Thursday May 1st: Petra Kuppers “Decolonizing Disability, Indigeneity and Poetic Methods”


4:00 PM

Petra Kuppers will discuss her and Neil Marcus’s work in Australia that forms the basis of her article, “Decolonizing Disability, Indigeneity, and Poetic Methods: Hanging Out in Australia.” The essay considers what arts-based research methods can offer to intercultural contact. It offers a meditation on decolonizing methodologies and the use of literary forms by a white Western subject in disability culture. The argument focuses on productive unknowability, on finding machines that respectfully align research methods and cultural production at the site of encounter. It is suggested that participant read the essay in advance of our discussion: Kuppers_Decolonizing Disability, Indigeneity, and Poetic Methods- Hanging Out in Australia

Petra Kuppers is a professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she teaches performance studies and disability studies, and she is on the faculty of Vermont’s Goddard College MFA program in Interdisciplinary Arts. Kuppers is a performance maker and community artist, a witnessing critic and theorist, as well as an educator and a disability culture activist. She is the Artistic Director of The Olimpias, an artists’ collective that creates collaborative, research-focused environments open to people with physical, emotional, sensory and cognitive differences and their allies. Her book about The Olimpias arts-based research practices, Disability Culture and Community Performance: Find a Strange and Twisted Shape, won the biennial Sally Banes Award from the American Association for Theatre Research.

Neil Marcus writes, “Disability is an art – an ingenious way to live.” This award-winning playwright, actor, poet, and performance artist earned national acclaim when he crafted his experiences as a man living with dystonia, a severe neurological disorder, into a powerful staged work. Storm Reading, first produced in the late eighties, challenged audiences to reevaluate conventional ideas about disability and set a standard for performing artists with disabilities. Voted one of Los Angeles’ top ten plays of 1993, it enjoyed a nearly decade-long run. Since then, Marcus’ passionate stance toward life has infused his artistic choices. Believing that “life is a performance,” he has cast his creative net wide, participating in a range of diverse projects.

Upcoming Events: Elaine Gan and Anna Tsing – A Fungal Clock: Experiments in Representing Time

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Tuesday, April 22nd
Lunch and Reading Discussion of Matsutake Worlds and Experiments in Collaboration and Time Noon at the Center for the Humanities (Literature 310). RSVP Here.

Join SED at the Center for the Humanities for lunch and an informal discussion in preparation for Anna Tsing and Elaine Gan’s talk the following day. Matsutake Worlds is a global collaboration documenting multispecies cultures and ecologies where life continues in the midst of great disturbances. We promise talk of fungal clocks, mycorrhizal life, and the chance to stuff the conversation with your best mushroom-y metaphors.

Wednesday, April 23rd
Anna Tsing and Elaine Gan, UCSC
“A Fungal Clock: Experiments in Representing Time”
Structural and Materials Engineering 304

Since the bleak appreciation that we may have to do without narratives of progress, questions of how to understand time have reentered social theory. Most importantly, the realization that progress may not produce technologies to clean up our environmental messes requires that scholars appreciate the rhythms of other organisms with which we make and remake the earth.

“A Fungal Clock” is a series of collaborations between anthropologist Anna Tsing and artist Elaine Gan. As visual essay, web project, and game, different experiments offer tools to imagine history and temporality that take into account multispecies coordinations. Progress conflates trajectory, or movement, and time, or sequence; without progress, the two are quite different. Progress focuses our attention on the unilinear trajectories of plans; without progress, we must look at landscape-making effects, that is, unintended design. Multiple historical trajectories, human and not human, interrupt, interfere with, and change each other. They trigger new conjunctions. Our fungal clock attempts to show interweaving temporalities as different kinds of coordination. It draws attention to more-than-human social relations that scaffold human histories as the planning modules of progress dissolve into unplanned ruins.

Upcoming Event Monday March 10th: James Holston’s Social Apps Lab

Holston Poster New

James Holston will discuss the Social Apps Lab that he and Greg Niemeyer (Art Practice and New Media Studies) created in 2011 at UC Berkeley. The Lab focuses on developing interactive mobile and web applications that engage issues of urban citizenship and direct democracy.  It uses social science – especially anthropological investigation – and aspects of gameplay to identify social problems that apps can productively address by reformulating the terms of democratic assembly and civic motivation.  Among its various project during the past two years, the Social Apps Lab is building an application to promote crowdsourced initiatives to combat dengue fever called “Dengue Torpedo:A Community-Based Interactive Web and Cellphone Application for Dengue Vector Control”.  The lab is currently developing this project in Brazil and Mexico with the support of international funding and scientific collaboration.

