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Through the Lens: Technological Mediation in Anthropological Encounters

Fri, November 13, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Denver Sheraton, Governor's Square 9

Session Submission Type: Paper Session


Since at least Lévi-Strauss’s leçon d’écriture, practicing anthropologists have been attuned to problems of technological mediation and the authority of writing and documenting in fieldwork. And many anthropologists have looked back at their disciplinary history and critically assessed the rhetorical constructions present in ethnographic monographs that cast research subjects as “Others.” However, deep thinking on the presence of technologies that facilitate ethnographic documentation—whether note-taking, photographing, filming, or otherwise—has not been well addressed from a historical perspective. And yet, the discipline of anthropology grounds itself on some necessary form of documentation; it insists on ethnography.

How did anthropologists of the past use technologies to document their subjects or their own experience in “the field,” and how did these technologies shape the “encounter”? How did “research subjects” understand the tools of the “researcher”? What were anthropologists’ explicit and implicit assumptions about the end goals of documentation technologies? This panel brings together four (STS-engaged) historians of anthropology to share research projects on the uses and abuses of documentary techniques that have figured as crucial modes through which anthropologists advanced disciplinary practice, conveyed information to diverse populations, “preserved” cultural knowledge about endangered populations, and forged productive or fraught relationships with their research populations.

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