What about presenting research findings with cartoons? A few days ago, anthropologists Aleksandra Bartoszko and Anne Birgitte Leseth published a research report as a comic book - together with cartoonist Marcin Ponomarew. And it was a success! Take a look at here http://anthrocomics.wordpress.com
I’ve asked Aleksandra Bartoszko to write some words about it for us. She is one of the first fieldbloggers (check her blog here http://antropyton.blogspot.com ) and has contributed with several posts here at antropologi.info, among others Pecha Kucha - the future of presenting papers? and - in Norwegian - a series about anthropology and art
The Anthropological Comic Book - an alternative way of reaching the audience
By Aleksandra Bartoszko, Assistant Professor Oslo University College
What if people don’t get it? How will they interpret it? What will the anthropologists say? – we asked ourselves before publishing the comic book. Not without fear. Not without doubts. Anthropology is about writing. But comics, these funny stories in a newspaper that amuse us during breakfast reading – are they a valid form of presentation of ethnographic findings?
“Public Space, Information Accessibility, Technology, and Diversity at Oslo University College” was a project which I, together with Anne Leseth, started in 2009.
We conducted our fieldwork at the campus of the college to assess the friendliness and accessibility of localities and information services in terms of social and cultural diversity. When we told our colleagues about our work, some of them reacted: “Oh, yet another report that nobody will read”. Not an encouraging attitude, but it challenged us to figure out an alternative way of reaching the audience.
We needed something that would attract attention of people who were “fed up with all these reports” on the multicultural environment, integration, exclusion and inclusion. So we decided to present our findings with a twist. We decided to make an anthropological comic book.
The process of making the comics was challenging yet extremely rewarding. Before we even started to worry about the reactions of the readers and the anthropological community, we asked ourselves how to make an illustrated ethnography.
While working with cartoonist Marcin Ponomarew we experienced something new, the experience that was not possible before – what our readers see when they read our ethnographies. How do they interpret our descriptions, how do they visualize our informants and their environments, and whose version is more real? “The dead of the author” was closer than ever.
We gave Marcin manuscripts. Some drawings he sent us back were very close to what we (or everyone of us) imagined and saw during the fieldwork, some were completely different. Yet, was his graphic presentation less real than if I had drawn the story? We worked with many versions of every story so as to get “the right picture”, to translate ethnography into words and words into pictures. This experience of triple translation gave me a new understanding of relation between the descriptive work of the author and the imaginative process in the reader’s head. As far as I am concerned, writing ethnography will never be the same as it was before this experience.
The book turned out to be a collection of ethnographic situations. Some of the drawings represent situations that we have observed; some of them are situations that we or our informants have experienced. They are often representations of emotions and feelings. A few of them are representations of stories we were told and some of them represent our analysis of documents and situations at the campus. Just as in written ethnography, we have manipulated some situations so as to anonymize the informants. This process was carried out with the same level of precision and ethical consideration as would be performed with written ethnography. Our goal was to tell a trustworthy story.
While working on this collection, various storylines, narrative arcs, drawings, and so forth, we were faced with a series of esthetic, philosophical, and ethical choices. We not only interpreted our ethnographic findings but also presented our view of the world. In some instances, we used irony and humor to clarify situations. These forms of expression also represent our informants’ subjective experiences. They reflect the tone, emotions, and comments that were expressed by the students and employees during our conversations with them.
This book, in both its form and content, breaks with the traditional way of presenting ethnography. Traditionally, anthropology has been a written enterprise. Writing is perceived as the most scientific form of representation of social life. However, other forms of representation exist — not only in other disciplines (like art) but also within anthropology and social sciences.
Anthropological findings have been presented in such forms as photography, film, and material exhibitions. Anthropologists are becoming increasingly inspired to branch out from the written word and use other forms of expression to present their findings. We have learned that there are various ways in which knowledge can be imparted and findings can be communicated. It is well known that the scientific standards of visual anthropology are equivalent to those of the written one.
