Damien Stankiewicz is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia.  His research grapples with the meaning and problem of “identity” and “culture” in today’s world, examining how shifting economic, political, and communicative realities (mass and digital media, neoliberalism, trans-border governmental institutions) impact upon ideologies of belonging, and especially national belonging. His book manuscript, On the Limits of Imagination: Nation and Culture at a Transnational Television Channel, is based on dissertation fieldwork at the trans-border television station ARTE (forthcoming, U Toronto Press), He is beginning new projects on transregional environmental development in North Africa, as well as on the Front National nationalist political party in France.  He is also working on a documentary film about solar energy in Europe and North Africa, called Power Lines.

Résumé de la proposition

The Image In/As Ethnography: Examples from the French-German Television Channel ARTE

Anthropologists studying media have long identified, and advocated for, a reciprocal relationship between the analysis of media and the production of media; that is, to most adequately engage in the study of media it is often also necessary to make media (perhaps most often—a corollary to participant observation—the same medium which we are interested in studying). The relationship of images and ethnography is thus often doubly implicated— not only are visual texts increasingly of interest to anthropologists and other social scientists as objects of study, but they are also ever more implicated in our methodologies (online ethnography, for example) as well as how we theorize and model the worlds we study, visual or otherwise.

This paper argues for the ways that scholars might fully exploit the uniquely manifold relationship between the analysis of images and the use of images in analysis. It argues that, in order to push the research of audiovisual media beyond merely textual description and to more complexly render our theories and explanations of how visual media operate (i.e., how they are produced, circulated, and received) we might use images themselves more centrally as key descriptives and metaphors. While social scientists and theorists have long used image-metaphors (e.g., “networks” (Castells 2000); “bodies without organs” (Deleuze and Guattari 1983); “lines” and “entanglement” (Ingold 2011), this paper argues for finding key explanatory images and metaphors that emerge out of sites of ethnography themselves. In order to describe the complexity of a newsroom, for example, an ethnographer might find that images from the newspaper itself illuminate some ineffable aspect of the newsroom’s social organization or ethos. Similarly, the fashionable hat of a particular avatar might capture a key element of economic exchange in an online game or world. This paper explores the possibilities for the incorporation of images into and alongside text as an alternative to textual description, while outlining the particular theoretical advantages of a “visual ethnographic turn” that should no longer be relegated to ethnographic photographs or films.

In so doing the author draws on nearly two years of fieldwork at the transnational headquarters of the French-German and European television channel ARTE, identifying and discussing particular examples of how images produced at the channel often provided the best means of describing and evoking social mechanisms and cultural negotiations at the channel (especially as these are detailed in a forthcoming monograph). One of the most interesting aspects of this descriptive evocation, the paper argues, are the ways images from disparate parts of the channel can be used interchangeably; contrastively; and through dialectical relationships in which they can be set in conversation.

Works Cited

Castells, Manuel. 2000. The rise of the network society. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1983. Anti-Oedipus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U Minnesota Press. Ingold, Tim. 2011. Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge, and Description. New York: Routledge.

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