Patricia Alvarez Astacio

Transcript: Collaborations: Envisioning an Engaged Multimodal Future for Anthropology

This is the transcript from the conversation on August 18th, 2017, between Ruth Goldstein, Ugo F. Edu, and Patricia Alvarez Astacio that led to the piece “Collaborations: Envisioning an Engaged Multimodal Future for Anthropology.”

 

Ruth: Now we are officially starting [with the recording]. So I will officially say thank you both for collaborating with me on this. It is definitely an experiment. My thought was that we would talk through questions that we want to tackle and then, maybe, that fits really well with thinking about doing research in different modalities. So that we have a spoken component that is part of the written text too? How does that sound?

Ugo: Yeah, sounds good. Thank you too for inviting us to collaborate with you!

Patricia: Yes, thanks.

Ruth: I am in good company! Yeah, so, I guess, looking through [what we wrote in emails] at the questions of different modalities, Ugo, you had pointed to… in terms of the idea of just having a conversation and recording it as one way of addressing the different modalities… and what it looks like to do collaborative research.

Patricia: This paragraph [from Ugo]? Why do we still produce [anthropological] knowledge in the way that we do? [Knowing it’s history and why it was produced…] What is at stake in asking this and rethinking the production of anthropological knowledge that not only contests the savage slot but also contests anthropology, and all disciplines—knowledge production as we know it? How does asking that question constantly open up the possibilities for imagining a future for anthropology? Or allowing for cross-pollination?

Ruth: Yes, I like starting with that question—why do we keep producing anthropological knowledge in the way that we do? For me that is really tied to, at what point—what constitutes an intervention? Since we are all politically active too, how did that [being in the world, participating in it, in people’s lives, in politics] become so separate from producing anthropological knowledge and being an anthropologist? How did “applied” get such a bad name?

Patricia: or activist?

Ruth: Or activist… get such a bad name?

Ugo: Yeah, and just even… well, yeah, the work I am doing is political. There is no way to separate that out for me. I think that even the March for Science… pointing to the separation of politics from the production of knowledge and why we need to make that separation, even though it is a false one. And what would it look like, I think it was Patricia’s question—if we brought in “applied” from the margins, right? If it were actually centered. If the politics were up in front, if we didn’t pretend that there were no politics at all, if that were just a given as we go to produce knowledge.

Ruth: Yes, that is a direction that I hope anthropology is going in and I don’t know, coming back to this question of whether we took seriously that we are looking at the past in front of us, how… not just a colonial past… what does that look like? That’s a lot more exciting to me than…

Patricia: And I think it’s also a way of alleviating… well, it’s not about alleviating academic guilt. We talk about ethics in anthropology and what is our responsibility to the people we work with, and it’s inevitably a political one or an activist one that, at the same time that we should have this ethics in the field and the responsibility… that we take so much from them and then go off and have careers and sometimes we work with people in precarious conditions who stay in the same difficult condition of life, but then enacting that responsibility is political, right? It’s also a taboo that you need to do to have good ethics, but also can’t do because it’s political.

Ugo: Yeah!

Ruth: It’s too political, it’s too messy. You can’t get your ideas dirty with your hands… or your feet. It’s not what we are supposed to do… I was also thinking of Patricia’s question of the critical multimodal approach to anthropology. My initial idea was like, right—theater and film, inviting students to do a public art project or poetry slam as a final project… like there are other ways that I invite them to engage with the material, but I also realize that it means the kind of activist engagement of producing and receiving knowledge and I hadn’t thought about that until now.

Ugo: I wonder too, if, because it seems like activist and activism as terms, they can scare people. So I tell my students that I just want them to become critical thinkers. I wonder if… if we can think of critical thinking as having activism already embedded in it. It’s a way to expand [the definition.] Because activism also has this ablest imagining, right? Like we imagine people out in the streets to protest… People can have a really limited understanding of what activism can look like…

Patricia: As someone who is a “maker” too, right, like I make films and installations… making and acting is a way of thinking and what comes out of action is a form of knowledge. That student, as he thinks about how to do something that is creative in public, has to think through ideas as he is making, he is materially crafting things that might seem abstract and I think that is an important relation. When we think about activism, you are thinking through and with knowledge as you think about what are the best strategies for political action too. I think we oftentimes take that for granted and we take the representation of that knowledge for granted. And yes, we have peer review and we have all these structures of dialogue and reassurance, but they are very limited.

