Introduction: Multimodal Anthropology and the Politics of Invention

Dattatreyan, E. Gabriel and Marrero-Guillamón, Isaac. 2019. Introduction: Multimodal Anthropology and the Politics of Invention. American Anthropologist, 121(1), pp. 220-228. ISSN 0002-7294 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This essay and the articles included in this special issue theorize the possibilities – and pitfalls – that emerge as anthropologists utilise a combination of audio, video, text, still images, performance methodologies, and web platforms to iteratively, collaboratively, and sensually generate relations with research participants, interdisciplinary colleagues and beyond. We are not necessarily interested in developing multimedia approaches to representing or disseminating anthropological knowledge – rather, we are concerned with how multimodality may contribute to a politics of invention for the discipline. We argue that multimodality offers a line of flight for an anthropology yet to come: multi-sensorial rather than text-based, performative rather than representational, and inventive rather than descriptive. This reimagined anthropology requires a move away from established forms of authorship, representation and academic publishing towards projects that experiment with unanticipated forms, collaborations, audiences and correspondences – including questioning what the open in Open Access should signify, as Anand Pandian (2018) has compellingly argued. As importantly, a focus on multimodality and invention invites a reconsideration of the pedagogy of anthropology – both in the sense of what gets formally taught within the disciplinary canon, and in relation to the manifold ways of teaching and learning together that emerge during fieldwork, not always made visible, and which exceed the textual and conceptual domain. Indeed, we use multimodality and invention to refer to the multiple ways of doing ethnography - and the resulting multiple anthropologies - that create ways of knowing and learning together differently.

In the essay that follows we offer several provocations that multimodality and invention produce with regards to pedagogy, publication, and collaboration – which are picked up in novel ways in each of the articles included as part of this collection. Our essay is not meant as an enclosure, or a boundary, but rather a framing – that is, a point of view or an orientation to the multiple questions that emerge in each of the essays, where the respective anthropologists rethink engagement, form, and purpose in their ethnographic endeavours. We draw from John Jackson Jr. to argue that framing is at once “a gesture toward contextualization (a conceptual framing of the relevant issues) and a singular impression captured in time (as in the presentation of a framed painting or the relative irreducibility of a film or video still)”. Taking Jackson Jr.’s second point to heart, we offer this introductory essay as a still image by which to see with and through the ethnographic engagements of others. In this still image, the concepts of multimodality and invention are unpacked and interrogated in ways we hope offer an alternative way to think about ethnography and anthropological theory in a moment where the discipline is grappling with how to find ways to engage more effectively with the increasingly fractured and precarious worlds we inhabit.

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Anthropology, Research methods, Pedagogy of anthropology, Ethnography, Multimodality, Invention, Open Access

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16 November 2018Accepted
31 January 2019Published Online
1 February 2019Published

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Date Deposited:

23 Nov 2018 12:59

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 17:00

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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