Résumés – La centralité de l’image dans les pratiques ethnographiques: d’une ethnographie par l’image aux images qui font l’ethnographie

Slowing down the ethnographer’s gaze: Drawing as a practice of ethnographic description

Par Jasmin KASHANIPOUR (Doctorante, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna)

Fieldnote: Reflection on life drawing sessions

… It was as if I were in trance. Not looking at anybody, as if there were no other participants in the room but only the life model, my drawing materials, and me. My eyes were constantly moving from the life model to the paper and from the paper back to the life model. I was fascinated by learning and experiencing the process of translating bodies from a three-dimensional world into two-dimensional drawings. It filled me with great and constant diligence and concentration. Months later while sorting the many drawings of mine at home on the floor, I was looking at them, seeing bodies, and suddenly seeing “people” with missing life stories … I recognized I did not know anything about the life models as living persons that I had been drawing over the last months. I did not “see” them. Who were they? … What kind of “seeing” did I experience during the drawing sessions when I saw and did not see at the same time? … 

Indeed, it was the act of drawing which opened me the gate to an anthropological study with life drawing models. While drawing I objectified the models whereas when sorting my drawings I discovered the unknown dimension of the subject. It became clear to me that unlike artists, life models have rarely been asked to explain their work[1]. Artists act and life models appear. Posing nude in life drawing classes, their bodies are likely drawing objects of the gaze rather than a human body with a life story. Focusing my attention narrowly on contemporary life drawing models, the study explores how both male and female life models perceive their experiences as they practice their profession. What meaning do life models give to themselves and their work? Being engaged in participant observation, ethnographic drawing, interviewing and conversations with current and former life models, artists, art instructors, art historians, and art theoreticians, questions arose about the ways how socio-cultural and political dynamics shape perceptions of the human body and how life models’ perception of themselves is interwoven with those perceptions.

In anthropology, field notes, photographs and films are common methods of collecting data and generating ethnographical resources. When doing fieldwork, however, I learned the potential of drawing. Drawing during fieldwork provides not only the opportunity to preserve the memory of moments with people, of places, of situations and circumstances at distinct time periods, of conditions and positions in which one finds oneself, but it also opens the horizon for hidden qualities of the field.

In my paper I will address two qualities based on my fieldwork experiences that belong to two different stages; one is the time when the ethnographer carries out the act of drawing and is engaged with developing and forming the image in the present time, the other is when the ethnographer’s drawing can be seen in its final and fixed state and belongs to the existing past.

The paper does not refer to professional artistic drawings in any sense. There is no prerequisite for generating ethnographic sketches for the ethnographer. Instead it is the mimetic quality of the act of drawing itself that strengthens the ethnographer’s eye. Drawing makes one slow and attentive. Its limitation is its advantage at the same time.

Keywords: ethnographic drawing, artistic field, life drawing models, body, mimesis, subjectivity, deceleration of time, slowing down fieldwork’s pace

[1] In the preface (viii) of the following book: Phillips, Sarah R. 2006. Modeling Life: Art Models Speak about Nudity, Sexuality, and the Creative Process. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.


The challenge of the visual materiality: a phenomenological ethnography suggested by Indian religious artefacts

Par Valentina GAMBERRI (Doctorante, University of Chester)

Visual materiality or, more generally, materiality has usually been viewed as a discrimination between human and nonhuman, therefore it has hardly been grasped under an agency paradigm. Gell’s theorisation of agency (1998) has considered materiality as a possible actor. However, the agency of the latter has been formulated by the scholar as a human projection onto the artefact, like, for instance, in the children’s plays with toys. Posthuman studies and multispecies ethnography have stressed how the concept of personhood is a historically constructed boundary in order to justify the human exploitation of animals, in a similar fashion to that according to which materiality is the ancillary replica of a human Self. As Latour (2010) has efficaciously stated, the result of this narcissistic projection is, on the one hand, an animistic belief on the power of visual materiality (see for instance Faure, 1998), which is treated as an anthropomorphic entity or fetish, on the other hand, a transformation of the visual into a reified concept, would it be an aesthetic ideal of beauty or an ethnographic theorisation or factish, which is revered by a semi-spiritual or post-secular approach. The latter is derived by a specific process of secularisation of the act of seeing, anciently anchored to a ritual substratum, which culminated, in the Enlightenment period, with the theory of the art-as-such (Abrams, 1985) and the foundation of the discipline of aesthetics by Baumgarten.

