My Reaction to “Imba means to Sing”

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From an artistic perspective, the movie in terms of visuals was amazing. The quality was just great and the colors as well but not only that but the sound definition was off the charts and this added to the entire experience of watching the documentary. Another important thing that I realized in terms of film choices was the stark contrast between housing and living conditions in the US and in Uganda which we see much of in the very beginning of the movie. You have the typical American houses side by side with the white picket fences and perfectly clean front yards just juxtaposed by the slums of Uganda and that really stood out to me. The first thing that I thought of was this idea of the American dream and the ideal perfect American house. This notion is then strongly emphasized and believed as the parents of those children constantly refer to going abroad to going to America and see America as the land of opportunity and freedom.

This then got me to thinking how the entire trip that focuses on going to America and preforming in front of predominantly white Americans to get sponsors had some underlying tones of exposing the children to the beauty of the western world and just how great it is. It got me to thinking about this possible notion of “Americanization” and how I also have somewhat fallen into that trap growing up and always wanting to come to America and constantly exposed to American culture and such.

Another thing with regards to those children that I thought about while watching the movie was the culture shock that they must have experienced, especially when coming home. You go from living in great conditions to going back to your country where everything is different, yet granted it is home and it will always be home, regardless of all the negatives. That I could strongly related to!

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The documentary brought about many interesting points among which I thought the most important had to do with the ideas of cultural appropriation with regards to “African-ness”. This somewhat angered me while watching the movie as it really portrays this idea of how African children need your help and especially need the West’s help in order to educate themselves. It promotes the notion of Africans being so dependent on others. Moreover, it depicts only one aspect of Africa, that being the Ugandan culture, which to many of the audiences might come to include all of Africa. It is problematic but I get the point of the African’s children choir and they are truly trying to make a difference and help those children, with good intentions. Also what better way to cross over barriers than through music, it is indeed a common language to as all!

Impositionality

After reading about Positionality, I wonder how much of research is imposed upon the “subjects” and if this can ever be eliminated so long as there is distinction between researcher and researched, observer and observed? Certainly it can exist to varying degrees, but there seems to be a certain incongruity in churning out data from people as a necessary component of our own agendas, which themselves are not entirely our own and are almost unavoidably tied up with and driven by rules set through broader status competitions.

How often do we impose our agendas on others, whether as researchers or as people? Aren’t we often trying to expand our territory and defend the borders of our status and identity, or even just pushing our own assumptions and understanding which may have negative effects, even if well intentioned?

What would it look like if we did not have to defend such things and take them as seriously?

This doesn’t necessarily have to do with or mean letting everyone into your life and all information out. There is a reality to the fact that many would take advantage of such opportunities for their own gain regardless of the costs to others. So why should anyone trust researchers? Will their voices be heard because of them? Will their wills triumph or fade as transient echoes? Will they merely be converted into “data,” absorbed into papers and digitized… then perhaps transported behind a secluded cyberspace armored in pay walls? Are we just extracting more information to be used the disposal of those further up in the hierarchies?

Sometimes people have never even been asked what they think, and they may actually be quite grateful that someone, anyone, is genuinely interested. Or they might not mind at all. And there times when there might be no other ways for people to share their stories amidst the dominant narratives, images and paradigms.

But what else can we do to combat such restrictive conditions and transform our relations into those more characterized by mutuality? And what can we do to dismantle the “need” to ‘produce data’ from others that our social relations manufacture? Why don’t our needs for social relations lead to our knowledge rather than our need for knowledge or data lead to our relations?

Turning things Inside Out

Sad joy,
and joyful sadness

Sadness as an insider outsider or outsider insider; pulling and pushing and moving perspectives.

Sadness as an insider outsider or outsider insider; pulling, pushing and moving perspectives.

I really think this film does a good job of showing the complexities of insider outsider positions and how each can have unexpected perspectives that the other needs. Characters even try to impose their own understandings to secure particular positions, which leads to all kinds of breakdowns in communication.

Although outsider dimensions of positionality can lead to information being excluded, being an insider is not universally useful, as this may lead to assumptions regarding what information is important and what the others ought to be doing and care about. We’re not just occupying spaces that shift, there are constant attempts to reproduce and rearrange relations and positions, whether through personal narratives, interactions, communication, or more structural forces.

It takes joy and sadness to bridge the gap in understanding, insider and outsider, literally and metaphorically (they’re actually not so easily distinguished!).

Perhaps working together as insiders and outsiders is the way to go, knowing when to team up and when to separate so that each can do their thing.

Image Credit to Pixar Studios, Disney and all other respective holders.

Home, Y’all

I assumed that going to school in the “south” would consist of other people who said the word y’all, ate breakfast tacos and grits, and knew what going tubing on a river referred to. I did not consider that others would not know where I was coming from either. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been so ignorant, especially for the fact that Emory is one of the most diverse private schools in the United States. I did not realize, however, that others would not understand where I was coming from.