Ugo and Ruth: Yeah!

Patricia: People are thinking, at least in film: How can we peer review a film? How can we bring this academic written rigor into other modalities of knowledge and knowledge production? What will scholarship look like if we stop pretending that these other forms aren’t knowledge?

Ugo: Yeah, that is a really great question right there.

Ruth: Ugo, this reminds me of your play and bringing to life the kind of ethnographic experiences that you had. I particularly think of this in the context of Brazilian theater, my knowledge of Brazilian film is more limited, but I think of Augusto Boal and Theater of the Oppressed and the way of using that kind of interaction and dialogue—dialogue with the audience and questioning who is really in control of the narrative is such a powerful way. I have to say, I think that my students dig into and get more out of the material if they are actively engaging with it, rather than just asking them to write a paper.

Ugo: Cristiana Giordano and Greg Pierotti using his devising technique in theater was also interesting too, because in many ways you have to sideline the text, the narrative, and you are using your bodies in the space and props to create moments. The devising technique is called moment work. And there’s this interesting dialogue with bodies… I mean, because you have read the text so it’s there, but it is not central as you are creating these moments with these bodies, with these other people. I found it to be really productive, versus… I still think that traditional playwriting is really useful, but it is another way of… like Patricia was saying, to be doing, making, and using the body, as opposed to always relying on speech or any kind of clear narrative as well.

Ruth: I think it is also, it’s almost… I was thinking about this question of how working together, working on a different modality, collaboratively, would change how we produce knowledge and engage it. I am thinking about how students never want to do group projects because someone is going to work harder than someone else, they won’t get all the credit… and I started to think about… I am thinking of “Gens: A Feminist Manifesto for the Study of Capitalism”… it’s 8 or so scholars, right? A collaborative Cultural Anthropology piece, a manifesto for rethinking gender in capitalism and thinking about what might be a better word to use that underscores the economic element that configures gendered categories. And I have no idea how they did it as I don’t think they wrote about their experience… That’s a lot of people to bring it together and a lot of work. They may not need first authorship; they are generous scholars… Part of what keeps so much collaborative scholarship from happening is the first author designation and the need to publish so as not to perish. It’s why film doesn’t get to count. It doesn’t have the same value.

Ugo: My dissertation advisor was really open to me submitting my theater, my piece, as my dissertation, but I didn’t, because I thought when I am applying for jobs, they are going to ask for a chapter and I don’t think that scenes are going to work for that.

Ruth: Wow! I didn’t know this!

Ugo: Yeah, she said “if you want to write a play and that is your dissertation, I mean, you might have to write a short analytical piece, but I can start the bureaucratic process here.” And I considered it, but I just thought if I have to submit for fellowships and they ask for, usually one, but sometimes it’s two chapters, I don’t know what I would submit, so… I think it’s giving us that flexibility. Or maybe it’s about us being bold: they ask for two publications and I say, I am going to send one chapter and then a poem that I wrote or a short story that’s from the field, but also having something in the back pocket in case it doesn’t work, but just pushing in those kinds of ways too.

Patricia: Right, but that’s asking people to do double the work.

Ugo: Yeah, that’s true…

Patricia: Because now… one of my dissertation chapters was a film and, you know, I almost felt like I was doing two different dissertations. And, within visual anthropology, it’s not uncommon to hear that people want you because you can do all these film and art projects, but they don’t really count, and then you have to do everything else that everyone else does. So you are saying, be bold and do it, but have something in your back pocket, but this means taking on the burden of both games. It’s a lot of work, I think something that anthropologists take for granted is the amount of work that goes into creative projects—the kind of critical, reflexive work and labor that goes into something creative.