This conflicting split to which materiality is condemned is particularly prominent in the ethnographic or word-art museums, where artefacts considered reincarnation of superhuman entities in their original context are reinterpreted under the light of the educational mission of the museums.

By focusing on Western curatorial standpoints on the Indian concept of darśan, namely the visual contact between the worshipper and the deity who is believed to give life to its visual representation, and its manifestation in folk religious artefacts, more specifically the Bengali and the Rajasthani storytelling scrolls as case study, the paper deconstructs the concept of materiality within the scholarly tradition of the material cultural studies and of anthropology, as well as the Durkheimian’s bipolarity of the sacred and of the profane.

The adoption of phenomenology as a framework for the paper has a twofold goal. On the one hand, phenomenology is employed as a methodological tool, according to which the researcher’s incarnated gaze discloses a particular and intersubjective engagement with the visual materiality. On the other hand, phenomenology is the theoretical approach by which the research topics are formulated and discussed, especially by referring to Merleau-Ponty’s seminal works Phenomenology of Perception (2002) and Nature. Course Notes from the College of France (2003).

The paper, therefore, suggests a critical rethinking on the anthropological tools by which reading and being engaged by the visual materiality through the potentialities offered by the act of gazing and, more specifically, by the darśan.


Abrams, M.H. (1985). Art-as-such: The Sociology of Modern Aesthetics. Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 38(6), 8-33.

Faure, B. (1998). The Buddhist Icon and the Modern Gaze. Critical Inquiry24(3): 768-813.

Gell, A. (1998). Art and Agency. An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Latour, B. (2010). On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods. Durham University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002). Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (2003). Nature. Course Notes from the College of France. Evaston, IL: Northwestern University Press.


Relationships between examiners-examined and the visibility of an invisible illness: visual ethnography of epidemiological research in Niger

Par Kelley SAMS (Post-doctorante, EHESS – Centre Norbert Elias)

This paper analyzes a corpus of photographs taken by the author documenting epidemiological trachoma research. These images provide a way to reflect upon the relationship between the examined (“patient”) and examiner (“researcher”) in medical research, as well as between the ethnographer and the “ethnographed” in anthropology. The photographs used for this analysis come from ethnographic fieldwork in rural Zinder, Niger on a program striving to eliminate trachoma from the country through the creation of shared representations of the disease.

Medical images influence how individuals understand disease and their own bodies. The ethnographic images from this research document medical researchers performing eye exams and photographing the eyes of individuals in order to make visible a disease that has no perceptible symptoms until its final stages leading to blindness. How do the images produced by the ethnographer contribute to or challenge the representations of the disease and of the research-subjects that are simultaneously being constructed through medical photographs?

The paper questions the role of the image in relation to the “subject of study” from two different perspectives: 1) How does the photographic image evoke notions of truth in the representing illness that is not perceptible without this tool? 2) What is the role of ethnographer/photographer in the co-production and positioning of images showing the relationship between the examined and the examiner? By specifically reflecting upon the visual methods of this fieldwork, I question the “added value” of the image and notions of truth evoked by the visual representation of the ethnographic subject as well as the visual representation of illness.

In addition, this paper brings forth a broader line of inquiry concerning the ethnographer’s influence and position in respect to the medical caregiver-patient (“examiner-examined”) relationship. I investigate the visual image in relationship to research confidentiality and ethics of informed consent as well as, more generally, how medicine constructs its subjects. Finally, I reflect upon aesthetics and emotion in visual ethnography, and how these are engaged to elicit audience responses in social science research, medicine, and public health.

Key words: visual methods, medicine, visibility, public health, photography.


L’anthropologue comme artiste

Par Raphaël JULLIARD (Doctorant, EHESS – LAS)

En 1994, paraît Saudade do Brasil, ouvrage de photographies réalisées par ClaudeLevi-Strauss lors de ses expéditions. Il ne s’y prétend pas photographe, se défendmême d’être amateur, mais donne de nombreux détails qui montrent qu’il a un savoir technique certain (Levi-Strauss, 1994 : 22-3).

