The Future of Anthropology is exciting. The world that we live in is advancing rapidly both in its interconnectedness and it’s technological complexity. As these changes occur so too does the greater human ecology change with it, and with that change Anthropology will also advance with it. So many novel fields of study and potential avenues of application for our field of interest are developing. In fact, the utility and complexity of Anthropology has so much potential to grow that I might be willing to say that (with a few other good conditions) Anthropology is on the verge of a potential explosion of activity. One theoretical field that interests me greatly is avenues of Anthropology that will open up concerning Our interaction and integration with technology as it becomes more and more inseperable from our existence. These ties may even extend to technology become an integrated part of my anatomy, and I look forward to Anthropology expanding to explore and analyze this interaction. What other potential fields do you see opening up in Anthropology as the world and our species progress forward?
One thing that I have consistently struggled with when watching works of visual anthropology is how you can delineate between when the people you are filming are being treated (and behave) as actors or subjects, and perhaps which is more appropriate for the medium. Early documentaries a anthropological documentaries had a tendency to reenact what the film maker felt were genuine cultural practices from the ethnic group they were filming. The major problem with this is that by having the people being filmed reenacting their own cultural practices corrupts how they would naturally perform those practices as they may seek to “put on a performance” for the camera. This also opens up avenues for the film maker to exaggerate and focus on certain customs and traits of cultural groups, unwittingly or perhaps consciously blowing them up for the benefit of the filmmaker and the film. Visual Anthropologists rebelled against this in the late 60’s by adopting long unedited shots and little to no presence of the film makers in the film. This helped add more genuine qualities to documentaries, but the presence of the camera still effects the behavior those being filmed and so this method must still be scrutinized and analyzed otherwise we may become to confident in it’s ability to communicate genuine depictions of human behavior. Another unfortunate product of this transition is the palatability of films to the general public. By treating those being filmed more as subjects as opposed to actors the films become much better tools for academic analysis but at the same time the films become less accessible and so somewhat limit their impact on the general public. So what is preferable, to accept that to some degree anyone being filmed and is aware of the camera is an actor, or to focus instead on capturing as realistic as possible a depiction of those being filmed by treating them as subjects?
Vik Muniz’s work in Brazil is inspiring in the social activist work documenting his efforts entitled “Wasteland.” Muniz himself is well versed in the poverty he captures in his art; he was born in one of the many slums in Rio De Janero and made it to America with less then 3 dollars to his name. Working in a department store, Muniz found he had a pashion for collecting the refuse that people threw out and making art with it. This unique approach to art got Muniz an immense popularity and following that rocketed him to high status in many art circles. Muniz took this fame with him to the trash heaps back in his native Brazil in an attempt to docuemnet the troubles faced by the residents there. I cannot say much on Wasteland past this point that wouldn’t spoil the amazing film, but I will leave this post with a great picture that shows the impressive scope of the social activist art that Muniz undertook. I highly encourage that anyone reading this post go and see this amazing film.
Anthropology is presently in an identity crisis. The discipline has lost much of its voice in the academic sphere, and in the eyes of the wider public it appears as a subject that is increasingly irrelevant in today’s modern world. The problem of Anthropology’s growing silence is peculiar, as Anthropology has more potential than most social sciences to give us a greater understanding of the human ecology around us. Anthropology gives us the opportunity to look at ourselves and learn something, and more than most any other discipline it gives us an academic means to analyze the effects that the rapidly changing world around us has on our person by evaluating how cultures (and so, humans) cope across the world with increased globalism/interconnectedness and rapid technological development.
Part of the problem may be that the Anthropologist is seen by many as synonymous with the Ethnographer. Ethnography as a method of learning is a powerful tool, and in many ways acted as the gold standard for research in cultural anthropology for many years. However, the great utility of ethnographic methods has led to the term “ethnographic” being used by many other social sciences carelessly to describe their own research methods, hoping to add validity to their studies. Ethnographic research is now used to Positivist ends; a means to acquire data and facts about a certain group of interest. This goes against the very beauty of true Ethnography, as Ethnography performed correctly is not simply a way for a researcher to attain certain customs, traits, or data from specific groups.
Ethnography is most useful as a cooperative venture. One where the researcher and the subject participate together as humans to learn about the human condition. The twisiting of Ethnography is doubly damaging as it is assumed to represent Anthropology, which has pubically remained silent.
As I followed Professor Alexander’s New Americans Project I was pleased to see many familiar faces and to gain some insight on their personal stories. One in particular is someone who I have grown close with over the past year my friend, Leila Yavari. With us both being film majors Leila and I have had many encounters in various film classes in the past. It wasn’t until Spring 2016 in our Documentary Filmmaking class that we became close. Whether it’s trips to Cinnaholic (our favorite vegan cinnamon rolls) or adventures filming for class we always have a genuinely great time.
From the very beginning of our filmmaking classes Leila expressed a desire to give people like her a voice and that’s how we really connected. Many have asked us why do we only want to use Black people or Persians in our individual films and our response is who else is using them or writing for them. We love to give people like ourselves a voice in America. Leila and I have had numerous conversations about her ethnicity and issues behind it. There is a lot of judgement from Americans as well as people in her culture. Her upcoming film for our Narrative filmmaking class delves into the issue of sexualizing “exotic/ambiguous looking” women. There’s an issue in America where many men feel like they only want to date a girl because she’s exotic or because “they’ve always wanted to date a Persian girl.” I wish I could present a more elaborate and defined written version of her film since it is written so eloquently and full of passion. Hopefully she will share it on social media for everyone to see. In all I am so happy to have met Leila and learn more about her and her culture. She is not only an amazing filmmaker and writer but also has a pure and kind heart.