The challenges related to visual presentation, as well as the lack of anonymity in those products, have been discussed, and these issues remain problematic. However, we believe that the comic book format, with its convincing visual style and preservation of anonymity (i.e., informants do not have to reveal their identities on screen or in photos, thus preserving their anonymity) may be a great solution.
Stereotypes: Culture or money? Cartoon: Marcin Ponomarew
The goals of this comic book were not only to inform and educate but also to entertain and provoke discussion among readers. While working on this collection, we endeavored to set a tone of openness so as to promote reflection and interpretation. In so doing, we hoped that the comic book would involve readers in the dynamic process of learning and create a debate.
Did we succeed? Judging by the comments we received from the public – yes. We received positive feedbacks from both students, employees at the college and fellow anthropologists. Not only did they concern the esthetical values of the comics or the innovative way of presenting research, but what’s most important we received feedbacks on the issues presented in the comics.
We have been told that the book made people reflect. “So this is how it works”, “I didn’t realize before, that stereotypes are also what I do every day” and “This opened my eyes on the integration issues”, we have heard from the readers. I believe that this is because of the form of presentation we have chosen.
People tend to better understand the complex issues when they are visible. Literally. Sometimes we need to see ourselves in a mirror to see ourselves at all. These comics were like a mirror that made people reflect upon the social and cultural issues without the distance which written texts often are creating.
So, yes, we achieved what we hoped for. If this collection will help to improve the learning and work environment at the college is not entirely up to us, but we shed a light on challenges that need to be solved.
I would not say that comics are appropriate to present work engaged in theory development. But is every anthropological text about theory? We read so many articles, monographs, reports and listen to conference papers which actually present nothing more than ethnographic description. Are they less scientific? Well, this questions should be answered by anthropologists in the nearest future. For if pictures tell and do just as much (or more) as words, we should take a serious look at the condition and purposefulness of writing in anthropology and academia in general.
The Anthropological Comic Book is available online at http://anthrocomics.wordpress.com
UPDATE 4.3.2011: Katarzyna Wala has translated her text into Polish: Komiks antropologiczny
Public anthropology does exist. There are lots of anthropologists who write for the wider public and not only for other anthronerds. Here’s another example: The Polynesian Tattoo Today by Tricia Allen, doctoral candidate in anthropology at the university of Hawai’i.
In an interview with Honolulu’s Star Bulletin, she explains:
“The first book did well; it is now in its third printing. Its primary readership was those with a specific interest in Hawai’i and history. The new book will reach a larger audience, as it is far more general – covering all of Polynesia – and is primarily photographs. Anyone can enjoy looking at beautiful photos of artful bodies!”
The book was not launched in a traditional academic way with a seminar. The publishers hosted a “Tattoo Contest". Tricia Allen and several Polynesian tattoo artists were “on hand to autograph books – or your arm".
Allen is by the way not only anthropologist but tattoo artist herself and has tattooed over 8000 members of the Polynesian community. She completed her Master’s thesis at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 1992 on the early practice of tattooing in the Marquesas Islands. For her doctoral thesis, she is researching the revival of the arts in the Pacific. “In the last few years a pan-Polynesian style has gotten incredibly popular", she says.
“Many tattoos featured in the book are a mixture of styles… Hawaiian, Maori, Samoan. Polynesian tattoos are increasing in popularity and many traditional designs have been revived", writes M.L. Sanico i his review in the Hawaii Book Blog:
What I especially liked about the book is seeing the diversity of people who have these tattoos, and who are tattoo artists themselves. Each photo has a short caption with the person or tattooists name, where they’re from and a little bit about the tattoo or what it means to them.
