Paper abstracts
"Experience, Sense and the Lens"

Published: 2012-08-16


1. Ethnographic Futures

Paul Stoller, Professor, West Chester University, USA

In the academy there has always been a tension between institutional expectation - what we are expected to do to advance on our scholarly path - and creative desire - what we want to produce to fulfill our deep existential obligations.  Given the power of academic institutions, most of us, and here I certainly include myself, tend to do what is expected: to produce academic works that are markers of intellectual distinction.  These texts, usually written with the “dead hand of competence” in a bloodless plain style, may well raise eyebrows and make important contributions to knowledge. They are usually works that seek “the truth of statements,” a truth formed in the logical precision of discourse.   No matter the sophistication of the argument, these productions usually do not endure.  In relatively short periods of time, they are stored away - to make room for newer works that reflect the next moment.  Once in storage, these “dated” texts remain closed to the world.  But there is another path. Works that seek the “truth of being,” a truth that is, in part, evoked through narrative and image, have a much better chance of remaining open to the world.  These are works through which the ethnographer takes institutional risks to create representations that will pass the test of time, representations that produce knowledge that somehow make life a little sweeter.  In this address, I suggest how anthropologists might produce a wide range of works that seek a “truth of being.” These are works that reflect a measure of mastery. For the Songhay of Niger, mastery is reached when the specialist - a custodian of knowledge - is finally ready to take on the greatest obligation: to pass on what he or she has learned on to the next generation. Stories are told, lessons are learned and the work moves on to a future in which the specialist’s thoughts, images and texts remain open to the world.

2. The realist pact and the quest for plausibility in ethnography and documentary film making

Dans un film documentaire (et plus encore ethnographique), l’auteur passe de façon latente un pacte avec les spectateurs concernant l’authenticité des images et une certaine conformité du film à la réalité filmée, au-delà ou à travers la part personnelle de l’œuvre. Un pacte analogue existe dans les produits des enquêtes socio-anthropologiques : le chercheur, dans ses articles ou ses livres, garantit aux lecteurs que ce dont il parle existe vraiment, et qu’il a mené à ce sujet des enquêtes sérieuses, quelles que soient ses propres interprétations et la posture théorique ou subjective qu’il adopte.

Ces deux variantes d’un même « pacte réaliste » ne mettent pas en question le « tournant constructionniste » et interactionniste des sciences sociales au 20 ème siècle, ou les appels à la réflexivité. Mais elles rappellent l’ambition de connaissance empirique des sciences sociales ou des films documentaires (dans des registres certes différents), et certaines exigences de rigueur et de plausibilité que les modes post-modernes ont parfois oubliées.

Jean-Pierre OLIVIER de SARDAN, Professor, LASDEL, NIGER

(Prof Sardan will present his paper in English)

3. Observation and participation through and beyond the lens. An encounter with fishermen by Lake Chad in film and written text

By Bjørn Arntsen, Associated Professor, Visual Cultural Studies, Tromsø

In this paper I will address the experiences from a fieldwork which has had the dual purpose of making an observational ethnographic film and producing written texts based on the same events. I will claim that the aim of capturing events with the camera as they evolve, a basic part of observational filmmaking, has methodological consequences, i.e. shapes the role of the anthropologist as fieldworker. It both invites for a special kind of presence in the actual situations over time (MacDougall 1998, Grimshaw and Ravetz 2009), and ethnographic representations, not only as films but also as written texts, closely connected to these actual events. It also promotes other types of sensual experiences than in a non-camera fieldwork.  

Film and written text have different properties, but the dividing lines between the media are by no means absolute. Media are mixed (J.T. Mitchel 2004) and the film medium consists in addition to images and environmental sound also of spoken words. Still, I will argue that if the contribution of this medium to anthropology is to be assessed, it might be fruitful to start by identifying what the film medium is good at and try to cultivate this further (MacDoucall 2005). The observational ethnographic film can never fully explain the cultural context and the many layers of meaning of events, objects, and social roles of participants in situations (Neighland 2008). The written text might be better at this type of contextualization.  The extensive potential for anthropology lies in an inter-communicative combination of film and the written text in research and dissemination.

4. Images and Identity formation – performing respectability in four film and research projects in Northern Cameroon

by Trond Waage, Associate Professor, VCS UiT, Tromsø

I have been doing anthropological research in Northern Cameroon since the 1990ties. Based in the fast growing city Ngaoundéré I have collaborated on making anthropological films with Motorsycletaxidrivers, unemployed Muslim men, on a school teachers challenges in a small village and with ’runaway’ kids from Chad/The Central African Republic trying to make a living as water distributors.

