Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Visual Ethnography

Visual ethnographic research into development-projects or practices of embodiment

Metje Postma

MSc Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology - Research opportunity

I am a Visual Ethnographer who has done visual ethnographic research in different regions in the world. My main regions of research have been Sudan and Eritrea where I have been conducting my own research and recorded several video- and views on the position of refugees and the ethnography of development projects.

I am also interested in how participatory video training projects and questions of (self)presentation may contribute to handing a tool of communication to members of communities who may otherwise not be heard or want to preserve their own culture. I conducted collaborative film projects with students of Ahfad University (Omdurman, Sudan 1993: Aruz Al Dura 1993) and with different local youths (Eritrea, Mai Habar 2000) and was involved in training projects of young local practitioners in crafts and arts, in the audio-visual documentation of their traditions in Japan.

My research in Europe reflects my interest in the relation between the body and embodied skills, studying the impact of heavy terrain on the engagement of farmers with different modes of labor, either those seeking such bodily engagement (Of Men and Mares (1998)) or those fleeing from it (Por Que se Van ? (1985)). This interest also translates in my fascination with bodily learning, which I explored by recording weekly training-sessions and exams of practitioners of Japanese archery (The Way of the Bow (2002 (unpublished)).

For this year’ s Master-program I would like to invite students that are interested in doing ethnographic research into 1. Development-projects or 2. Practices of embodiment to discuss their ideas with me.

  1. For the development projects, there is no fixed region assigned, but we could discuss collaboration with Dutch International NGO’s or local NGO’s in regions where I have contacts like Sudan and Costa Rica, or a region of your choosing, Ghana or Indonesia. The approach could be collaborative; making use of participatory video together with members of a community that is engaged in a project, or could entail the portrayal of one or more development workers in their daily practice etc. What does the practice of development work consist of? What are the different perspectives on such programs of those involved? What and who drives such programs? This field of study is mostly inspired by the works of David Moss, David Lewis, Olivier de Sardan, Bierschenk and the likes.
  2. The study of practices of embodiment could be connected with the aim of preservation of intangible cultural heritage (think here of educating young people in forms of traditional dance, crafts or rituals) or can entail the study of any training where the development of skills is purchased (from a carpenter to a dancer) and can take place anywhere. The inspiration of this field of study lies mostly with de Certeau, Bourdieu, Grasseni, MacDougall and Warnier). Here one can think of UNESCO-projects or small scale projects generated by local communities as well as how hip-hop dancing or martial arts can be seen as a part of social worlds of groups and individuals. How do bodily skills impact a sense of identity? How do these shared practices affect social processes in a community? How do different strategic interests correspond with traditional views and values that affect the continuation of specific skills like pottery, dance, art forms etc.

These topics will be approached through the use of photography and/or video, with an emphasis on depicting practice and process through Observational Cinema style filmmaking. I am especially interested in how the visual ethnographic research-process generates and makes accessible: other ways of knowing that can otherwise not be researched or communicated.

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