Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Visual Ethnography 3

What does it mean to live sustainably in an ecologically damaged world?

Andrew Littlejohn

MSc Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology - Research opportunity

I’m an environmental anthropologist concerned with what it means to live sustainably in what Kath Weston calls “a high-tech, ecologically damaged world.” My primary research site is the northeast of Japan, where I’ve made a number of audiovisual pieces on the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami.

My ideas about media in general and “ethnographic” media, in particular, were formed during my PhD at Harvard University, where I studied production in the Sensory Ethnography Lab and taught ethnographic approaches to documentary sound (or “sonic ethnography”) under Ernst Karel. I value sound and image not for their capacity to illustrate spoken-language ideas, but their power to re-present non-discursive aspects of lived experience in and across time and space. I also believe strongly in David MacDougall’s dictum that our aesthetic practices should be born out of and bear the traces of our relationships with our subjects. Accordingly, I’m concerned with discouraging cookie-cutter approaches to documentary, which often prioritize textual arguments, and promoting more formal experimentation. In my own work, I focus in particular on sound and its affordances; my latest piece, Shizugawa, is a 5.1 surround-sound audio work juxtaposing lost pasts and emergent presents in Japan’s disaster regions.

While I’m happy to supervise many kinds of projects, I particularly welcome work engaging:

  • Relations between humans and the/their environment(s), or humans and other animals;
  • Observational, sensorial, or experimental cinematic approaches;
  • The power of sound and sounding, in life and/or cinema.
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