Emphasising on working on depicting various aspects of peoples everyday lives with a camcorder, have I tried to describe social processes in these cultural diversified milieus. Through these works great variations is discovered when it comes to the social relevance of ethnic identity, religion, gender, education and system of sense. Comparing the material from these projects is the relevance of a commonly shared idea of respectability striking, both to understand the success of ‘motorcycle taxi drivers’, the strategies of the long-term ‘unemployed’, the closing down of the village school and the relative low degree of criminality in the Muslim quarter Tongo in Ngaoundéré.

In this presentation, clips from the various films will be shown with the intention to compare respectability as relevance rules in various empirical fields in a cultural creolized society. Doing so I will discuss producing and mediating ethnographic knowledge through visual descriptions.


Se débrouiller dans l’illegalite: Baba Uba un Mototaximan’  Mohamadou Djingui and Trond Waage,  35 min, 1996

The Master Said that…’  Trond Waage, 47 min, 2000

‘Struggle for a living’ Trond Waage (with Siroma Aboubakar), Photo Documentary, 22 min, 2002  (

‘Etre seul chez lui‘  work in progress, Trond Waage (with Adamou Adamouou)

5. Japanese Cancer Stories

Shotaro Wake, Ph.D Social Anthropology with Visual Media, The University of Manchester

The moment an individual is diagnosed with cancer a new and different chapter in life is started, a chapter that asks people confronting cancer and those close to them, that is –their “zone of trust”, to learn a new way of being and communicating in order both to cope with the illness condition and anticipate the future. Japanese Cancer Stories explores how patients and their zone of trust re-establish continuity in their everyday lives in Japan, more specifically how they use empathy to communicate emotionally sensitive topics and issues that are difficult to put into words. Empathy, our affective and imaginative capacity, is one way of attending to what is not said. The project draws on knowledge from the anthropological field of communication and aims to contribute to increase the understanding of the social and existential limitations and possibilities found in communication specifically pertaining to the Japanese context. Building on empathy as a process of creating mutual influence on each other, the project itself aims to establish a shared understanding between the researcher and participants by setting a mutual research aim for investigation. This will further build on and demonstrate the knowledge production that goes on between them. The project opens up for the participants to represent their lived experience through visual media. In this visual collaborative project, they will film, edit, and disseminate their story to their zone of trust, and the zone of trust and the researcher will be given the possibility to do the same in response. Through this collaborative film project participants are encouraged to express their illness experiences that are difficult to put into words. Furthermore, the aim of the project is to understand how cancer patients and their zone of trust relate to each other through the film they produce. By the end of the study, Japanese cancer stories will have produced ‘stories in-the-story,’ a multi-vocal and -visual ethnographic documentary – a true collage of collaborative knowledge production.

6. “Camera and son on board – shaping the lens through different `field-bodies’”

Ida Wentzel Winther.  Associate professor, PhD in Educational Anthropology (Aarhus University - Denmark). Child- and youth researcher.

 I am interested in children’s everyday life: how children play, are together, include and exclude each other, use the landscape, the objects and social media. I 2011, I did a fieldwork on the island Christiansø. Christiansø is situated among a small cluster of rocky islands in the easternmost reach of the Danish Baltic. From September to May only one boat calls at the island in weekdays.  It is a windy island; it is dark and cold in winters. The island itself is an old bastion, surrounded still by thick stone walls. Due to its small size, it is a car-free society. There are no cats or dogs here, just hundreds of croaking frogs, thousands of screeching gulls, seasonal colonies of whistling eiders, and the constant buffeting of the Baltic wind. 100 people live here, and 22 of them are children. The school ‘covers’ pupils up to 7th grade, then they have to leave home and attend boarding schools far away from the insular world. I took my 9 year old son and a camcorder with me, and provided the island kids with digital cameras. My participation, perspective and lens became shaped and constructed though these different kinds of ‘field-bodies’ (anthropologist, son, and camera). The aim for my presentation is how the researcher (me) works with many ‘field-bodies’ in a kind of performative practice. Clips from my film Children’s everyday life at Christiansø (2012) will be included.