Ugo: Yeah, you are right.

Ruth: It’s so… I mean… I am thinking about… in terms of the intersections of politics and creating something new and all of the work that it takes in clearing out the past, of… of that… yeah, this analogy [of ruins], the question [that Patricia posed] of: “What would anthropology look like if we engaged and cleared the remaining ruins of anthropology’s birth, much like the confederate statues that are being taken down in the U.S. today?” That question becomes so much more interesting too when working in a place where I was not born, which I guess is part of anthropology’s conflicted birth and… it’s not my history but it’s my adopted history. I can see why someone might say, “those aren’t your politics, you shouldn’t get involved…” There’s some part of this that relates to ask people to do creative work, when it might not get valued, and this has so much to do with what [kind of scholarly work] was valued in the past. So what is it that we want to clear out? This separation between [engaging] politics and anthropology? Because it is a bit like the confederate statues, we still are reading those statuesque pillars of anthropology… and I wonder if I am doing my students a disservice, especially the graduate students when I am assigning a syllabus of things I want to read or wish that I had known, but it’s not necessarily the pillars of anthropology—does that do a disservice to them?

Ugo: I think that it’s… I am saying that like I have some definite answer and I don’t. But this makes me think of the re-thinking the past and the future configuration that both Patricia and I wrote where it comes from—I do think that it is important to look at where we came from, and to read the new stuff. It is important to read the older works… I need to go back and read what was done, what were the debates, what were some of the issues that came up. So that I know how to move forward, right? How to think…

Patricia: So maybe the disservice is not telling your students, let’s read the new stuff that we want to read, but actually not saying we are are going to sit down and suffer through Edmund Leach, right? Or read the Nuer and we are gonna talk about it before we go on… In a way that allows people to keep the past in the margin…

Ruth: Or to even bring in… oh, sorry Ugo!

Ugo: No, no, I was agreeing.

Ruth: It is not always so easy to find this [texts that act as counter-histories or genealogies] but asking students to read through the empty spaces or assign Trouillot along with one of the more canonical anthropological figures… [someone who presents a counter-history] in terms of time period or geography to show that there is something else, a revisionist history. Like, what would an indigenous people’s history of the United States look like? Probably really different than most people got in high school… including myself in North America. I was thinking about this in the context of your advisor giving you the go ahead to do a play for your dissertation, because, is anthropology ready for that? Clearly, anthropology is not yet ready to be on board with film as a valid form of knowledge production.

Patricia: You know, I feel… film has such a particular history within anthropology, like ethnographic cinema. I think that there are more gestures to acknowledge and validate this… where film counts more than it did ten years ago, and things like online blogging are getting more visible, like anthropological blogging and podcasts are getting more visibility, but it’s… there is still a refusal to recognize equivalence. Did I say that word with right tone? Equivalencia, no? I am sorry, there are just some words in English…

Ruth: It sounds perfect to me. It’s like “limitedness” from earlier… Isn’t this what we are supposed to do, make new words to fit the situation? It’s the natureculture blurrings…

Patricia: But I think, I don’t know, this is a very utopic thinking, but for job checklists, shouldn’t public facing writings count? You get published in the New York Times Op-Ed, that is valuable and it would be read by so many more people. It might actually have an impact that your book won’t. Weird ways of online and digital stuff would count, or if you organize stuff politically and activist, that would have a space there. All that work is inevitably informed by our research.

Ugo: Hmm…

Ruth: How do we write about things that we haven’t experienced? I mean, isn’t that…. It’s like ethnographic betrayal, isn’t it? Ethnography is doing and thinking, right? So this idea of doing and thinking, as if they are completely separate all the time… is actually within the question of film and theater… like you were saying with your student who is making the film and engaging in a material way of making—thinking and making happens together.

Ugo: Uh huh.

