Collaborative Media Production and Antropología Comprometida
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Collaborative Media Production and Antropología Comprometida

The essays in this section all deal with the challenges that arise when researchers commit themselves to a political cause "in the field." Collaborative research implies a deeper level of personal and political commitment by the researcher in comparison to more traditional research relationships. Ricardo Falla, a Jesuit priest and one of Guatemala's most respected anthropologists, describes this type of research relationship as antropología comprometida. The word comprometido/a is most often translated into English as "committed" and can refer to political commitments. Falla uses it in this sense to describe his academic and pastoral engagement with internal refugees during the Guatemalan civil war (Manz 1995, 261). However, comprometido/a can also mean "compromised" and thus reflects the challenges any researcher faces when committed to a political cause. In committing himself to social justice for war victims, Falla compromised both his own safety, during a time of violent sociopolitical conflict in Guatemala, and his intellectual pursuits, by agreeing to investigate issues of relevance to the refugee community's situation in addition to his own interests.

Collaborative and committed anthropological methods have a strong historical foundation in Guatemala, which is part of my motivation in pursuing such methods in my own research.1 In conducting research on the media in Guatemala, my objective goals are to understand the ways the representational economy—the production, circulation, and consumption of visual and linguistic representations (cf. Poole 1997)—affects everyday practices. However, through carefully designed collaborative media projects, I also intend to promote access to the modes of production and dissemination of media, while fostering the analytical [End Page 132] skills in visual literacy that are necessary for empowered, critical practices of media consumption.

Media Research vs. Media Collaboration

While there are many documented methods for media research, I wish to differentiate between traditional methods, photo-elicitation, and what I am referring to here as media collaborations. Film and photography have been used in anthropological research with the goal of recording visual data since the early twentieth century (e.g., Bateson and Mead 1942; Evans-Pritchard 1940). Such visual anthropological methods are commonly used in conjunction with traditional research methods, in which visual material may be used for illustrative purposes or as an object of analysis itself. An essay of this length does not warrant an in-depth exploration into the history or problematic applications of visual media in anthropology (but see Grimshaw 2001; Jacknis 1988; Ruby 1980; Pink 2003).

In photo-elicitation, research participants are asked to comment on the visual media produced either by the researcher or, in some cases, by the research participants themselves, with instructional guidance from the researcher (e.g., Bignante 2010). Photo-elicitation, as explained by Harper (2002), produces an additional, visual layer for use in data analysis in conjunction with verbal or textual data. Proponents of this method argue that visual media are apprehended in a different cognitive space than textual or verbal media. The underlying assumption is that people who are uncomfortable with textual or verbal media—due to illiteracy or lack of familiarity with the dominant language—may be more willing initially to engage with visual materials.

Media collaborations are a type of photo-elicitation that implies a comprometida relationship with the research participants, in that it entails a commitment to both the researcher's initial goals and the sociopolitical goals of the community. Media collaborations seek to co-theorize in the way that Rappaport (2008) describes as being of use to both the research participants and the researcher. Collaborative media production can also be a form of what Ginsburg (1997) refers to as "cultural activism," a way for marginalized groups to reclaim and reformulate outsiders' representations of their communities and cultures for their own political goals (cf. Breunlin and Regis 2009). [End Page 133]

Anthropologists have both studied and participated in collaborative media production, perhaps the best-known example of which is Terence Turner's work with the Kayapó (Turner 1991; 2002a; 2002b). The Kayapó, an indigenous group living in the Brazilian Amazon, first became familiar with video media as the subjects of journalistic and anthropological films in the 1950s. In the...