En 1962, dans le premier chapitre de la Pensée sauvage, Levi-Strauss écrit: «Toujours à mi-chemin entre le schème et l’anecdote, le génie du peintre consiste à unir une connnaissance interne et externe, un être et un devenir ; à produire, avec son pinceau, un objet qui n’existe pas comme objet et qu’il sait pourtant créer sur sa toile : synthèse exactement équilibrée d’une ou de plusieurs structures artificielles et naturelles, et d’un ou plusieurs événements, naturels et sociaux» (Levi-Strauss, 1962 : 40).

On pourrait aisément substituer «peintre» par «anthropologue», «pinceau» par «stylo», et «toile» par «livre», et ainsi avoir une description approximative de ce qu’est l’anthropologie levistraussienne. Pourtant, comme le souligne Roland Quillot dans son article Levi-Strauss et l’art moderne, l’anthropologue n’a eu de cesse de se distancier des rapprochements entre sa discipline et celle de l’art, la peinture en particulier. On sait que le père de Levi-Strauss était peintre portraitiste et que le succès économique de l’activité de celui-ci a été freiné par l’arrivée de la photographie. La même photographie qui est un facteur de changement pour l’art moderne, le libérant de la nécessité de représenter le réel.

Et c’est ce que Levi-Strauss semble reprocher à cet art moderne, à partir des Impressionistes: «abandonner la compréhension objective de la nature pour le projet assez vain de peindre la façon dont nous la percevons subjectivement» (Quillot : 260). Jusque-là donc, le projet de l’artiste et de l’anthropologue semblaient compatibles, à la mesure près que l’anthropologue est du côté de la science alors que l’artiste reste du côté de la pensée mythique, du bricolage.

En 1975, l’artiste américain Joseph Kosuth écrit un article dans la revue The Fox, intitulé The Artist as anthropologist. L’art conceptuel américain, dont le nom est donné à peu près au moment où Levi-Strauss écrit la Pensée sauvage, mets l’accent sur le caractère linguistique, philosophique de l’art, et se construit en réaction contre l’art «formaliste». Cette forme d’art est grossomodo ce contre quoi Levi-Strauss s’indigne lui aussi. Mais il le fait depuis la position de celui qui a vu ce qui était fait avant (l’art classique), alors que Kosuth le fait depuis la position de celui qui vient après et qui cherche à réinventer les formes et les processus de fabrication de l’art.

Après un certain échec de l’art conceptuel, principalement parce qu’il se voulait une critique du monde de l’art et de son fonctionnement, marchand notamment, et parce que cette forme d’art est précisément entrée dans le marché, certaines figures, dont Kosuth, tentent de tirer parti des erreurs et de modifier leur perspective. De ce fait, ce dernier s’intéresse à l’anthropologie, à ses méthodes pour en tirer un nouveau paradigme pour l’art.

Il note: «artistic activity consist of cultural fluency. (…) the artist as anthropologist [is] acquiring the kind of tools [of] the anthropologist, insofar as [he] is concerned with trying to obtain fluency in another culture. But the artist attempts to obtain fluency in his own culture» (Kosuth : 120, souligné original).

Si pour Kosuth l’artiste s’empare des outils de l’anthropologue pour gagner une compréhension («fluency») de sa propre culture, peut être pourrait-on renverser la proposition au sujet de l’anthropologue : l’artiste est un anthropologue de sa propre culture, alors peut-être que l’anthropologue est l’artiste de la culture des autres.

Pour Kosuth, l’anthropologie souffre des mots de la Modernité qu’il appelle aussi «scientisme» (ibid). Il reproche à cette discipline d’avoir toujours été en dehors de la culture qu’elle étudie. Il note que le but de l’anthropologie a été de traduire les autres cultures en des termes compréhensibles pour la sienne d’origine. Il voit aussi une opportunité pour l’artiste de reprendre à son compte la possibilité d’une étude de l’intérieur. Mais cette étude reste pour Kosuth de l’ordre de l’art, c’est-à-dire avant tout une « praxis » (ibid).

On se trouve devant l’idée que la traduction des autres cultures en termes compréhensibles pour la culture d’origine de l’anthropologue constitue elle aussi une praxis. Loin du « scientisme » et donc d’une certaine transparence due au « regard éloigné », c’est avant tout l’action que la pratique de l’anthropologue effectue sur sa propre culture, comme en témoigne le parcours de Levi-Strauss, qui est déterminant. L’anthropologie avant d’être une science est une pratique.

