ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

Film, audio and multimedia programme: symbiosis: sound, vision and the senses
Location Room 2
Date and Start Time 14 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 3


  • Tom Rice (University of Exeter) email

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Short Abstract

This panel raises issues about the relationship between ethnography, sight and the other senses. It provides a space for the presentation of films, photographs, sound recordings and multi-media presentations. The panel will aim to stimulate discussion on sensory symbiosis as both an object of anthropological research and a realm of creativity in ethnographic representation. In what ways are contemporary anthropologists engaging with media technologies to generate data and present their findings? What symbiotic roles should text play in an era of growing multi-media potential and possibility?

Long Abstract

Filmmakers and other staff connected to the production are encouraged to attend for the discussion that will follow each screening.

Submission process:

To propose a film please click on the 'Propose a Paper' link.; in the "Short Abstract" please provide the billing of the film; in the "Long Abstract" please include: Director, Runtime in minutes, Year of production, Location, Production/distribution

Films that are not in English must be subtitled in English.

Submissions must be sent by post to:

Dr Tom Rice

Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology

University of Exeter

Amory Building, Rennes Drive




Online submissions can be sent to: contacttomrice(at)

Submissions must be received before 30th January 2015. Preview Copies must be in DVD format but the Screening Copy can be in BluRay or DVD.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The Mouth of the Cave and the Giant Voice: sound, text and voice in Okinawan war memory

Authors: Angus Carlyle (University of the Arts London)  email
Rupert Cox (Manchester University)  email

Short Abstract

This experimental film explores the evidential value of oral testimony and documentary images in the particular spaces of the Okinawan environment where memories of the Pacific war are stirred up by the sounds made by the activities of US military bases on the island.

Long Abstract

It is a strange and bitter irony that the US naval bombardment which launched the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 was called the 'typhoon of steel', invoking the turbulent winds that annually buffet this small island. Okinawans in coastal villages, such as Sunabe where the US forces made their landings, sought shelter from this mechanical, yet elemental force of destruction in one of the many caves that scatter the landscape.

War planes still fly over Sunabe today, from the United States Air Force base of Kadena.

Distinguishing and measuring these sounds and their effects on the health and livelihood of Sunabe residents has been the work of a Japanese acoustic scientist, Kozo Hiramatsu. Over the past twenty five years he has listened to and made sense of these sounds through the stories of individuals like Yogi-san who as a child took refuge in the cave and after the battle returned to take up residence in a house adjacent to the boundary fence of Kadena. It is in resonant spaces like the cave (gama) where he conducted the interview that is the subject of this film, that we may hear how war memory becomes a way of listening to the environment and how Yogi-san's words, solidified as text and witness to history and expressed through the mixing of the sounds of natural elements and military machinery convey the experience of many Okinawan lives like his, suspended between the American wars of the past, present and future.

Govindpuri Sound: an ethnographic audio documentary

Author: Tom Rice (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

I will present and talk about a set of long clips from a radio programme I made for the BBC World service. The programme is an exploration of the soundscape of a Delhi slum and aims to be a piece of ‘anthropology in sound’.

Long Abstract

Slum settlements have a strong visual identity. We’re used to seeing TV footage of densely packed, ramshackle homes squeezed onto strips of land in inner cities. But what does a slum sound like and how do sounds embody and reflect the local culture? In 2014 I met up with Dr Tripta Chandola, an urban researcher who for ten years has studied the slums of Govindpuri in India’s capital, Delhi. Tripta introduced me to the settlement and some of its residents and we recorded and interviewed them about the sounds they noticed in their everyday lives. The rich and varied soundscape often created an exciting buzz of activity and warm sociability, but sounds were also a source of friction, emphasizing sharp social divisions along the lines of religion, class and gender. In this presentation I consider the symbiotic relationships between sound, sound recording and the process of ethnographic representation in relation to the Govindpuri slums and in the context of making a radio programme.