In an earlier interview, Tricia Allen tells us more about the revival of Polynesian tattoos:
There is a revival of all of the ancient arts: tattooing, tapa making, weaving, carving, dance, chanting and firewalking. There is a whole resurgence of Polynesian culture, and tattooing is just a part of that. In my mind it is one of the most significant parts of the revival because it’s such a permanent statement: “I’m Polynesian.” And to some degree in many cases it is a political statement, or a statement of allegiance to the traditional culture.
Also check her own website with more tattoo infos and pictures.
The recent example of public anthropology was my blog post Anthropologist uncovers how global elites undermine democracy and one of the most read posts ever.
In the new issue of American Ethnography, we’ll find these words by anthropologist Martin Hoyem:
Artists, like ethnographers, train their eyes to see things other people don’t see. They try to present what they see so that we, the audience, can glimpse something where we have looked a thousand times and failed to find anything noteworthy.
“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed,” wrote William Burroughs, in his 1992 Painting & Guns. (…) “An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it ‘creative observation’. Creative viewing.”
Anthropologists as creative viewers? Sounds good! The January issue includes two articles on the similarities and differences between artists and social scientists. In his article on Robert Frank’s famous photo book “The Americans”, Hoyem quotes anthropology professor Jay Ruby who wrote:
“Frank’s The Americans is a fundamental text. While he did behave like a field worker he knew nothing about ethnography. His contribution to photography was the virtual invention of a photographic narrative. Few have been able to equal it and in many ways it should be a model for ethnographic photographers to follow.”
>> Howard Becker: “Photography and Sociology” (republished from Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication, 1974).
When, why and how are individuals moved by a piece of art in a museum or gallery? How can art change people’s lives? Anthropologist Sandra Dudley, and neuroscientist Rodrigo Quian Quiroga will develop a new, interdisciplinary approach to the perception of gallery art according to a press release.
The anthropologist explains:
What we’re studying is a basic level of human experience of the material and visual world. It doesn’t always happen that an individual will feel the wow factor when they look at a piece of art in a museum, but it does happen sometimes. What causes that? Why does certain art appeal to certain people? What lasting impact does it have on their lives?
(The study) will inform how galleries are laid out, how art is contextualised. Potentially, there are big implications in how this research may change practice.
Rodrigo Quian Quiroga adds:
It will be interesting from a scientific angle too. What makes people interested in a particular piece of art in a gallery? Is it lighting? The surrounding environment? Previous information? How will they explore this art, or will they just pass by and miss it? For me, from a neuroscience point of view, this is very interesting.
The two researchers work together with the Art Fund. Director David Barrie says:
The Art Fund firmly believes that art can really change people’s lives: that’s at the heart of everything we do. But it’s very hard to prove. My hope is that this pioneering piece of work will be the start of a much wider programme of research which will, over time, help us to understand just how art can exercise its power over us. Maybe then it won’t be so hard to persuade our political leaders to invest in it!
Dudley’s research has previously led her to spend a year in a jungle refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border:
It may sound a long way from gallery art, but my work there shares the same focus on human experience of, and aesthetic response to, the material world.
Quian Quiroga is known for his research on how the brain responds to images.
The project will combine participant observation and interviews with the use of an eye tracker. Quian Quiroga explaines:
When you look at something, you don’t see it as a whole. Your eyes are continually moving, gazing at a tiny portion of the visual field, and the picture is reconstructed in your brain. From the eye tracker we can infer exactly what you’re looking at. Then we can reconstruct the signal and see exactly how people look at different pieces of art.
The research project is part of the ‘Beyond Text’ initiative by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
“Anthropologist creates oceanic manga fantasy” is the headline of a story in The Daily Yomiuri Shimbun (Japanese newspaper). “I want to portray in manga what I gained from field investigation, but cannot fully express in scientific papers,” anthropologist Daisaku Tsuru says.
Tsuru is assistant cultural anthropology professor at Toyama University and the author of Nacun, a manga focusing on the mystery of (sea) life:
Nacun is based on Tsuru’s own experience of having researched fishing culture on an isolated island in Okinawa Prefecture for a total of six months while at graduate school.