“Oh my god, you say “y’all” ??”

“You’re from Texas? Did you ride horses to school?”

“Where is San Antonio?”

These are all questions that I was asked on a regular basis my freshman year at Emory. But now, I should be an insider within the Emory community, yes? According to “Power and Positionality: Negotiating Insider/Outsider Status Within and Across Cultures,” being an insider has both negative and positive aspects, just like being an outsider does. However, I feel as though being an insider, especially in research purposes, is often decided by those who are being studied. From their perspective, you are relatable or not– from their point of view are you allotted to be known as an insider to a community.

I cannot help but attempt to compare this to the Emory community. Are we allowed to call ourselves insiders? What makes us insiders in Druid Hills, if we are only here for a specified amount of time? I know that I can identify at least in some sense with those from Atlanta, although I must not know everything about it, of course. But I wouldn’t exactly refer to myself as an ultimate insider– yet simultaneously I would not call myself an outsider either. I know what it is like to live here. As I have spent almost four years here, I understand what the culture is like. Yet when I go home, I do think that I have lost at least some percentage of my ability to connect with its “Homeness.”

After being somewhat embarrassed after being poked at by my new friends in regards to my contractions, I made a conscious effort to lessen my “gonnas” “wannas” and “y’alls.” But now, I cannot help but think that this caused a conscious effort to be less of an insider from home– less of a Texan, and less of who I am or who I grew up as. The definition of an insider and an outsider is more of the “and” column of a venn diagram than anything else. This gray area is one of fluidity, based on one’s own perspective along with the others’ that surround us. I think in many instances, we can represent both characteristics of an insider as well as an outsider. I can be both an outsider here in Atlanta because I did not grow up here and many not share opinions or even memories from before, however I can also be an insider as I have learned and grown on my own here as well. In Texas, I feel like I will forever be a proud insider, but may currently be somewhat of an outsider because of how I have been separated.

Insider Status Outside of Formal Research — A reaction to “Power and Positionality”

 

“What does it mean to be an insider or an outsider to a particular group under study?” Merriam et. al pose this question at the opening of their piece “Power and Positionality: negotiating insider/outsider status within and across cultures,” in which they explore the power dynamics at play in the interactions between researchers and the subjects of their observations. According to Merriam, power and positionality are not fixed concepts that create static and cleanly delineated divisions in subjects, but rather fluid and relational constructs that must be constantly navigated and renegotiated in anthropological research.

“During fieldwork the researcher’s power is negotiated, not given.”

Being inside a community, Merriam suggests, is far more complex than just having a claim to a specific shared national, ethnic, or geographic origin. Rather, insider status is established by members of communities who coalesce around aligned individual qualities that span components of peoples’ ideas reaching from race, to gender, to educational backgrounds. As such, Merriam states that “positionality is thus determined by where one stands in relation to ‘the other'” and more importantly, “these positions can shift: ‘The loci along which we are aligned with or set apart form those whom we study are multiple and in flux. Factors such as education, gender, sexual orientation, class, race, or sheer frustration of contacts may at different times outweigh the cultural identity we association with insider or outsider status.”

Yet while Merriam’s analysis offers critical insight into the dynamics that exist between researchers and their subjects, it also offers a more broadly salient and culturally significant understanding of insider/outsider dynamics that may inform our interactions outside of specific research contexts. Most of us traverse precarious insider/outsider dynamics on a daily basis, passing in and out of our contingent identities as students, friends, children, leaders, and members of separate (although often overlapping) social spheres. Yet, while most of us can identify with a sense of existing as an outsider or oscillating between feeling like an insider and an outsider as we phase through our different identities, many of us do so without ever questioning how our everyday insider/outsider statuses may affect our knowledge production.

While the step to interrogate the veracity of representation in formal research seems natural, the necessity of doing so in the mundane contexts of our daily lives may feel less relevant. Yet knowledge production is not an activity confined to formal research, nor are community dynamics informed solely by the power dynamics created between observers and observees. And just like race, educational background, gender, class, and nationality may affect our interpretations of other communities and our ability to observe and understand others, so too does our ability to recognize actively the position from which build the foundations of our knowledge about our community and others.

The relational exchanges that inform our own identities are constantly at work, and as such the knowledge that informs our observations is constantly in formation and under reconstruction. How we interpret our own communities and cultures cannot be divorced from our sense of insider status, and how we relate to communities which we feel foreign to cannot be divorced from our social sense out outsider-ship. Thus, perhaps most in Meriam’s analysis is its pertinence in our daily formation of relationships and ideologies. While we may not all go on to do research with communities, we all constitute our own ideas about the world based on relationships that we formulate every day. Being able to recognize how our opinions and observations are informed by the power dynamics that we engage with is critical — as much as it is in research — to valuing earnestly the opinions of those outside of our communities.

