12. The Centrality of Images in Ethnographic Practices: from an Ethnography of Images to the Images that Create Ethnography

Panel organised by Giulia BATTAGLIA and Guillermo VARGAS QUISOBONI

This panel is an attempt to investigate the significance of ‘images’ when placed in relation to the practice of ‘ethnography’. We would like to open up a debate often limited by disciplinary boundaries and explore the potential and limitation that images ‘add’ (or ‘impose’) to the making of contemporary ethnographies.

For too long the discipline of anthropology has been over-preoccupied to reproduce an internal discourse about key anthropologists-filmmakers, their relationship with technology and the key historical moments in which these personalities have contributed to different ethnographic film styles. This preoccupation has fostered the creation of a ‘closed’ sub-discipline (precisely visual anthropology) disconnected from its wider whole (cf. Banks and Morphy 1997; Wright 1998) but also disconnected from its cousins’ disciplines, such as the fields of arts, visual culture, sociology to mention a few. We believe that this ‘closed’ tradition of doing and thinking visual anthropology has restricted the scope and range of image-making that overall concern the ethnographer in the field. Accordingly, it is important to re-think the role that images play in ethnographic practices beyond the discipline.

To challenge this tradition, in this panel we would like to draw on recent debates concerning the ways in which image-making practices are closely linked to the making of ethnography (cf. Schneider 2008, 2011; Basu 2008; Wright and Schneider 2010; Banks and Ruby 2011; Grasseni 2004, 2011; Ramey 2011; Schneider and Pasqualino 2014). On the other hand, we want to raise questions regarding the way in which the practice of ‘ethnography’ has been increasingly employed as a ‘methodology’ to produce images outside the traditional academic debate of doing ethnography.

More broadly, we would like to reflect on the role that images play in relation to the ‘subject of study’. In other words, we are interested in the ethnographer’s gaze that by and large finds in the human existence, of myths and rituals for instance, something associable to images at a cognitive level. Last but not least, we shall reflect on those images produced and used beyond fieldwork. That is, images closely linked to the written and orally debated anthropology – not as a simple illustration but as veritable testimonies of the ethnographic practice.

For this panel we therefore look for contribution that directly or indirectly address the following questions: to what extent does this omnipresence of images, during and after fieldwork, advocate a relationship between social science and arts? What do images offer to or impose on the ethnographic practice? And, on the contrary, what can ethnography bring or add to the making of images? Finally, to what extent is doing ethnography becoming the same thing as making images?



Banks, M. & Morphy, H. (1997). Rethinking Visual Anthropology. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Banks, M. & Ruby, J. (2011). Made to Be Seen : Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology. Chicago: the University of Chicago Press.

Basu, P. (2008). “Reframing Ethnographic Film”. In T. Austin & W. de Jong (eds.) Rethinking Documentary. Maidenhead : Open University Press.

Fausto, C. & Severi, C. (2014). L’image rituelle. Paris: L’Herne.

Grasseni, C. (2004). “Skilled Vision. An Apprenticeship in Breeding Aesthetics”. Social Anthropology 12 (1): 41-55.

Ramey, K. (2011). “Productive Dissonance and Sensuous Image-Making”. In Banks, M. and Ruby J. (eds.) Made to be Seen : Perspective on the History of Visual Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schneider, A. (2008). “Three Modes of Experimentation with Art and Ethnography”. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 14: 171-194.

Schneider, A. & Pasqualino, C. (2014). Experimental Film and Anthropology. London : Bloomsbury Publishing.

Wright, C. (1998). “The Third Subject: Perspectives on Visual Anthropology”. Anthropology Today 14 (4): 16-22.

Wright, C. & Schneider, A. (2010). Between Art and Anthropology: Contemporary Ethnographic Practice. New York: Berg Publishers.

Submit your proposal/abstract via email attachment to Guillermo VARGAS QUISOBONI (vargas@ehess.fr) and Giulia BATTAGLIA (giu_bat@hotmail.com)

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