethnography), with the main difference that RtF follows places rather than people. Recording the Future can also be contextualized in a more recent trend of sensory ethnography projects; See a brief discussion here.

Additional products and related questions

The film “Don’t forget to remember me” (Fridus Steijlen and Henk Schulte Nordholt, 2008) features “a day in the life of Indonesia.”

Questions:

  1. According to one reviewer, the choice on the part of the directors to minimize (textual) context and let the images speak for themselves is both a strength and “a major weakness”? What is your opinion?
  2. This film has been used on multiple occasions for educational purposes, evoking radically different responses. Some viewers appreciated it for its insights and critical approach. Others judged it as “neocolonial.” How can we explain these divergent assessments? What elements in the film might account for these respective judgments?
  3. How does this film compare to Ridley’s Scott/Youtube’s “Life in a Day”?

The documentary “Being prominent in Indonesia,” (Ahmad Baihaki and Fridus Steijlen, 2011) is a portrait of Ibu Mooryati Soedibyo, an influential Indonesian business woman and politician. As, generally speaking, RtF is biased toward the lives of less affluent people, this film shows another, less prominent side of the archive.

Questions:

  1. The article “Living in a Makeshift World” looks at the vocabulary of makeshift, as embedded in senses of transience, improvisation and future dreams and aspiration. How does Ibu Mooryati’s choice of words compare to this? Does it communicate a different kind of temporality?
  2. What kind of spaces does Ibu Mooryati inhabit or use? How are these spaces connected and/or separated from the public spaced inhabited by less affluent people? What information does RtF provide with regard to the (possible) physical interactions between different social classes in contemporary Indonesia?

The short film “A day in the life of a mall,” (Andy Fuller, 2011) makes use of (embedded) written citations in order to make an argument. What do you think of this method? Is this a good way to construct a (scholarly argument on the basis of these images? Why (not)?

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