 

Conflicting Identities

There are a few examples from my own life experience in which I have felt like an insider or outsider and have struggled with my different identities. For one, I am from Atlanta, GA. Although I go to school in the south, there are so many students at Emory from the north, and it almost felt as if I was the one in culture shock when I arrived here my freshman year. However, although having grown up in the south, I don’t necessarily associate myself 100% with southern culture. My parents are both from Ecuador and came to the United States after they got married in 1985. Therefore, I grew up in a very Spanish household. What I know of or have acquired from southern culture comes predominantly from school or my friends. I didn’t grow up with my dad watching SEC football on television but rather the FIFA World Cup. I didn’t grow up eating traditional southern food but rather traditional South American dishes. And ever since I was born, Spanish has been the primary language in our household. Therefore, there are so many times in my life when these identities clash with each other, and I can fall into a strange gray area between insider and outsider. I visit Ecuador often, as a large part of my extended family still lives there. Although I speak their language, know the country, and know its people’s customs, I am still very much American in contrast and feel very American when I’m there. It can often times be an uncomfortable feeling. Back in Atlanta, or the U.S. for that matter, I know I can identify myself as someone who has grown up in the south, but at the same time I know I didn’t grow up in a southern household. There are many things that I cannot relate to with my friends from home who were, in fact, raised with Southern parents. It’s interesting how all the identities we associate ourselves with can sometimes act against each other, making us insiders, outsiders, or maybe just something in between. I wonder if I were to conduct research on people in Ecuador or the southern United States, would I possess an insider or outsider status?

Access and Empowerment

Before reading Power and positionality: negotiating insider/outsider status within and across cultures, I had never really given too much thought to what it meant to be an insider or outsider. I have lived an exceptionally privileged life and have always in some sense, been an insider. All of the academic institutions I have ever attended have been predominantly white and upper class. The friends I have made from these environments too have been from similar backgrounds to me. I admittedly have so seldom felt like an outsider. On the rare occasion, however, that I have felt this way, I in my privilege could leave the unfamiliar uncomfortable space and return to my insider status elsewhere.

I was intrigued by the article’s characterization of the insider/outsider status as fluid. Identity of course is composed of many different constructs: gender, socio-economic status, religion, nationality, the list goes on. Access into the group is granted for insiders, but interestingly enough, access can also be given to outsiders if there is a motivation to bring them into the conversation or a desire to share aspects of their culture perhaps for some personal gain.

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I think it is an important part of anthropology to be mindful of the insider/ outsider dynamic especially as we move towards our own final projects. How will our similarity to or differences from the group being studied affect what access we are granted? Are there ways of breaking down these barriers or are we forever held oscillating between insider/outsider statuses, being allowed “in” for only fleeting periods of time? Perhaps we can regardless of how and to whom we identify, create a personal relationship with our subject’s that goes beyond group mentalities.static1-squarespace

I felt as though re: imagine embraced the philosophy that no matter who you are or where you come from, you will be granted equal opportunity and respect. Their mission is to empower the community, effectively breaking down preconceived notions of subject and observer or needy and donator. With everyone on the same equal playing field, a more impactful relationship can be achieved which hopefully can lead to social progress and equality.

Becoming and Outsider in the place you call Home

Orange, CT is the place that I have lived for nearly my entire life. It is the place I call home, the place where a multitude of memories, experiences, and people close to me still reside. It is the place where I felt most comfortable, a place where I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I was Mikaila Schmitt, daughter of Felicia and Ron, Amity High School basketball player, straight A student, and friendly to everyone. I developed relationships not only with my peers but also with my teachers, neighbors, adults, and people all throughout my town. I knew this place inside and out and it knew me just as well. I was so connected to my community, my high school, my family, my friends, and everything that had to do with Orange, CT, I’ve never felt like such an “insider” anywhere else in my life.

Then, graduation day came and with college just around the corner I moved 946 miles away to start a new chapter of my life in this place called Atlanta, GA. Eight weeks, eight weeks was all it took for me to become an outside in a place that I had called home for 12 years. Atlanta was great but by the time Fall Break came around I was so ready to go home to my place where I felt comfortable and familiar. I was so ready to be in my house, my room, visit my old high school teachers and friends, fill the neighbors in on how it’s like to be a “college girl.” But quite honestly as soon as the plane touched down in CT something just felt off. But I figured I would see my parents and everything would feel right again, and when that felt off, too I told myself that I just needed to get back to my house and then everything would be normal. This process continued until I came to the realization that things weren’t going back to normal anytime soon. Eight weeks, eight weeks was all it took for me to become an outside in a place where I had been the definition of an insider for the past 12 years of my life.