Sounding Underground

Author: Ximena Alarcon (London College of Communication - University of the Arts London)  email

Short Abstract

Sounding Underground is a virtual environment that links commuter’s sonic memories of journeys in three underground public transport systems: London, Paris and Mexico City. The interface and architecture were the result of ethnographic and creative research with participants in each city.

Long Abstract

Sounding Underground is a virtual environment that links commuter’s sonic memories of journeys in three underground public transport systems: London, Paris and Mexico City. Commuters’ memories and imaginations are represented in sounds and images that have been selected by volunteer commuters through an ethnographic process. Through conversations, recordings, photography and interactive practice participants were involved in a process of remembering the multi-sensorial experience of commuting, accessing to it through listening as an embodied practice. Listening provided an immersion as if in an urban underground ritual that brought awareness of the relationship established with the machinery, the spatial structure, the other passengers, nature and themselves. The underground acted as a technological infrastructure for remembering what is forgotten but accumulated within the routine experience.

The multimedia narrative is driven by the sounds selected by each participant, which are overlapped in between spatial categories, creating sonic encounters of many unrelated people sharing an everyday infrastructure. In the virtual space, each metro, considering the relationships between distinct sounds, brings its uniqueness finding also shared sonic spaces with the other cities. The image is suggesting London’s industrial texture, colours of rural-urban Mexico City and the iconic Parisian light as poetic cultural traces that serve the access to the interface. This work uses the Internet as a vehicle and metaphor for an underground transport system. The environment creates spaces to navigate through, provoking a defamiliarization of a symbolic urban infrastructure by means of a virtual one.

21Up in Sewa, Normanby Island, Papua New Guinea (60 mins)

Author: Patrick Glass  email

Short Abstract

Inspired by Michael Apted's enthralling 7Up series (1964-2013), while doing fieldwork in Sewa in 1993 I started a study of babies, 7, 14, and 21 year olds and their families. In 2014, I returned to follow up this study - twenty one years on.

Long Abstract

Roger Ebert described 7Up as 'an inspired, even noble, use of the medium of film' (1998). While the merits of 7Up films have been much discussed, their power as documentary film is beyond dispute (Dunier 2009, Apted 2009).

Written descriptions - ethnography - are frozen in time, and raise endless questions about authority and representation. On the other hand, film has the distinct advantage of capturing the personal, ongoing, and reflexive in the most immediate and engaging way - vitally enabling the people to represent themselves. My film attempts to show this for the Sewa. And I think it raises some important questions for the practise of ethnography.

Apted, Michael 2009. Michael Apted Responds. Ethnography 10 (3) 359-67.

Dunier, Mitchell 2009. Michael Apted's Up! Series: Public sociology or folk psychology through film?

Ethnography 10 (3) 341-45.

Ebert, Roger 1998. The Up Documentaries. Roger

Glass, Patrick 2015. Film: 21Up in Sewa.

Toginutu, Winston Churchill 2015. Film: 21Up in Sewa.

Five Ways In (2014)

Author: Mike Poltorak (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

Directors-Mike Poltorak, Sonja Bruhlmann, Alyssa Lynes

Runtime-73 mins

Year of Production-2014


Distribution/Production-Potolahi Productions

Long Abstract

Contact Improvisation first developed in the United States in the 1970s as a movement experiment that challenged dancers to respond instinctively to bodily collisions. Four decades later, the dance form continues to be investigated openly by people all over the world. This film follows the aspirations of five dancers as they navigate the joys and challenges of being with three hundred participants at the biggest Contact Improvisation festival in the world in the old German university town of Freiburg. Jashana, an American political activist and Raquel, a Brazilian volunteer at the festival, search for the political edge and community building potential of the form. Swedish biodynamic gardener, Johan and Israeli travelling teacher, Lior, share hopes for beautiful and challenging dances and new ways to teach the form. Camille from France had only recently discovered the form. He seeks the heart of Contact Improvision out of his comfort zone of salsa and sports in the pursuit of sensitivity and weight sharing. During a week where being part of a temporary community and the intimacy and physicality of the form can challenge even experienced dancers, will the Freiburg Festival deliver the inspiration and insights they seek?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.