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SIEF2013 11th Congress: Tartu, Estonia.
30 June - 4 July, 2013

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


The predicament of technology: fixing and circulating the ephemeral - recording devices, data carriers, and the enabling of circulation and appropriation of cultural elements

Location Lossi 3, 425
Date and Start Time 03 July, 2013 at 10:30


Johannes Mueske (Deutsches Museum) email
Thomas Hengartner (University of Zurich, ETH Zurich, Zurich University of the Arts) email
Ute Holfelder (Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The panel asks for the predicament of technology - (digital) recording devices enable the flow of "culture" by apparently fixing them at the same time. The panel focuses the interplay of technology, reproducible records, and related implications for both everyday practices and ethnographic research.

Long Abstract

To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed" - the quote of Susan Sontag stresses the role of storing devices that enable practices to fix sound, light and sound, and written words. Whereas cultural analysis has often critically stressed the conjuncture that reproductive technologies "freeze" and de-contextualize cultural elements, our panel wants to give weight to the potential of technology to enable new practices of (re-)appropriation of "culture" by putting the materials at disposal of various actors in various contexts. Thus, recording technology does not only hinder flows but also enables the free circulation of (ethnographic) knowledge or other ephemeral phenomena. The panel seeks papers that apply an empirical-ethnographic approach; proposals can focus on one of the following subjects, or related topics:

- (Storing) Technologies and media convergence: How have cultural practices concerning the handling of sounds, images, or the like changed with technology and how does media convergence influence these processes?

- Issues of (Re-) Appropriation: How do technologies enable actors to use, re-use, or re-contextualise, in general: appropriate and re-appropriate "contents"? What significance do reproducible data unfold in everyday practices of actors, concerning, e.g., communication, identity politics (cultural heritage/property), the appropriation of places?

- Theoretical and methodological Implications: The history of the ethnographic disciplines is related to collection efforts which tried to freeze (rural) culture. Did/Do these projects lead to the circulation of ethnographic knowledge among society (and if so: how)? Does digitization influence issues of access, or even agendas of ethnographic research itself?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Knowledge about the past: a result of the interaction between man and technology

Author: Karin Gustavsson (Lund University)  email

Short Abstract

Investigations of a vanishing rural lifestyle and vernacular architecture were conducted in Scandinavia about 100 years ago. Several technologies were used – cameras with different accessories, tools for measuring, drawing and writing, and also technologies for transportation (bicycles, railways).

Long Abstract

In my on-going PhD research project I study how investigations of a vanishing rural lifestyle and vernacular architecture was conducted in the Scandinavian countries during the first decades of the 20:th century. Several technologies were used in these documentation projects - cameras with different accessories, tools for measuring, drawing and writing, and also technologies for transportation, mainly bicycles and railways. The aim of making the documentations at the countryside was to preserve knowledge about housing and lifestyle, not primarily preservation of houses and sites.

Knowledge of considerable dimensions came out of these investigations. Several books and articles pictures (both photographs and drawings) were spread both to researchers and to public. All the photographs taken during the investigations created what can be characterized as "visual conventions" of the rural lifestyle, housing and vernacular architecture. These conventions dominated the notion of rural lifestyle for a long time - perhaps still?

The knowledge that was produced about rural lifestyle and vernacular architecture was dependent on the technology that was used, and the ideas among the men working in these projects were formed by the technical preconditions. The ideas emerging from Bruno Latour about the relations between man and thing can be used to analyse how the fieldworkers of the past interacted with their tools. The fieldworkers' way of thinking and acting was influenced by contemporary technical conditions. By studying the photographs, drawings and records from the fieldworks the dependence on technology also in knowledge that is known as a part of humanities becomes evident.

Archiving folklore, and making it public: collecting as a technology of communicating cultural practice

Authors: Sabine Eggmann (Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Volkskunde (SGV))  email
Johannes Mueske (Deutsches Museum)  email

Short Abstract

Our paper discusses the history of Folklore in Switzerland and the role of archival materials for the institutionalizing of a disciplinary discourse during the first half of the 20th century. It is argued that collections formed the condition for the dissemination of fixed cultural elements within society.

Long Abstract

A widely accepted history about Folklore is that its institutionalization formed a part of the societal compensation of the cultural changes produced by industrialization. Thus, in Folklore and Heritage studies, collecting and preserving culture are often identified with fixation. Broadening this interpretation, we would like to argue that collecting as a technology of storing cultural elements was also aiming to preserve them for the future and enabling flows of knowledge: The early Folklorists did not only fix and therefore bring to an end what they collected, but at the same time they made the cultural elements known to the public, who had no knowledge about them anymore. The collection and mediation of folk culture - e.g., via teaching materials, museums, or Atlas projects - raised the awareness of the vernacular within society and in a certain historical context.

Our paper focuses on scientific practices such as collecting, on the storage technologies and on the special forms of mediation (through maps as well through teaching materials) in order to get an insight into the conceptions of (folk) culture that are constructed by these practices and technologies. A second step will be to connect these conceptions of (folk) culture with the wider spread discourses within society. Thus we can see how orders of (folk) culture reflect the order of the given society. The paper derives from a research project on intangible cultural heritage and is based on empirical data collected in the archives of the Swiss Folklore Society.

"Vegascapes": landscape photography, community and place-making on the Vega Archipelago, Norway

Author: Consuelo Griggio (Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada)  email

Short Abstract

In 2012 Vega’s (Norway) photo club launched its first photo exhibition, Vegascapes. This paper discusses how the exhibition was appropriated by local islanders as a dialectic tool in the creation and establishment of their sense of place.