Short biography:

These years, I do research about: everyday life, sibling ship, relatedness, materiality, home, homeland, mobility, islands. I teach mostly in methods and methodology, but also in visual anthropology. Member of the Steering group NNDV, and head of research “(ex) changeable siblingship” (

Children’s Everyday life at Christiansø (2012) is my first documentary.

7. Fish, Wool & Rock. Stories from a village

Reni Wright, Phd Student in Turims, UiTromsø

Five films, five portraits of people in a small village 2 hours outside Tromsø. The project is inspired from the old anthropological fieldworks consisting of describing whole communities in monographies. Using a visual language, in an observational cinematic style, I have tried to convey knowledge about a specific phenomenon from the North Norwegian sea-communities: Key words are tradition and revitalization. I have tried to draw a line from the old people in the community and their knowledge and daily life to the young ones and how they relate to their recent history. What happened in between these two generations is the starting of a revitalization process to regain their Sami identity. An identity the old ones wants to forget and the young ones are struggling to win back.

The films are designed to be used in secondary schools to teach children the sea Sami history. They will be on a dvd, and a pamphlet contextualizing the films, with guidelines to the teachers.

Documentary films 1h 04 min

8. Digital Drama. Multisensory narratives on art, culture and statehood in Africa 

Paula Uimonen, Associate Professor, Director, The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions (Spider), Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University

Digital media and intercultural interaction in Tanzania, animated with African sights, sounds, and sentiments. A vivid portrayal of everyday life in East Africa’s only institute for practical art training, narrated through the life histories of students, teachers, and alumni. Cultural digitization in the historical context of a nation that has mixed tribalism, nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and cosmopolitanism in astonishingly creative ways. Cultural hybridity as a starting point for rethinking one of the classic concepts in anthropology – liminality – while introducing a new way of understanding statehood – the state of creolization. This pioneering study in digital anthropology is based on ethnographic engagements at Taasisi ya Sanaa na Utamaduni Bagamoyo (TaSUBa) from 2002 to 2009, combining participant observation with digital, visual, and sensory research methods.

This presentation offers a summary of the newly published book Digital Drama. Teaching and Learning Art and Media in Tanzania (Uimonen 2012), and its accompanying web site, The book is one of the first in the Innovative Ethnographies series published by Routledge New York, combining printed, hyperlinked, and multimedia forms of ethnographic representation.

9. Lenses – Light, Bodies and Representations

A paper on the optical device that enables visual perception through representation

By Mads Middelboe Rehder

A lens is an optical device that refracts and transmits light. A camera lens consists of multiple lenses through which the light is transformed and calibrated which allow the light to be displayed on a film or an image sensor. The human body has its own lenses, in an eye the light is transmitted and refracted through the lens onto the retina and from there turned into a signal perceived as visual functions simultaneously in different areas of the brain. When filming, the body is producing its own mental images through its own lenses as the lenses mounted on a camera at the same time are transmitting their distorted representations onto an image sensor or a film.

In making use of a camera the body is manipulating its external optical lenses by panning, tilting, framing and focusing them. Effectively the body behind the lenses is therefore shaping the way they are able to capture body doings and interactions in front of them. Through this process the lenses are creating representations that can later be viewed and altered.

I will discuss the many unique lenses available to visual anthropological research and how a nuanced and differentiated view on them can be the key to understanding the complexity of the representations we, as visual anthropologist, are creating. As a part of this discussion I will focus on the multiple representations that can be created with lenses through an analysis of the elements that influence the setting in which the camera lenses are being used. The paper is focusing on the following five elements in its reflection on lens and representation:

-       The lenses

-       The body behind a camera lens

-       The body in front of a camera lens

-       The potentially present observers who can perceive the representations transmitted by the camera lens in an asynchronous time and space

-       The presentation and reconfigurations of the representations transmitted by the camera lens in an asynchronous time and space

The basis for this paper is the work I am doing on my Ph.D.-project which is focusing on the everyday life of sibling relations, and how they are doing relatedness with their bodies and technologies. In getting an understanding of the doing of sibling relations through and with technologies I use a camera lens as an anthropological implement. The product of my Ph.D. dissertation is divided into two mediums, a film and a monograph.

Theoretically this paper is inspired by different approaches to visual anthropology as represented by the work of Jean Rouch and David MacDougall, but the paper is also drawing on the work of Kim Rasmussen, Ida W. Winther, Perle Møhl and Peter Crawford amongst others.