C’est dans ce sens que la présente communication est formulée : envisager un croisement productif entre l’activité artistique (contemporaine) et l’activité anthropologique, un croisement qui ne viserait pas à un décrédibilisation de l’anthropologie comme science, mais qui chercherait à voir les « tableaux » que les anthropologues dressent, c’est-à-dire une invitation à assumer le caractère nécessairement subjectif de toute étude en recherche de sens. Artiste et anthropologue cherchent tous deux à acquérir un « voir » particulier, par des moyens qui leur sont propres, « voir » qui informe leur pratique au sein même de leur propre culture, qui leur permet de produire des images, au sens propre ou figuré, par des moyens iconographiques ou littéraire.

Mots-clés : art moderne, anthropologie, Levi-Strauss, Kosuth


Kosuth, Joseph, 1975. « The artist as anthropologist », in Art after Philosophy andafter, Collected Writings, 1966-1990, Londres et Cambridge, MIT Press, pp. 107-125.

Levi-Strauss, Claude, 1962. « La Science du concret », in La Pensée sauvage, Paris, Plon, pp. 11-49. 1994, Saudade do Brasil, Paris, Plon.

Quillot, Roland, 2012. « Levi-Strauss et l’art moderne », Hermeneia: Journal of Hermeneutics, Art Theory and Criticism, XII, pp. 254-269.


Est-il possible une cartographie de l’humanité? Adolf Bastian et Friedrich Ratzel: un parcours croisé

Par Carlotta SANTINI (Post-doctorante, IMM-CNRS-EHESS)

Au cours de la deuxième moitié du XIXe siècle dans les milieux allemands liés à l’anthropologie s’impose un mouvement de systématisation scientifique qui naît de la nécessité de faire face, scientifiquement et institutionnellement, à la grande masse de données collectées par presque un siècle d’entreprises coloniales et découvertes géographiques. Les plus importantes villes allemandes, comme Berlin, Bonn et Leipzig, deviennent théâtre de la fondation de musées, de sociétés savantes, d’académies et de journaux scientifiques qui visent à esquisser les limites d’une nouvelle discipline, l’ethnologie. Elle est censée croiser les pratiques ethnographiques, à cette époque encore très hétérogènes et liées à des acteurs et des institutions différents, et la science anthropologique, à laquelle est confiée la tâche d’une systématisation théorique et méthodologique des données collectées par les voyageurs et les anthropologues lors de leurs terrains.

Dans cette intervention je voudrais analyser le cas de deux pères de l’anthropologie classique allemande : Adolf Bastian (1826-1905) et Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904). Au centre de l’attention de ces deux savants, il y a l’émergence du problème de l’image. Comment représenter dans une image exhaustive et synthétique la multiplicité des formes de la vie humaine sur la terre ? Est-il possible de tracer des lignes, d’identifier des zones sur la carte, qui peuvent correspondre d’une façon fiable à un contexte culturel précis, et qui rendent compte en même temps des relations et de ce dégrée de perméabilité qui existe lors des échanges entre sociétés humaines ? Adolf Bastian, médecin physiologiste et anthropologue, visait à obtenir une cartographie de la pensée humaine et des productions spirituelles de l’homme sur la terre. Une cartographie de l’humanité, beaucoup moins abstraite de celle de Bastian, était le projet de Friedrich Ratzel aussi, géographe et ethnographe, successeur de Ferdinand von Richthofen à la chaire de Géographie de l’Université de Leipzig.

Construire une «carte de l’humanité», donc un instrument scientifique qui doit tenir compte d’une extraordinaire complexité de facteurs à représenter, comporte plusieurs difficultés, non seulement pratiques, mais aussi d’ordre théorique. Même si on arrive à délinéer d’une façon plus ou moins précise une carte de l’humanité, elle ne pourra jamais correspondre à une éventuelle carte linguistique, moins encore à une carte politique ou culturelle. Si nous interrogeons à partir de points de vue différents cette énorme pluralité que nous appelons humanité, nous nous apercevons que la réponse aux interrogations diverses ne sera jamais superposable. Pour rendre raison des différences culturelles qui apparaissent sur la surface de la Terre il faut tenir compte de nombreux facteurs, dont le plus important est le temps, ou mieux, l’histoire. Chaque carte ethnographique doit être, selon Ratzel, d’abord une carte historique.

