Painting the Self in a Study of Modernity : Using Art in Anthropological Research
This essay proposes the application of the concepts of ‘small’ and ‘big’ stories theorised by Lyotard (1984) to the discipline of visual anthropology, by focusing on the issues of ‘generalisation’ and ‘individuality’. The primary question on which this work is focused is: ‘how do we integrate individual case-studies with generalisations in anthropological research in a way that provides a balanced account of small and big stories?’. To answer this question, the author shares the theoretical and methodological challenges of using art within her current research on Nepal.
The use of art in anthropology has been proposed as a method of enquiry in recent years (Sweetman, 2009; Sullivan, 2012; Tine, 2017) for its ability to convey a deeper understanding of non-verbal contents than can be achieved through text alone (Cox & Wright, 2012; Prosser & Loxley, 2008). Consequently, a revision in the aims, methods and expressive tools of the discipline (Clifford & Marcus, 1986; Marcus & Fisher, 1999; El Guindi, 2011; Foster, 1995) and a discussion on the topics of ‘subjectivity’, ‘generalisation’ and ‘individuality’ in ethnography and ethnology is now urgent. Furthermore, the issue of how to incorporate and represent all of the individual stories taken from field research, which has been central in modern anthropological debate (Geertz, 1988), must now be dealt with in the new context of anthropological/artistic production.
This article suggests that the artist-anthropologist will have to give an account of all the relations occurring within the research project, including the subjectivity of the author and the mediation between generalisation and individual narratives. To achieve this, the use of a personal style and of a clear semiotic codification system will be necessary.
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