In the presentation of the paper visual material will be showed to complement the central arguments.

10. Filming Memory, Theorising Memory

Alyssa Grossman , Post.Doc, Universtiy of Gothenburg, Sweden

As a social anthropologist, I have incorporated filmmaking practices into my research about everyday sites and practices of remembrance work in post-socialist Bucharest, Romania. While visual anthropology traditionally addresses representational processes linked to visible, material aspects of culture, I have used a video camera to analyse a phenomenon not perceptible through vision alone. In this paper I discuss my particular usage of film (long employed by anthropologists to document external spaces, surfaces, and images), to explore internal, subjective, and invisible realms of memory. I describe techniques I have employed in my film, Lumina amintirii (In the Light of Memory), to transcend the medium’s representational capacities and mobilise its affective and evocative modes of operation. 

My film creates overlapping temporalities, spaces, and narratives to echo the haptic, fragmentary, and rhythmic experiences of recollection. By incorporating unconventional montages of image, voice, and sound, it invites viewers to inhabit, rather than merely watch, the memories on screen. By alternating long travelling shots with static takes, it aims to awaken multi-layered perceptions akin to the very processes of remembering. Approaching the subject in such a way resonates with a Bergsonian interpretation of memory not as physically lodged in matter, but as constant yet discontinuous movement, woven into bodily sensation and the duration of time.

In order to visually address remembrance work’s manifestations in particular ethnographic contexts, we must shift visual anthropology practices away from their roots in scientific discourse, and towards their artistic possibilities, reframing the notion of “truth” to encompass a knowledge based on affect, not solely on intellect. Such a move, which requires formal innovations in filmmaking, privileges the medium’s evocative powers over its representative ones, thereby inviting audiences into more emotionally intimate and analytically complex understandings of memory.

11. Different places – different possibilities of constructing knowledge and identity [education, identity, social interaction, place]

Monique Vitger, Ph.D. student I work with teacher education at University College Metropol and in November 2011 I started as a Ph.D. student at The Department of Psychology and Educational Studies, Roskilde University. I was originally educated at The Department of Scandinavian Studies and Linguistics, University of Copenhagen.

My paper will be based upon my current work on a Ph.D. project about 11-12 year-old school children’s construction of knowledge and identity in different locations, both at school premises and in outdoor educational settings. My project was started in November 2011 and is still at an early stage. The paper will discuss my preliminary reflections on the data gathered in the initial phase of my fieldwork. As part of my ethnographic field work I make use of video filming at two schools, one in Copenhagen and the other in an ethnically heterogeneous suburb of Copenhagen called Ishøj. In the video recordings I try to capture the children’s bodily interaction with the physical environment and each other as well as their verbal interactions. My initial data suggest that places invite people to engage in certain activities and interactions but the way in which the children respond to these spatial invitations varies as the place is involved in the children’s negotiation of identity and social relations. A specific place has a certain perceptual impact in terms of its sound, smell and feeling but it also communicates through the cultural practices related to it. Some places are embedded with a strong functional encoding while other places are more open to the interpretation and imagination of its users. The latter seems not least to apply to places in natural landscapes.

I am particularly interested in analyzing the interrelations between academic and non-academic activities in outdoor educational settings compared to traditional classroom teaching. Outdoor teaching is a concept for the regular relocation of the teaching to places outside school premises making use of alternative learning arenas in the local environment. Traditionally outdoor educational pedagogy has been primarily concerned with children’s learning in and about natural environments. There is however a growing interest in the learning potentials of the culture and architecture provided in urban spaces. Inspired by the theory of situated learning by Lave and Wenger (1999) and theories dealing with conceptions of place (Relph 2008, Hart 1979) I will analyze the complex interrelations between the teachers’ and the children’s agendas in outdoor educational projects as they are manifested through the interactions among students and between teacher and students. Besides the analysis I will reflect upon methodological issues concerning my use of video filming done by both myself as a researcher and by the children as informants.

On the basis of my findings I would like to discuss whether the interactional patterns shown in the analysis seem to differ from what is traditionally found in the classroom and what implications that could have for the pedagogic use of alternative learning arenas in schools.


Hart, R. (1979): Children’s experience of place. Irvington.

Lave, J. & E. Wenger (1999): Situated learning : legitimate peripheral participation. Reprinted. Cambridge University Press.

Relph, E. (2008): Place and placelessness. Reprinted. Pion Limited.