Ruth: I was also thinking about your point Ugo about continuing to ask a particular question keeps open different possibilities for imagining a future for anthropology. If it is only asked in the text, in a textual form… if there are other modalities for asking then that becomes so fascinating not just for asking or receiving answers but also how we conceive of those questions to begin with.

Patricia: Yeah. And I was also thinking about cross-pollination, right? Is it really cross-pollination if it’s different modalities being translated into one?

Ugo: Right.

Ruth: Yeah, like a feature film…

Patricia: Like it is not really opening up to those imaginations of futures.

Ruth: How do we change that? I mean, do we have to wait for tenure?

Patricia: And then be the rebels?

Ruth: I am going to be so tired when that happens.

Ugo: I was just thinking about Patricia’s talking about the double work. I mean, yeah… that’s a hard… What I have been thinking too is orienting the next generation to be thinking in these different ways and producing in these different ways. And I guess… as we wait or push for the changes we are already getting the next generation prepped. I… I was also thinking too that… in terms of maybe how we begin to shift within the discipline like what tenure looks like, what you can use to apply for jobs, thinking about the audience and who we are trying to engage. I find myself asking, when people talk about “public engagement,” it’s like, what do you mean by “public”? I don’t think that they really mean beyond academics. If they thought more broadly, that would change what is valued, because the general population is not trying to read texts about biopolitics and modernity, I mean, these are not terms that circulate in the general public, so if you are writing for the New York Times, or if you are creating a huge art installation in a park and that is something that they can engage with to know what is happening with your research, or what is happening in Russia, for example, and see how it is tied to what is happening here [in the U.S.].

And there is something too that you said earlier, Ruth, when you were talking about the birth of the field, and you doing research in another country that is not your country, which I think most of our cases, and people saying that it’s not your politics—but I also wonder if we ask questions about that. How is that not our politics? How is that not… the ease with which we can separate ourselves out from that [politics of “elsewhere”] is also the problem.

Patricia: Yes.

Ruth: Amen to that. Especially because all three of us write about, some kind, various ways some kind of commodity chain that is about interrelated economies and politics. We have to be clear, because there is a certain page and word count, I guess, that it’s not, it can’t be the history of the world, but there’s a frame that we are working within that cuts, that has to cut out other moments in space-time, but that they… that there are reasons why we are drawn to a particular place and people and are engaged in ways because they also ask us to be.

Patricia: For me, on the more political side, going off of what you guys are saying… I think that… the way I… I don’t know if you know Ugo, but I follow the fashion industry and supply chains in the garment world. So there is a certain set of politics as you move across the supply chain and across countries and across sites, that the politics of labor and gender and indigenous representation in Peru are one thing. And I am not indigenous, I am not Peruvian, so, there are issues with claiming them as my politics, but I care. I am invested. But I also see the kinds of political actions that I can take here with regards to how I consume and dispose of clothing that are inevitably tied, or how I engage with cultural appropriation. We oftentimes say that there are politics at home and politics in the field, so maybe, how can we imagine both as an extension of one another, right? And not make that break because, ultimately, following a chain, you see the connections, the reverberations and the consequences, right? Because oftentimes say we have to have this distance from the field, but I also… the politics… and now I am back in the U.S. and I am this good liberal academic, so there are these other things. So how can we also in our own politics [of everyday life] bridge the things that in our writing and in our research we are bringing together.

Ruth: I had this, maybe misinformed idea of what anthropology was before I came to grad school, since I didn’t have any “anthropological training” on the college level. But what you are describing is exactly… that’s what I thought anthropology was offering, of making the connections [between theory and practice, the “field” and “home”], and allowing for that to be, not just sanctioned but just what you do cultivate, understanding those connections. Being engaged in that becomes… that living and being is inevitably a political act, especially when partaking in other people’s lives, when they allow you into them. So I think I still grapple with how that distance is supposed to be maintained and, why?

Patricia: Like Ugo said, the ease with which we can just push it out.

Ruth: Yeah.

