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publics Archives - Society for Visual Anthropology

Anandi Salinas


May 6, 2017

VAR SUPPLEMENT: Harjant Gill on Censorship and Ethnographic film

May 6, 2017 | By | No Comments

Harjant Gill’s article, “Censorship and Ethnographic Film: Confronting State Bureaucracies, Cultural Regulation, and Institutionalized Homophobia in India,” explores how anthropological knowledge, specifically in the form of ethnographic film, is shaped and reshaped by the public domains and venues in which it circulates such as television channels, international film festivals and community screenings, and increasingly on video-sharing websites including and

Unlike his writings including journal articles, which are often limited to an insular readership, his ethnographic films are viewed by wider audiences across the globe. Gill explores some of the implications of such mainstream public engagements on the process of anthropological knowledge production.

Classroom Activities and Discussion Questions

Engage with the same ethnographic film in different settings.

In the classroom followed by an open-ended discussion; online at home (on your own) followed by reading and responding to comments in the comments-section below. After each screening, write down a brief reflection about the film.

  1. Comparing the two reflections, does your understanding or perception of a given film change based on the venue in which it is being viewed? How so? Does the audience reactions, whether in pubic setting (like the classroom), or online shape your reception and engagement with the film? What insights does this exercises offer you into your reception and engagement with a piece of media like an ethnographic film? Do you think the filmmaker(s) catered their film to a specific audience? Why or why not? How does this add to your understating of the process of knowledge production in anthropology?

Using a country like India or the United States of America as an example to explore the practices related to state sponsored censorship, conduct independent research (online) on how the institutions tasked with rating or censoring media such as the Central Board of Film Certification of India (CBFC) or the Motion Picture Association of America define censorship.

  1. Identify specific guidelines (or the lack-there-of) that these agencies have used or are currently employing to censor visual media.
  2. Using discourse analysis, the exercise of “reading-against-the-grain,” write a critical reflection of how formal definitions and practices related to censorship are applied.
  3. How might these definitions and practices fluctuate and change over time? How might they react to the political and cultural climate of the moment? What does this tell us about democracy and free speech, and its relationship with the governmental institutions? How might censorship operate to reinforce certain hegemonic narratives about the nation? What are some of the different strategies employed by filmmakers and artists to circumvent state-sponsored censorship and subvert dominant ideology?

With the expansion and growing accessibility of new media technologies such as online blogs, web-based publications, video sharing websites, etc. it has become easier for academics and researchers to make their research findings publicly accessible to a far wider audience. As a result, these academics and researchers have also come under increasing scrutiny and attacks by anonymous individuals or trolls and online vigilante groups who disagree with or dislike their findings.

  1. Identify one such case from past reports or track the trajectory of one such form of popular media (or journal article), which has been challenged or misinterpreted or rendered “controversial” in popular media or online.For example: Anthropologist speaking out against Human Terrain Systems & War in Iraq in 2008

    Nivedita Menon’s Interview on Gender & Sexuality in India

  2. How might new media technologies represent sites that simultaneously provide access to knowledge as well as platform for those seeking to dismiss or debunk that knowledge? How should the academic or researcher respond to online trolling and other informal forms of censorship, or even fake news reports and academic blacklists? Given the challenges highlighted above, do you think it is important for anthropologists to undertake such public engagement efforts irrespective of the risks?

Related Readings & Films

Dick, Kirby, dir. 2006. This Film Is Not Yet Rated. IFC Films. DVD

Engelke, Matthew, ed. 2009. The Object of Evidence: Anthropological Approaches to the Production of Knowledge. West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell and Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain & Ireland.

Mazzarella, William. 2013. Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity. Durham: Duke University Press.

Mazzarella, William and Raminder Kaur, eds. 2009. Censorship in South Asia: Cultural Regulation from Sedition to Seduction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ethnographic Films by Harjant Gill

Sent Away Boys, 2016

Mardistan/Macholand, 2014

Roots of Love, 2010

Milind Soman Made Me Gay, 2007

Some Reasons For Living, 2003

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