Long Abstract

In summer 2012 Vega's photo exhibition, Vegascapes, opened to the public. The author and the local photo club organized this event to share our visions of the Vega archipelago with both the local community and visitors. Surprisingly, the exhibition soon became an engaging and reflective medium for locals in particular. This paper discusses how the photo exhibition in Vega (Norway) was appropriated by local islanders as a dialectic tool in the creation and establishment of their sense of place (Massey 2004, 2005; Pierce, Martin, Murphy 2011, Loopmans et al. 2012). In particular, local teachers used the exhibition as an educational tool to stimulate their pupils' communicative and writing skills as well as to strengthen their sense of place and belonging. In addition, locals had the opportunity to re-enact their landscapes and to share their sense of place by actively discussing the photographs among each other and with visitors. This interactive process has enabled the circulation of both personal and community based narratives and has further sustained islanders' attachment to their cultural heritage.

"The unique moment": camera phone videos taken at concerts

Author: Ute Holfelder (Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt)  email

Short Abstract

Why are people taking videos at concerts with their mobile phones? The lecture deals with this cultural practice. First, current practices, functions and impacts of fixing this ephemeral event are analysed. Second, the circulation of the audiovisual artifacts into other social contexts is considered.

Long Abstract


Though interviews reveal that concertgoers are aware of the bad acoustic und visual quality of the camera phone videos they take at concerts, filming during concerts is very popular. People argue they want to catch the very special atmosphere of concerts so that they can remember the "unique moment" later on.

… and circulating the ephemeral

The lecture is based on the assumption that this narrative implicates a set of diverse meanings. Filming concerts may be a means of personal documentation as well as a strategy to appropriate a cultural event. The possibility of fixing and storing the ephemeral by using camera phones as a recording device enables the circulation of stored audiovisual contents into different social contexts. It makes the experience documentable, available, and negotiable. Last but not least, technical options such as media convergence give rise to new practices of storing, sharing, and communicating via the camera phone video as a new artifact.

Based on narrative interviews and camera phone videos I will demonstrate different impacts of filming concerts with mobile phones. Data were collected by the current SNF project "Handyfilme - künstlerische und ethnographische Zugänge zu Repräsentationen jugendlicher Alltagswelten" (en: Mobile phone videos - artistic and ethnographic approaches to representations of youth everyday worlds) at the University of Zurich and Zurich University of the Arts.

Circulating "Swissness"? The construction of national images through popular music on data carriers on Swiss Radio International

Authors: Karoline Oehme-Jüngling (Center for Cultural Anthropology)  email
Fanny Gutsche (University of Basel)  email

Short Abstract

Our paper focuses on the sensory-acoustic construction of “Swissness” based upon popular sounds and tones. We aim to analyse the intertwined processes of artistic-technical producing, institutionally controlled collecting, and user-centered receiving of popular music through the medium of radio.

Long Abstract

Our presentation investigates the acoustic construction and distribution of “Swissness” by means of (popular) music. The paper will report the first findings of our current joint research project with the Universities of Basle, Lucerne and Zurich in cooperation with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. At the core of the project is the Duer Collection – a compilation of approximately 8,000 audiotapes with “Swiss popular music” collected by the musicologist Fritz Duer on behalf of Swiss Radio International (SRI) between 1957 and 1967 in order to establish a musical Swiss visiting card.

The circulation of a national image of Switzerland, which was constructed, strengthened, and negotiated through the practice with data carriers is twofold. Firstly, the compilation of copied tapes among the regional SBC radio stations, which had a canonising function and gave the Duer Collection the character of a “meta-collection”. Secondly, radio broadcasting enabled the circulation of an acoustic image of the “Stimme der Schweiz” (Voice of Switzerland) around the world. By means of a case study we will follow the journey of one song from the collection, starting with its production (recording), its selection for the Duer Collection, and finally to its use in radio programmes.

How did the fixation of musical performances on data carriers and the circulation of those within the institutions of the SBC possibly lead to the formation an acoustic catalogue of Switzerland?

And finally, how did the processes and practices of mediation and broadcasting via radio influence the acoustic construction of an integrated ideal of acoustic “Swissness”?

The lives of "others"? On sonic representations of marginal life-worlds in Berlin

Author: Fritz Schlüter (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

In a research approach comprising both ethnographic fieldwork and soundscape studies one of Berlin's so-called problem quarters comes under close scrutiny. The paper reflects on the potentials and weaknesses of field recordings as an ethnographic medium.

Long Abstract

'In the course of time every section and quarter of the city takes on something of the character and qualities of its inhabitants.' (Robert Ezra Park, 1915)

Urban development program 'Districts with Special Development Needs - The Socially Integrative City' funded by the European Union aims to change life for the better in several so-called problem quarters of Berlin. For more than ten years now, creditable investments have been made in education, local economy and cultural projects. For example, media project 'Kingz of Kiez' provides a record studio and video equipment for local teenagers to produce their own sound recordings and music videos.

While projects such as 'Kings of Kiez' serve as a prominent showcase for successful integration and participation of ethnic minorities, its representational strategies mostly build upon a stereotypical hip-hop-'gangsta-rapper'-style, thus perpetuating the 'ghetto' image of their neighbourhood. The Kingz' media practices could either be interpreted as appropriation of a particular style code or merely as a confirmation of given prejudices.

But what does life in Soldiner Kiez actually sound like? In an approach combining ethnographic fieldwork and soundscape studies (following Steven Feld, Helmi Järviluoma, Rowland Atkinson and others) one of Berlin's problematic city quarters comes under close scrutiny. Which languages, musical styles and other sonic interventions are to be heard in the streets, shops, backyards and mosques of this city quarter? How can interviews and field recordings as an ethnographic medium confirm or counterbalance the more or less docile representations of the 'other'?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.