Mon propos est celui d’analyser les difficultés rencontrées d’abord par Bastian et ensuite par Ratzel pour construire une cartographie de l’humanité qui soit capable de représenter le complexe des relations, de la culture, de l’histoire des peuples. En s’appuyant sur l’expérience, des géographes antiques et modernes Ratzel étudiera les différentes formes d’abstraction cartographique, qui sont capables de délinéer symboliquement des dynamiques et des contextes qui ne sont pas représentables directement, comme les directrices de communications, les centres de diffusion culturelle, les voies de commerce et d’échange ou les parcours invisibles qui unissent entre eux des noyaux culturels à l’apparence ponctuels et fragmentés.


Visualizing Culture: Visual Culture between Philosophy and Anthropology

Par Gustavo RACY (Doctorant, University of Antwerpen)

The visual in Anthropology has never been a problem in terms of interest; the problem has always been what to do with it. Historically, the questioncan be related to the uprising of contemporary culture which, having its genesis on the development of industrial capitalism, put the visual object – through what has been called ‘occularcentrism’ or ‘scopic regime’ – in its center. In other words, with the development of capitalism, visuality became a metaphor of power and as such it ended up serving a specific function to the also modern science of anthropology. That way, images historically served to the manipulation of human categories in order to reinforce colonial power, classification and social Darwinism in general. Nonetheless, despite the problems concerning visuality discussed since the birth of anthropology, it is a fact that visual anthropology offers us not only different ways of understanding, but also different things to understand. By renouncing the visual per se, the discipline opened up to the fact that it could both read the visual as well as using it in order to build researches with a richer sense of the cultures they address. As an independent field, visual anthropology eventually disconnected from a general practice and from its analogous disciplines, to which we assume that a new set of tools must be offered in order for it to regain its connections to different disciplines making itself available as a practice that concerns less with its status than with images themselves, understanding these as phenomena rather than as instruments or tools serving a particular function. Therefore instead of discussing the ways in which images might serve or not to Anthropology – or the other way around – we suggest a reflection on the need of rethinking the boundaries of Anthropology by exposing its indissoluble relation to image. Images, as compositional phenomena of reality, ought not, cannot, be ignored but taken into the ethnographer’s own duty as pieces of a jigsaw to be assembled, reframed, exhausted and perhaps disposed.

This foregrounding for an ethnographic reflection derives not from classic anthropological readings, however, but from the idea of “thought-images” existent on the philosophy of Walter Benjamin an author that, even though dear to the Social Sciences, seldom had his ideas employed in order to concrete a methodology for cultural analysis. Concerned with historical materialism, Benjamin attempted to compose a methodology that would allow to address history and politics overall through culture and, as a Marxist, through the fashion in which economy is exposed through culture. In this sense, his philosophical framework consisted on a strong anthropological perspective by assuming the need for rethinking human culture critically as an ontological category. Assuming the centrality of visuality in modernity, we aim to discuss through Benjamin how we may be able to propose a new anthropological perspective that breaks up with the rigid definitions of “discipline” in order to build up a critical anthropological theory. So that we may achieve this, we will depart from the role of images in Benjamin’s thought, in which they are regarded by their property as writing (Schrift) rather than as functioning as pictorial representation. As a constellation that figures as a third (ein Drittes), images go beyond the form-content relation and stand, ultimately, as the shape in which experiences become cognizable. Building up on that argument, we expect to show that by relating to history images explode the continuum of historical time and transcend the particularity of the interpretation and of the content itself. With that, using diverse unrelated images from diverse areas working with the idea of a Bilddenken (thinking-in-images), the article will allow the emergence of a new perspective on ethnographic theory, once it will present the possibility of, through the use of historical materialism, establishing a study in which images themselves create the methodology, hence creating a new relation to the matter of culture. Economic tableaux, metropolitan photographs, anonymous portraits, any image might serve to the consolidation of a reflection on visual culture and its centrality in the contemporary world.

Keywords: Visual Culture; Anthropology; Philosophy; Historical Materialism; Images.


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

Par Damian STANKIEWICZ (Temple University)

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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