Annotation: Jackson, John. 2004. An Ethnographic Filmflam

Jackson, John Jr. 2004. An Ethnographic Filmflam: Giving Gifts, Doing Research, and Videotaping the Native Subject/Object. American Anthropologist, 106(1):32-42.

Writing as a native researching the Black community in Harlem, New York, the author argues that the “slipperiness of nativity” helps provide the tools for looking at filmmaking as a form of gift-giving between the ethnographic filmmaker and his/her film subjects. Compared to their Western counterparts, native anthropologists are assumed to be less adept at interpreting the “emic etically”. They are also seen to begin from an “overly identificatory position”, and they also do not stand “above and beyond… in a posture of laboratorial scrutiny.” Following Ruth Behar, the author calls for a “rigorous reflexivity” — one which sees the admission of race, gender and class as followed by a more sophisticated inquiry about how knowledge is produced in the field. In Jackson’s experience, it was the “imbrication of the visual and the ethnographic” that helped him understand how the notions of visuality, nativity, and anthropological positionality interact with each other (38). For instance, using his prosumer camera, he is perceived as an outsider (tourist), and access to his own community becomes more difficult. As he writes, Rouch’s claims for a “shared” anthropology may also be possible in creating films which are not “ethnographic” and which are not edited as anthropological narratives. Using Mauss’ idea of the “gift”, Jackson writes about how his informants’ frequent requests to be filmed during family occasions as their attempt at self-archivization presented a “very different brand of ‘total prestation’”. He argues, however, that such relationships open up a potential for endless exploitation. While he earns a quasifamilial relationship through his filming, he receives permission for the screenings of the same films in various contexts. He writes about such film productions as an avenue for thinking about such “exploitative potential.”

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