Midterm Paper (Fall 2017)

Due: Monday, October 16, by 5 pm, Word Doc uploaded to Moodle

Length and Format: No more than 7-9 pages, double-spaced, 1 inch margins all around, 12 point fonts. Please spellcheck. They should be well-organized, with a clear thesis or argument that is 1) articulated in the first or second paragraphs, 2) supported by evidence from readings, and 3) reconsidered and fleshed out in a conclusion.

Evaluation: I will evaluate and respond to papers based on (in order of priority):

  • Degree to which you respond to the assignment and incorporate ideas and issues from class materials in your discussion;
  • Extent to which you demonstrate clear understanding of basic terms presented in the course;
  • the creativity and originality of your ideas
  • The clarity of your organization and writing

Topic: Performativity on Film

In the first half of the course we read a variety of arguments and debates about the relationships among language, meaning and social action, and on the methods appropriate to an anthropological project of analyzing everyday speech events and/or formal performances as socially situated interactions.

In this paper, you have the chance to apply theories and debates from the course to an analysis of a filmed representation of interactions in particular cultural settings within a documentary film. NOTE: ONLY documentary films, not fictional/feature films, can be used for this assignment. Drawing on your close readings of the course texts, and whatever further or outside readings you feel will help, craft a cogent interpretation of some aspect of the cultural politics of the filmed event(s) in your chosen film. In doing this, you can focus narrowly on one or a few depicted interactions, bracketing the question of the filmmakers' framings as a major element of your analysis, or you can link that analysis to a consideration of the film writ large as itself an interaction/event.

An ideal paper would include several paragraphs explicating your theoretical framework, defining key terms, and describing the most important debate(s) your analysis speaks to.

Thus in engaging theories of language and social action, you might:

  • use your case to refute or support/apply an interpretive framework laid out by particular theorists (for ex. Austin/Searle vs. Jakobson or Sapir, Whorf, Peirce, Derrida, Rosaldo, Bateson, Goffman, Hymes, Bauman or Darnell)
  • come up with your own eclectic combination of approaches based on useful aspects of a variety of theorists (consider for example the difference btw. Austin and Searle, or btw. Derrida and Rosaldo's critiques and methods).
  • use your case to demonstrate the particularly strong applicability of one main conceptual framework (with reference of course to how it differs from others we've read).

In analyzing specific interactions on film, you will need to consider the nature of intersubjective engagements, including relationships of filmed subjects with the camera or camera crew, or with imagined/projected audiences. Thus it is best to avoid "talking heads" documentaries. As you analyze your chosen filmed event(s), consider especially:

  • What tools might we draw on to analyze these "performances"/interactions anthropologically?
  • What delineates relevant contexts for interpreting meanings and actions?
  • What formal or structural aspects of the event are crucial for supporting your analysis of it? Hone your observational senses!!
  • To what extent are meanings and actions visible here shared or collective? Can you find and provide supporting evidence for an interpretive politics?

Keep in mind that your analysis may run counter to that given by the narrators/voice over, or that embedded in the structure of the edited product. But your analysis should be an anthropological one, informed by the theories in the course, not a film review or critique of style.

Go to the online database to search the collection of documentary films appropriate for this assignment. Search by keywords by country, area or general topic, or browse through all. All documentary films in the database should be available in Reed's film library. Please let me know asap if you don't find one. Also, if you find a documentary film not in the course database you think would be appropriate, please run it by me first. Since the assignment requires a richly documented cultural and historical context, in general, Youtube clips are not appropriate.

You should be thinking about which documentary film to use now. Give yourself time to view it several times, taking "fieldnotes" as you watch, even transcribing key interactions. You catch things on subsequent viewings you may not the first. You might also view it with a friend to get their impressions of the event you want to analyze.