VAR SUPPLEMENTS 2016
Ethiraj Gabriel Dattatreyan on Self-Fashioning and Collaborative Ethnography in the Digital Age
VAR SUPPLEMENTS: Classroom Activities and Discussion Questions
Ethiraj Gabriel Dattatreyan’s “Waiting Subjects: Social media inspired self-portraits as gallery exhibition in Delhi, India” (VAR 31-2, Fall 2015) collaboratively curates an ‘accidental’ archive of digital image-making practices by young Somali refugees in India as the site where subjectivities are self-fashioned and ethnographic insights emerge.
Keywords: photography, ethnography, selfie, Somalia, Delhi, photovoice
Suggested study questions and activities
Designed for undergraduate and graduate students to address key methodological questions about collaboration and digital affordances.
Collaboration: Discussion and/or writing exercise (students spend 10 minutes writing a quick response to the following question).
- What does collaboration mean to you? How does this concept fit with the ethos of ethnography? How has a collaborative or shared anthropology been imagined? Is ethnography already always collaborative by the nature of its engagement? If so, what does an explicitly shared or collaborative ethnography imply and entail?
- How might digital technologies reinvigorate, and yet, complicate the possibility for creating collaborative ethnographic projects? What sorts of opportunities/challenges do digital infrastructures (social media, smart phones, digital audio-video technology) create with regard to collaborative ethnography?
- In the VAR article, “Waiting Subjects,” how does the Dattatreyan utilize the social media inspired photographs of his participants as an ethnographic site?
- What does the author argue are the limits of these photographs?
Shared Anthropology: Assigned film viewing, with discussion and/or writing exercise. Watch this video of Jean Rouch discussing the future of visual anthropology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvyXCpzpJJs
- Jean Rouch was one of the pioneers of a shared anthropology that utilizes audio-visual technology. Why do you think he argues that the easily available, inexpensive digital video cameras in our moment aren’t ‘real’ cameras? How does this sentiment impact how we might imagine collaboration in the digital age? What do you think John Rouch would say about the author’s investments in the digital practices of his interlocutors in the field?
Social Media: Social media exercise. Read this short primer on “Why we are all digital anthropologists” by Olivia Bellas: http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/29/opinion/mystreet-digital-anthropology/ . Students use social media to find short videos or photographs shot by non-experts.
- Following Bellas, what do you think of this idea that ‘everyone’ is now an anthropologist with the advent of digital technology?
- Regarding the virtual artifacts collected from social media, are these objects ethnographic? Why or why not? What can we know from the objects you have retrieved? What remains unknown?
Lassiter, Luke Eric (2005). Collaborative Ethnography, Public Anthropology. Current Anthropology 46 (1) pp. 83-106.
Boellstorff, Tom (2012) Rethinking Digital Anthropology in Heather A. Horst and Daniel Miller (eds.). Bloomsbury Press. http://www.socsci.uci.edu/~tboellst/bio/Rethinking.pdf
Pink Sarah, Horst, Heather, Postill, John, Hjorth, Larissa, Lewis, Tania, Tacchi, Joe (2015) Digital Ethnography, Principles and Practice. Introduction. https://www.academia.edu/18841210/Ethnography_in_a_Digital_World