[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Lane DeNicola, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Lane’s previous posts: post 1 — post 2 — post 3]
Our final prompt in this series asks about the possible virtues that emerge from the necessities of marginality or academic precarity, the effects on ethnography of such “new intellectual possibilities.” On the whole I’ve so far stuck with the trajectory I laid out for these posts, engaging with precarity and ethnography first via my experience of living in a London suburb in over the last several years and then on the subway I used to get aroundwhile living there. In both cases I focused on my own ethnographic practice and experience and particularly on observational practice. For this final post though I want to shift the focus to the effects on ethnography not “as practiced” but “as taught or learned,” not as observational technique but as representational technique. The post-millennial relevance of this seems clear, with a number of the conversational threads on SM proceeding from the observation that information technology and digital media are having an expanding range of effects not just in the field of anthropology but in education (that other domain inhabited by so many practicing anthropologists).
My earlier posts also (I note in looking back over them) relied pretty heavily on metaphor and pop culture/sci-fi references, but I can’t think of a good reason to change that now, so: for better and for worse, one of my last opportunities to be social before leaving the UK last month was spent in front of the IMAX screen at the British Film Institute (“the largest film screen in the UK”). The BFI’s performative apparatus is matched only by the fantastic quality and diversity of films routinely screened there, but this particular outing (with several participating students and other friends) was centered around a pop-culture event with a dash of speculative pseudo-archaeology: Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to the 1979 film Alien. Overall the film is pretty awful in largely predictable ways (did I mention this was a 3D screening?), but it serves to illustrate my point here, particularly in a fleeting reference the film makes to Lawrence of Arabia (a quite different film about a quite different type of alien). Continue reading