Back to my Old Roots

This week’s observation assignment had me going to a place that I was very familiar with – the gym. In my head, the gym always meant the basketball court, and basketball has been something that has “defined” me for the last 15 years of my life – until this past spring. I was recruiting to play varsity basketball at Emory and ultimately it was one of the main reasons why I came to this school. Basketball was my life and had been my life for an extremely long time, it was the first thing I went to when people asked me to “describe myself” and it was the one thing that had always remained constant in my life. But after my sophomore year season I decided to leave the team. I started to find myself dreading going to practice or even games – which were supposed to be fun. I started to find myself becoming more and more miserable, few and far fetched were the days when I had a genuine smile on my face. Mostly, I was filled with this constant anxious/nervous energy, worrying about practice. The environment was an incredibly negative one, it was one where I never thought I was good enough and I was frequently reminded of that. “Don’t shoot, just pass” “Make sure you’re getting rebounds we need you in there for defense but don’t try to make moves you know you cant do” “Look at your stat line, all I see are zeros.” The negativity invaded my body and took over my thoughts and my feelings. The sport that I once loved became something that I resented, and that was never something I thought I’d ever say.

That being said, this assignment took me back to a place that I hadn’t been to since last spring, and while many negative emotions came crawling back, I also realized that I had some sense of relief as well. The sport of basketball is something that I’ll always love and it’s unfortunate that my career had to end the way that it did, but the freedom to be happy and smiling on an everyday basis makes the decision so much easier to handle and makes it all worth it.

Insider Vs. Outsider

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The article on power and positionality with regards to ethnographic field research was very interesting. I especially really liked the article’s layout and the use of four different case studies to help show how the initial assumptions about access, power relationships and commonality experience can be challenged.

The most obvious advantages of being an insider include better access especially with regards to the phase of research and the establishment f rapport but also the immediate trust and assumed “pre-knoweldge” in terms of language, cues, facial expressions. Yet sometimes as an insider it’s hard to step out of your established role within the society whether it be in terms of your job or gender.  As for the disadvantages, these include the limited topics of research as you are assumed to have prior knowledge about the culture but more importantly, taboo topics are a lot easier to bring up when you’re a naïve outsider.

It is interesting to see that the factors that distinguish an insider from an outsider include things like race, gender, level of education, social class, ethnicity and much more. Yet, when it comes to which factor is more important, I feel like its very context dependent especially on the society or community being studied. In my opinion this strongly links in to what the society or community values most. Moreover, I feel like in most cases, it is automatically assumed that the more the researcher is like the participants in terms of culture, gender, race, socio-economic class… the more access granted, meanings shared and credibility to the findings. This is clearly not always the case and being an insider is not always without problems due to interlocking aspects such as culture, gender and power.

One thing that really struck me in the article was the following quote: “During fieldwork the researcher’s power is negotiated not given”. It doesn’t necessarily mean that because you are the researcher, you are entitled to access all knowledge and are dominant over the participants.

In the end, it seems like both the insider’s perspective and outsider’s perspective are considered as valid and should be. Not only will the researcher experience moments of being both insider and outsider, but that these positions are depend heavily on the cultural values and norms of both researcher and participants.

Reaction to Susan Sontag – Looking at War

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Going back to Susan Sontag’s article about “Looking at War”, various things struck out to me. Among the first was this question of gender and the notion of war being a man’s game as men like war due to glory, necessity or even satisfaction. Another really interesting idea was the following question that was raised in the article: War is an abomination, a barbarity, and must be stopped yet can it really be abolished? I mean, it’s a serious question as since the very beginning of mankind, we have constantly been fighting each other whether it be for the purpose of resources or even pure conquest and glory as previously mentioned so can we as a race end war?

I feel like this really relates to the concept of the human appetite for pictures showing bodies in pain, which Sontag states is almost as keen as desire for nudity. It also connects to this idea of provocation and the ability of one person to see distinguishes them from the rest of the spectators who are ultimately viewed as cowards. We are essentially a society of spectacle.

photoThe power of images was another important theme in the article as was the notion of photography as shock therapy. This being said, photographs shrive sympathy and repeated exposure to certain types of photos can decrease the person’s ability to relate to the photo or empathize. Thus, photographs have the ability to illicit emotions and are universal in the sense that photography has only one language. Another interesting idea was the notion that war is generic and that often times the images we see are images of anonymous generic victims. This then relates to the importance of captions as Sontag wrote, “Alter the caption: alter the use of these deaths”.

The last thing that really resonated with me was the how cameras and photos ultimately record what is real and are what Sontag refers to as “memory freeze frames”. This really hits home as I tend to look at old family photos and am very thankful for them, as without them I would not be able to remember what my dad looked like..