Patricia: I did my undergad in Puerto Rico, not in the U.S. In Puerto Rico, in Latin America, anthropology is much more publicly engaged than it is in the U.S. My college professors were writing in the local newspaper. A lot of the big academics were publishing and going on TV in the news, talking about their thoughts on X and Y political situation. There are a lot of people who do NGO work beyond academia. And then I got to the U.S. and was like…

Ruth: Don’t say engaged! Don’t say applied!

Patricia: Oh, no, no, no, don’t do that.

Ugo: [Laughing] Yeah.

Ruth: This moment in the United States, I don’t think it’s ethical to remain silent or unengaged.

Patricia: If there’s a moment where anthropology should be loud, it is now.

All of us: [Laughing] Great quotable moment!

Ugo: This year I did not get an abstract in, so I am not presenting at the AAAs. But you know that group that does alongside the AAA. They curate art.

Patricia: Ethnographic Terminalia.

Ugo: Yes, so if they do something this year, I am going to do that.

Ruth: Yes! (to Patricia) Are you curating that?

Ugo: Yes.

Patricia: They are great.

Ugo: Have you done it?

Patricia: I have collaborated. I have had stuff in one of their exhibits and I… they are amazing. Really good collective.

Ugo: I think it’s weird that they aren’t in AAA… Next year, since I am not participating in that way this year, I am thinking about creating a panel that is not just about reading papers. I know other people have done that, talked about doing it… but, beginning to ask people… I think that sometimes it’s like we don’t know how to engage or critique something that is not written. It’s how the discipline has been crafted. Asking us to now engage anthropological knowledge in these different ways that is not just me reading a text to you. Maybe it’s someone performing a piece, or someone is showing a film, or someone is acting out something… Sorry, I don’t know if this is related to what you just said, Ruth.

Ruth and Patricia: It is!

Ruth: I had forgotten about this. Patricia participated in the one in San Francisco, with Steve Feld… and Eben Kirksey.

Patricia: Yes, that was Terminalia. But Eben was doing the Multispecies Salon, but I think that they are over. He is not doing that anymore. The book came out. But they were also satellite events that were happening.

Ruth: I think that those spaces… they are so important! And I realize, yeah, these are unformed thoughts… it’s the time pressure and the kinds of activities that are valued, even, like, the tiny power that I feel like I have at Harvard with the ethnobotany class that I taught that last spring, I got gallery space for the students because, for their first assignment, which was just a short 5 point assignment… but they produced… the assignment offered a creative option. Whatever their favorite plant or landscape space, it was an open invitation. And some of them did the most gorgeous water colors and pastels. One student had taken a photograph of a piece of rare wood that he had and then projected the photo onto the wall where he had hung a large white sheet of paper and he proceeded to take a pencil and do detailed texture points—it took him five hours to make his piece! The pieces were stunning! And I wanted them to have a space to show their work. So I rented the space and… two people posted their work. The time pressure, the end of the semester, the other commitments that they had. It’s so understandable that that was not something that… because it wasn’t a requirement, I guess. It becomes so difficult to value this even if it’s something they enjoy. I think we all do this—we want to do something that we enjoy but it is a calculation of how to get to where it is that we want to go and acknowledging that all these things that we are passionate about might not get us there. And the spaces like Terminalia are so necessary. I don’t know how to multiply them, other than showing up en masse to be there as a body, if not to contribute than to appreciate. Otherwise, I don’t know how to… I don’t know how to change this past. Single-text authorship monographs. Emphasis on the “mono.”

All of us:  [Laughing.]

Ugo: Emphasis on the mono…

Ruth: Monogamy, the monograph…

Ugo: Monotheistic… I mean, I start to wonder too, and obviously easier said than done. We still have to eat, we still have to pay rent… But, I have been thinking about it in terms of, what is it… Is it enough to say that the work that I am doing is already political, so that’s what I am giving to the people that I worked with. And for me, I just didn’t find that satisfactory. When I did my work, I didn’t work with an organization, so I wasn’t volunteering time here or there or anything like that. So it always made me feel some kind of way, in the field, when I got back… I am thinking through what you were just talking about: how do we divide our energy so that we are not running ragged and not overworking, but able to do these things that feel ok, that help me look at the past of anthropology and help me envision a future that’s… that isn’t replicating the problems from the past.

