Ethnographic and artistic practices and the question of the images in contemporary Middle East

Convenors: (University of Copenaghen) & (University of Bergamo)

The question of the image in the ethnographic practices, the multiple narratives of the violence by means of the images, the challenge of the experimentation among artistic practices, performances, and ethnographic practices

Which is the role of the images in the contemporary ethnographic practices? Which ethnographies of the contemporaneity are possible nowadays, involving the images or rather an innovative use of the images in an ethnographic perspective? Which are the interrelation among the productions of images, the practices of the contemporary media communication, the practices of the visual art and the ethnographic practices?

Taking into consideration the recent debate about the necessity of a new reflection around the meaning and the role of the images in the contemporaneity, this panel aims to question about the urgency of a dialogue among artistic practices and ethnographic practices, as well as around ethnography as a methodological approach in the production and the fruition of images.

The complex articulations among ethnography and art are debated today in multiple ways, not only because the contemporary artistic practices are analyzed by ethnographic research but mainly because the object of the analysis is how some artistic practices might contribute to the experimentation of innovative ethnographic practices, in the perspective of an ethnography of the contemporaneity (Schneider and Wright, 2013) interested in questioning what is contemporaneous today  (Agamben, 2008).

Some works of visual anthropology propose a discussion around an original conversation between art and ethnography (Schneider, 2008, Wright and Schneider, 2010, Schneider and Pasqualino 2014), with the aim of experimenting ethnographic practices interacting with artistic experimentations and vice versa. Here, the aim is to analyse some of these issues in specific contexts in the Near and Middle East.

What do the digital images and the videos add to ethnographic practices and how does an ethnographic approach contribute to the creation of images and visual narratives? How can the hyper-presence and the construction of the images contribute to create a fieldwork and how can images make part of a fieldwork?  Such questions will be debated in the specific contexts of the contemporaneous Middle East, with the intention of investigating the complex articulation among the ongoing change processes, the recent uprisings, the revolutionary processes and the state of the violence in Middle East. Taking into account an history of the Near and Middle East giving value to an historical and sociopolitical approach for the comprehension of the contemporary scenarios (Bozarslan, 2008, 2015), the point will be the analysis and the debate of some of the most recent ethnographic perspectives investigating the multiple and very actual performances of the violence, among which the new media as instruments of  performance of the daily violence.

We will discuss how we can make an ethnography nowadays in contemporary contexts marked by a culture which is also a digital one or, rather, a culture made by specific performative practices, in societies in which communication is related to a necessity of images and visibility which are deeply contemporaneous (Zimmer, 2015; Della Ratta, 2015; Brighenti, 2010).  All that is related to social and cultural dynamics and specific processes of aesthetization. Therefore, we will propose a debate around how contemporaneous can be related to images, imaginary and imagination (Anderson, 1991; Appadurai, 1996, Bhabha, 1998), as well as to a new relationship between aesthetics and narrative. Within this framework, this panel aims at debating the articulations and interactions among artistic practices, ethnographic practices and the role and the use of images in ethnography (Shapiro, 2013), and the actual implications of an ethnography of the contemporaneity in Middle East.

Taking into account some critical and innovative ethnographies in Middle East (nowadays at the core of specific constructions of images, performances and dissonant narratives, with both a local and a transnational relevance), we wish to propose an analysis of those ethnographies able to observe the complexity of the daily life, in the awareness of the multiple and ambiguous meanings of the images of the reality, experimenting the production of images and alternative narratives, as much close as possible to the contemporaneous reality.


Agamben Giorgio (2008) Che cos’è il contemporaneo?, Roma, Nottetempo.

Anderson Benedict (1991) Imagined Communities, London, Verso.

Appadurai Arjun (1996) Modernity at large, University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press.

Bhabha Homi (1994), The location of culture, London, Routledge.

Bozarslan Hamit (2008), Une histoire de la violence au Moyen Orient, Paris, La découverte.

Bozarslan, Hamit (2015), Révolutions et état de violence. Moyen Orient 2011-2015. Paris, CNRS Editions.

Brighenti Andrea Mubi (2010), Visibility in Social Theory and Social Research, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Della Ratta Donatella (2015), Violence and Visibility in Contemporary Syria: an ethnography of the “expanded places”, CyberOrient On Line Journal of the Virtual Middle East, forthcoming 2015.

Schneider Arnd. (2008) Three Modes of Experimentation with Art and Ethnography ,  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 14,, pp. 171-194.

Schneider Arnd et Wright Chris (eds.)  (2013). Anthropology  and Art Practice. New York, London, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Schneider Arnd et Pasqualino C. (2014). Experimental Film and Anthropology. London,  Bloomsbury Publishing.

Shapiro Michale J (2015),  Studies in trans-disciplinary method : after the aesthetic turn, New York-London,  Routledge.

Wright Chris et Schneider Arnd (2010). Between Art and Anthropology : Contemporary Ethnographic Practice. New York, Berg Publishers.

Zimmer, Catherine (2015) Surveillance Cinema, New York and London, New York University Press.

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