Ethnovideography as ethical ethnography
Eric Weissman (Concordia University)
Paper short abstract:
Videography is a field method that expands ethnographic presence and eases the problem of coevalness by supporting new unified research subjectivity, a self-other that exists in "reflexive time".
Paper long abstract:
For the chronically homeless in North America, avowals of dignity and self-worth are embedded in selective memory and traumatized identities. A major problem faced by ethnographers who study this group is Fabian's (1983) problem of coevalness; instead of looking at a regressive cultural form, street-poverty must be approached as coterminous with other human conditions over time and through space. I studied "homeless" people living in a shanty community in Portland and state-funded housing projects in Toronto over ten years using ethnovideography. I argue that ethnovideography bridges the divide between the research methods of regimes of practice, for which shantytowns are ungovernable anomalies, and radical ethnographies, which reify the shantytown as a trace of the "actioning of needs" by virtuous marginal persons. Both extremes distort coevalness by objectifying a categorical street identity and ignore its construction within the process of investigation. Ethnovideography expands ethnographic presence and addresses coevalness by producing a virtual link between a Bakhtinian once-ocurrent investigative moment and its trace. This reflexive "time-frame" is then more accurately reinterpretable over time than notes and recall. Video is a medium of reflexive performativity; the traditions of observer and observed are re-territorialized in inescapable visualized moments of interpenetration, whereby observer becomes the subject and the object of an ethical ethnography inhering a fidelity of the participants in a once-occurrent-event of being. "Dignity" emerges as an ethical, rather than a purely anthropological issue. (A short film supports this paper)
Anxious visions and uncertain images