I also wonder how collaborative anthropology, however we imagine what this would look like or what that means… could facilitate that? Or could be a means to helping us get away from the “mono” and all the problems that come with that, which is not to say that it’s all completely problematic, the “mono.” But yeah, what would that mean? I don’t imagine that my scholarship is, me by myself. I am talking to Ruth and we are bouncing ideas off of each other and I am gaining insights from our conversations and even though I write it up and it’s technically my work and my name is there and that is how we act like we are producing knowledge, but we know that’s not how it works anyways. So… I wonder if the collaborative ethnography and anthropology, can also make visible that process, that knowledge production process as not “mono.” It also facilitates our ability to continue to be anthropologists and do ethnographic work that isn’t as valued but that is important to us.

Patricia: What you said just made me think, talking about ideas with each other, bouncing ideas off of each other, with our interlocutors and friends in the field… I don’t know… a lot of the… what I see as collaborative, because we inevitably working with people that are outside of academia, will not just be in text, will not just be mono-graphic, will not be monomodel, because that wouldn’t be collaborative… I think that if you truly embrace that they are talking to me and I am writing this up. I love what you said about making the process and collaboration more visible and acknowledging that it is there, but if we even go further than other forms of collaboration that will go beyond the monograph, that will inevitably appear.

I also was not working with a particular organization or NGO like you [Ugo], but I was working with people in these workshops and they needed to make portfolios so that they could get jobs, so I was like, ok, I have cameras, I can take photos, I can put a PDF together and give it to you. It’s not necessarily super politics, but it was a collaboration, I was working with their work, for a different space. It wasn’t necessarily academic, but we talked about things, inevitably it bounces back into your writing and into your work. There’s a different kind of product. When we just think about collaboration as writing a text and including that person’s name, we are reinforcing a particular power relation, we are making a collaboration work for us and our purposes.

Ugo: Right.

Patricia: While I think that it is a start for a discipline that is so based on the individual, the individual genius! But I think it could do more.

Ugo: Yeah!

Ruth: That is what I hope for. That was part of thinking about the Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert ethnography and more, similar ways of collaborating. It was really Davi Kopenawa speaking to Bruce Albert and transcribing those conversations that they had together [clearly edited and translated into English] and Bruce Albert intentionally either taking himself out of certain moments… I think he was pretty open about where he showed himself to not be and I really appreciated that. And so, time constraints and thinking with you both for this particular project and highlighting that we want to think about the different ways that collaborations happen with the people we work with.

Ugo: Yeah.

Ruth: I am also uncomfortable with the label of “informant”—maybe colleague or collaborator works better, in the way that we are all thinking about it. And, like, going back, I didn’t do this, but the Wenner-Gren engaged grant, I missed the deadline. Going back and getting feedback from people who you worked with and where you worked, that’s part of it. Then that is also a language thing. That was another part that I hadn’t fully thought of, but I remember hearing young scholars told, “how brave of you to publish in Spanish or Portuguese,” but, because it doesn’t count as much. I think that [publishing in different languages] has to be part of that future.

Patricia: Yeah, if we are required to speak the language with a great degree of fluency, we should be required to publish in that language for the people there. To me, that just should be a given.

Ugo: Right.

Ruth: Yes.

Ugo: I agree.

Ruth: I am looking at the time and don’t want to end! But… we must. One of the things that I was wondering is that, this is all inherently political, right? To come back again to the different forms that we have talked about, what projects with students as well as colleagues—and by colleagues, that is open—whether it is with each other or in an institutional setting, in the field… and this is an impossible question, but I am curious what you both think of what a political, what a political future looks like—what we hope it to be for anthropology.

I know this is part of changing tenure requirements and what they might look like, but also what does it mean in an institutional setting… I didn’t tell students that there were protests last semester… I wasn’t sure how to “be” in terms of exposing my politics.