Nacun, set in the future, revolves around graduate student Terunari Ishii. In the manga’s world, humans have expanded their range of marine activities thanks to the development of a convenient underwater breathing device in 2051. Ishii, who has received a prophecy in the form of a video left by an academic genius, begins living on an isolated island in the prefecture to find clues for the development of artificial intelligence.
The depiction of Ishii, who blends into local life through encounters with a lonely, middle-aged fisherman or a mysterious, beautiful girl who plays with dolphins, reflects parts of Tsuru’s fieldwork. At the same time, it can be read as a coming-of-age tale of an impressionable young man.
“Such a depiction of Ishii, that he idly spends his time drinking with fishermen, at least on days when he cannot go out fishing, is surely based on my own experience,” Tsuru said with a smile.
But the most fascinating aspect of Nacun is likely its clever combination of oceanic science fiction and romanticism with the inner psychological world of traditional Okinawans, typified by the worship of utaki, or sacred grounds.
>> read the whole story in the Daily Yomiuri (link updated)
A few days ago I mentioned an interview I’ve conducted with Lavleen Kaur, a criminologist who studies the relationship between Norwegian-Pakistanis and Norwegian-Indians. For her, theater and research go hand-in-hand. She has studied classic Indian dance in Lonon and also has experience as a choreographer and instructor.
- Yes, the artistic and academic aspects are for me something that go hand-in-hand and they are something I actively link together. For example, I came in contact with many of my informants for my Master’s degree by staging a play in cooperation with the Indian Welfare Society of Norway. (…) The piece was based on a book that was written in the 1600s, Heer by Waris Shah. The story of “Heer and Ranjha", the Romeo and Juliette from Punjab, is something both Indians and Pakistanis have a very special relationship to.
- We set up the play in a traditional original version, and more recent version that focused on a mixed couple. This generated quite a response! There were people who started leaving and paternal heads of family who did not want to attend the second version, which they considered to be a “youthful notion". The play helped start a debate within the community about topics that today we are compelled to relate to. There was a lot of participant-observation - it was “going native” in a very real sense.
UPDATE: Entertaining Research writes about an archaelogist who has danced his thesis
What happens when artists and anthropologists are asked to do something together rather than talk from the safety of their own practice? The result can be seen on the website Connecting Art & Anthropology: Transcripts of discussions, short reports, a video and even a sound notebook based on the workshop! Read also Anne Galloway’s comments on this website/workshop.
Last year we had a similar event in Oslo, see Cosmoculture: Preferably more art than books!. Thomas Hylland Eriksen said: “The most important thing the Palestinian intellectual Edward Said did was to establish a Jewish-Arabic youth orchestra. This was more important than writing 100 books.”
An old drawing style in Japan is being reintroduced as new in the United States, and USC anthropology research scientist Mizuko Ito presented the development of Anime at the UCLA Faculty Center, UCLA University writes on their homepage. Academics should view anime fan art as its own unique art form, she said: "It is important for academic institutions to acknowledge popular culture (such as anime)."
Ito is known for her research on mobile phones. Currently she is part of the research project Digital kids.
The article also mentions Rachel Cody, a research assistant who works with Ito and studies the interaction of anime enthusiasts on the Internet and in front of the computer in private rooms.
(via vrulje) Museums start blogging! It's called Eye Level and is the Smithsonian American Art Museum's blog and according their self-description "the first blog by the Smithsonian and one of just a handful of museum sites in the blogosphere".
Their hope is that their blog "hosts a vital conversation among artists, curators, collectors, and enthusiasts on a broad range of subjects related to American art":
Over the long term, Eye Level will look at both art and museums, offering the kind of close examination that new media affords, in part simply to find out how new media can enhance the museum's role.
Especially interesting from an anthropological point of view:
(...) To cite the old cliché, the eye is the window to the soul. If art is a window to a culture, Eye Level is a way to take it in.