Annotation: Poole, Deborah. 2005. An Excess of Description

Poole, Deborah. 2005. An Excess of Description: Ethnography, Race, and Visual Technologies. Annual Review of Anthropology, (34):159–79.

The article presents a historical overview of visual anthropology, arguing that it has increasingly abandoned the idea of visual technologies as inherently racializing or objectifying, and it has also moved away from the question of representation (contingent moment, intimacy, encounter). Rather, ethnographies that make use of visual technologies are now increasingly engaged in “complex and discursive political landscapes” (159). In this new ethnographic trajectory where concern with representation is decreasing, Poole argues that it is “possible to reclaim suspicion as a productive site for rethinking the particular forms of presence, uncertainty, and contingency that characterize both ethnographic and visual accounts of the world” (159). Race and anthropology have gone hand in hand such that suspicion surrounding racial visual representations have contributed to the shaping of what may be counted as evidence, experience, ethnographic method and inquiry (161). Poole raises the issue of race as “about revealing” or “making visible,” (164), in which photography was a technology that served as a witness of what is seen at the surface. As Poole argues, ethnography deploys a language of witnessing and visual observation, and that although voice and language are crucial to ethnography, the authorizing method of ethnography continues to rely on the ethnographer’s visual observations during encounter. Finally, Poole suggests that Franz Fanon’s ideas on the temporality of the gaze as a site of ethical possibility offers a platform for rethinking the place of visual technologies in ethnography (172). Instead of ascribing to the “visible, and irrefutable, evidence of racial difference,” the challenge now is to “rethink the troublesome visuality of ‘race’”, and to also open ourselves to the “sensory and anticipatory aspects of visual encounter and surprise that animate the very notion of participant observation” (173).

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