I wonder how we might even end this conversation about what a political future and possibility might look like for anthropology.

Maybe that is a total conversation stopper!

Patricia: It’s a really big question. I have to… I think, you write this really big question and we are asked to think about anthropology’s future. I think it’s also about the politics of the imagination too, right? About seeing… about giving us time to be imaginative and seeing that as political and encouraging students to be imaginative too. Then it’s totally tangential to what you are saying, but I think that we are not allowed or given much time to the imagination. We need time to think about, to really think about this huge question that you just posed and we have 800 words and five days.

Ruth: That’s a good point!

Patricia: It’s more to the point that we keep asking these really big questions and then not giving ourselves enough leeway and time.

Ruth: Maybe that is part of the answer.

Ugo: Hmm, yes.

Ruth: In order to take thoughtful action, there needs to be time and space for that reflection and imagination to happen. And that the time constraints and the publish or perish is actually not conducive to living a political life.

Ugo: Yes… I am with you. I think that imagination, the encouraging of wonder and curiosity, and then, yes, the time to also imagine and dream… because I think that we are so stuck in what “is” that, what it takes to begin to imagine what is outside of what we even know is a lot! I mean, even to think about how to teach differently? And you are in the thick of it, you have these points that you know the students have to learn… they have to pick up these tools…

There was a moment that was about slowness: Slow food, cooking, slow public health, slow feminist research… and I think that most people would say that anthropology goes slow, but… It’s a playing around with temporality and I think giving us space and time to imagine beyond our wildest thoughts… not to be like Rihanna and them, like: wild, wild thoughts, but…

Ruth: I knew Lévi-Strauss was ripping off of Ri-Ri.

Ugo: Can we please cut that part out?

Patricia: No, no, I was going to say, can we please quote Rihanna, like 2016 in this? This is part of the future of anthropology.

Ruth: Yes!

Patricia: I mean, you guys were at Berkeley, right? You know Trinh Minh-ha? In her latest film, she mixes poetry, and it’s about Vietnam, so poems about Vietnam and the history of Vietnam from the most famous writers, and mixes them with Vietnamese pop songs, lyrics from Vietnamese pop songs and you don’t know… they work so well, you don’t know that this part is from a pop song. And this fits with the narrative that she’s creating. So if Trinh Minh-ha is doing it. I think we should quote Rihanna.

Ruth: It points to the multi-modalities!

All of us: [Laughing.]

Patricia: And it points to the future, because if you quote Rihanna, your students will read it!

Ugo: This is true, this is true! I think that for us, too, just cultivating that, and this is something that I was talking about with a friend and we were talking about jobs. My hesitation to go into an African American studies department, while race is definitely something that I am thinking about in my work, I don’t want to be limited [to what is just one analytic]. Sometimes I think it’s a burden that I have to think about certain things, I have to think about gender, I have to think about race, we don’t get to just imagine and wonder, and I don’t want to use the term human beings, but just… what would be my curiosities if I didn’t have to always think about gender, about race—and so I am not saying that we shouldn’t think about those. I just think that if we have another space and push past the world as we know it.

Ruth and Patricia: That is a beautiful way to end!

Patricia: So quotable!

Ruth: You both came out with such quotable moments. Thank you! Thank you both for talking and collaborating on this with me.

 

Collaborations: Envisioning an Engaged Multimodal Future for Anthropology

 

“The present was an egg laid by the past that had the future inside its shell.”
Zora Neale Hurston

 

I asked two colleague-friends to collaborate in this exercise of envisioning the future of the field: visual anthropologist and filmmaker Patricia Alvarez and medical anthropologist and playwright Ugo Edu. We first circulated written ideas and then Edu suggested a conversational format à la Hartman and Wilderson (2003).  With the limits of time and space, we reproduce only parts of that conversation here. To render this collaborative work visible, see our transcript. Continue reading

Special Focus: Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks in the History of Anthropology

Read the full Focus Section here.