Participatory ethnographic filmmaking as visual ethnography
Martin Gruber (University of Bremen)
Paper short abstract:
Participatory Ethnographic Filmmaking is an approach in which local research participants conceive and shoot films making use of observational and ethnofictional filmmaking. The filmmaking offers alternative ways of anthropological enquiry and constitutes a shift in representational power.
Paper long abstract:
From 2011 to 2013 I conducted participatory film workshops with rural dwellers in Namibia, Botswana and Angola as part of a large multidisciplinary research project. The three resulting films investigate natural resource management through locally important activities such as subsistence farming, fishing and the gathering of honey. The films are based on an approach I termed "Participatory Ethnographic Filmmaking". Conceived and shot largely by local workshop participants the films make use of observational and ethnofictional filmmaking approaches. In the paper, I want to give a critical account of my work and the role it played within a large multidisciplinary research project. While the impact on the wider research project was limited, the way in which rural dwellers are presented as experts in front of and behind the camera constitutes a shift in the representation of marginalised actors within the project and beyond. Local actors appropriated and used the filmmaking in different ways: to depict their activities and lifestyles positively, but also to call attention to their problems and make decision makers accountable. Fictionalisations served as an important means to address difficult issues. Handing over practical aspects of the filmmaking to workshop participants had great impact on the power dynamics within the film production and on the way locals related to the outcome. My own acting in front of the camera further blurred the boundaries between researcher and researched. "Participatory Ethnographic Filmmaking" thus enabled me to elicit new and locally specific forms of anthropological knowledge.
Participatory visual and digital research in anthropology: engagement and innovation