GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Un/revealing the visual in a Bahrain hawza: a case study
Paper Proposal Text :
My contribution relies on the hawza as a case-study by which we might articulate an innovative perspective over issues of representation of Muslim societies. Regarding this above mentioned approach, I aim to assess a visually informed ethnography, arranged differently, in theoretical terms, being practice-driven: by challenging the role, the limits and possibilities of a visually-centred fieldwork practice, I wish to challenge how to best use the visual as an epistemological stance. Even though this is not a completely new stance, it nevertheless has been rather neglected and poorly used.
Furthermore, I wish to focus on post-production as a tool to generate a thicker and more articulated visual representation in ethnography. Within the present context, post-production is assessed as the aesthetic-inspired practice that, following Eco, reinforces intended over aberrant meanings, and therefore positively impact the visual-led communication process. By re-assessing a role for aesthetics as experienced in over ten years as a photojournalist, I eventually aim to support experimental possibilities for visually-centred multimedia ethnography.
Even though anthropology has traditionally dismissed the aesthetic value as an ambiguous element altering its fidelity relationship with the real, contemporary studies encourage more nuanced approaches through suggestions from visual culture related fields of research. If aesthetics is understood in Kantian terms as “a kind of representation that is purposive in itself and, though without an end, nevertheless promotes the cultivation of the mental powers for sociable communication” [Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment], any ethnographic process of representation appears to be challenged in both epistemological and ontological terms.
I am aware of how post-production carries in itself those ambiguous possibilities since, by consciously altering the recorded “real,” it might actually use aesthetics as a signifying dimension per se, capable of eventually even disconnecting the signified from the signifier. Through a practical assessment of my recent ethnography on the hawza Al-Qaim of Manama in Bahrain, I will contextualize limits and possibilities relevant to a communicative-led usage of post-production in digital ethnography.
The digital revolution and the multiplication of representing media (from mobile phones to professional camera) has made the visual public by over-popularizing it: however, having a camera does not imply to have a visual poetics nor having something to say.
Such an over-popularization of photography specifically and of the visual in general has progressively degenerated representing quality and produced a rather impoverished visual culture. To me, the result is that we are confronted with two different domains for the transmission of knowledge, one that prefers the anthropological dimension and treats photography as a document against a second one assessing a pivotal role for the visual and documentary as a style for photography: choices over which dimension to prefer in the representational process inscribes all further assessments.
By questioning the basis of a scholarly-derived knowledge, I found myself exploring the transmission of knowledge inside the hawza and, contemporarily, questioning the same transmission of knowledge as articulated for an audience that sits outside the hawza, as it is the case with Western scholars.
This short contribution will problematize both these issues (knowledge transmission in the social sciences/humanities on the one hand and in the hawza in the other), while inviting to a more visually-oriented approach to fieldwork recording activity.
Eventually, by problematizing the post-production generative dimension in multimedia ethnography, this contribution will evaluate issues of authorship and authenticity, and question specificities belonging to the Islamic studies field of research. To my knowledge this has been a neglected subject, so the paper wishes to eventually suggest a personally designed framework to further carry visually-centred multimedia activities, and, through the terms of a practice-derived expertise, assess post-production as a fully generative tool for ethnography conducted in Muslim contexts.