HART 545.001

Image-Based Ethnography

B804 East Quad
W 1:00-4:00pm
3 Credit Seminar

Anthropologists privilege the visual over the other senses (smell, taste, touch, hearing) yet, curiously, their "visual literacy" and "visual thinking" are often undeveloped, in contradistinction to their well-developed "literary literacy." Understanding images and visual, sensory phenomena and messages may seem to be an intuitive process but acquiring visual literacy and learning how to think visually, are actually like learning a new language with its own special alphabet, lexicon and syntax. One might "know" a thing visually, but may not be able to describe that same thing. In addition to learning how to think visually, this multi-media seminar is also devoted to exploring a history-spanning range of anthropological and aesthetic theories of images that have been generated both manually and mechanically. In this connection, we will both consider image-making as a form of instrumental action and agency (versus images as passive objects or subjects), and critique the "alphabetocentrism" (or "textophilia") implicit in the notion (after Geertz) that culture is reducible to "an ensemble of texts." The seminar traverses the globe in exploring ethnographic "case studies" of media (as in paints, inks, cameras, etc.) and image-making, including calligraphy, home decoration, landscape painting, graffiti, cartoons and caricatures, and photomontage among other forms of situated expressions.