restricted access Визуальная антропология: настройка оптики, and : Визуальная антропология: городские карты памяти, and : Визуальная антропология: режимы видимости при социализме (review)
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Reviewed by
Визуальная антропология: настройка оптики / Под ред. Е. Р. Ярской-Смирновой, П. В. Романова. (Библиотека Журнала Исследований Социальной Политики). Москва: ООО “Вариант”, ЦСПГИ, 2009. 296 с. ISBN 978-5-903360-20-8;
Визуальная антропология: городские карты памяти / Под ред. Е. Р. Ярской-Смирновой, П. В. Романова (Библиотека Журнала исследований Социальной Политики). Москва: ООО “Вариант”, ЦСПГИ, 2009. 311 с. ISBN: 978-5-903360-23-9;
Визуальная антропология: режимы видимости при социализме / Под ред. Е. Р. Ярской-Смирновой, П. В. Романова. (Библиотека Журнала исследований социальной политики). Москва: ООО “Вариант”, ЦСПГИ, 2009. 444 с. ISBN: 978-5-903360-25-3.

This three-volume Russian-language collection of articles on visual anthropology, edited by Elena Iarskaia-Smirnova and Pavel Romanov, is published by the Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies (Saratov, Russia) as part of the project “Visual Representations of Social Reality: Ideologies and Everyday Life,” supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It consists of thirty-five total chapters written by an international team of authors, predominantly from Russia, but also from Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Lithuania, Sweden, and the United States. Each volume contains introductory methodological notes, a summary, and numerous illustrations.

Visual markers of social patterns and the sociocultural life of images are the central focus of the volumes, and three questions, basically, express their content: how sociocultural, economic, and political circumstances and transformations affect the fabrication of images; how these images as visual representations proliferate; and how they impact society, its cultural practices and social structure.1

Addressing visual practices per se complements the anthropological character of research. Visual artifacts are heavily “contaminated” with ideology, and verbal conceptualization inevitably incorporates itself into the very fabric of reality, becoming apparent (in this case literally) as its visual manifestations; nevertheless, addressing the visual dimension of reality excludes at least one layer of the verbalization and related distortions. When reality is scrutinized [End Page 418] in its visual representations, verbal means of cognition are relatively immobilized, shunting cognitive intention onto a deeper organizational level of the phenomenon, that is, the level of social agency, unpronounced, undissected, and un-distorted by the means of language. This feature of visual practices as a research subject opens up a great potential for analysis undertaken by groups of authors whose academic and personal experiences have been formatted within and by means of different languages and cultural environments, such as international academic teams. Moreover, the research team that presented the work in this publication went through the process of formatting an integrated methodological approach during distance learning courses and at summer school that had been previously organized by the Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies. This preliminary work has made the reviewed volumes a unique academic endeavor, diverse in terms of the subjects analyzed and methods used. At the same time, the publication is remarkably consistent in dealing with a rich diversity of subjects and theoretical approaches. To the authors’ credit, along with stressing the powerfulness of visual methods, they recognize the inevitable limitations of these methods and attempt to adequately position them within the distinctively puzzling and yet holistic theoretical reflection of daily life experiences.

The volume that opens the collection, Visual Anthropology: Tuning the Lens, examines the methodological potential of visual methods seen by the authors as a part of the phenomenological tradition that complements the positivistic approach in anthropology and sociology rather than gainsays it. The contextualization of visual representations and, therefore, the interpretative nature of their decoding is tested on subjects diverse in their fabric, practicality, and cultural rootage. Those subjects include videography as a focused ethnography (Hubert Knoblauch, Luc Pauwels); the cultural contexts of racial identification and visual markers in the process of constructing neoracism (Noa Hazan); cell-phone pictures as a means of communication that has recently entered our culture (Elena Lobova); the cognitive and psychotherapeutic potentials of the photographic image (Lilia Voronkova, Olga Sergeeva, Viktor Krutkin, Judy Weiser); the power of photographing life-cycle rites (Olga Boitsova), and, finally, the nonfinite concern of the ethnographer with a (video)camera – the ethics of picturing people (Luc Pauwels).

Visual markers of social status is a central theme in the trilogy, particularly in its first volume. Rendered as spatially remote points, differences in social standing invite grading and [End Page 419] valuation, thus exacerbating tensions that naturally arise in the situation of overt social disparities. A dichotomy of the law/high social statuses (also “law/high” culture) unfolds through locating social phenomena and concrete circumstances on the axis of geographic closeness/remoteness (center/periphery, capital/province), thus creating a multidimensional picture of social disproportion and...