Notes on Sonic Ethnography


SED’s Feburary 4th event with Marina Peterson and Roshanak Kheshti prompted a lively interdisciplinary discussion of the place of sound in ethnographies past and future. Together, our two presenters marked a path moving away from representational modes and all the associated problems of authenticity, fidelity and objectivity, toward the sensory, experiential and radical.

First up, UC San Diego’s own Roshanak Kheshti presented “Learning from Zora Neale Hurston’s Sonic Ethnography.” She very helpfully began with a kind of reverse genealogy positioning her work in a more general discussion of how to think about listening. Following anthropology traditions perceptions, including aurality, are culturally situated. If we learn to perceive in relationship with out environments, this opens up the possibility for perceiving both differently and intersubjectively.

This also means that there is a relationship between perceiving and power, one that Kheshti grounds in Enlightenment (with the whole “light” part emphasizing the visual as the good). What I find especially interesting here, is how the enlightenment also gave us the ‘fictive’ notion of five separate senses. But not surprisingly, these senses have been subjected to familiar Cartesian hierarchies caught up with Western mass communication and reproduction technologies like the printing press (and with them the privileging of literacy as a measure of civilization). Not only are scholars today adding sensory notions of the kinesthetic (ie. balance) and proprioception (sense of body in space), but they are also considering how senses work in tandem (smell and taste are an especially obvious example here).

In Kheshti’s book Modernity’s Ear, based on ethnographic research at world music company in San Francisco in the early 2000s, she explores listening as a performative action (in the Austin tradition). Her current project is further developing two concepts from the book: first, what she calls the Aural Imaginary, the relationship between listening and fantasy, in other words, how desire is structured in to the act of listening; and second, shared industry and ethnomusicology commitments to fidelity that assume authenticity is not only possible, but the goal.

It is here that we meet the Zoral Neale Hurston as anthropologist. Hurston was a student of the Franz Boaz, who famously urged his students to “Record! Record! Record! meaning faithfully reproduce. But in Hurston’s two recording expeditions in 1935 and 1938 respectively, she does something different, something Kheshti argues not only unique but suggest the radical potential of sonic in-fidelity: instead of recording folk songs in a native context, Hurston records herself singing the songs which you can listen to here. Khesthi asks, can the practice of infidelity challenge the 20th century manufacturing of authenticity? Can it preempt consumptive desires? Whether self-recording was intended as a radical act or not, the results have radical potential, refusing the translating of the other through representational technology for a refractive recording of herself.

Our second speaker, Marina Peterson visiting from Ohio University presented “Sonic Ethnography” (a title we may have ‘borrowed’ for the event), asking how do people listen? What does it mean to hear in everyday life? Peterson’s approach is very much informed by Tim Ingold, working against assumptions that listeners are subjects with ears separate from the surrounding world. Instead, she argues along with Ingold for an understanding of hearing as feeling where sound is not an object but medium: it is what we hear in. Wording is especially tricky here as existing languages tends to reinscribe the sense of sounds ‘out there,’ though Stefan Helmreich’s account of “immersion” helps offer a way through.

Caught up in projects of preservation, field recordings not only tend, but are intended to objectify sound. But what, Peterson asks, might be possible if we move away from representations and consider how field recordings are caught up in the event, in the conditions of their own production? As example, Peterson offers a recording from the Ohio Moonshine (yes, the beverage) festival. Where a more conventional approach might consider the recording as information about how the place sounded, Peterson asks us as listeners to consider how we might get a sense of how people are listening, how people are relating to sound.

As a group we sit and listen to about half of the 12 minute recording, which we’ve been told is of the entirety of the small town festival parade. At first it’s difficult to make out what’s happening just by listening. There are a lot of sirens and big truck horns, people clapping and occasional exclamations like “that’s cool.” But as my ears adjust, I begin to make out more specific details: attributing sirens to firetrucks; noticing the Doppler effect and inferring that the recorder is static, not moving with the parade; a small child crying at the loud noises from the “bad, bad, truck”; making out a conversation between friends in the audience and their increasing excitement as a float they worked on comes in to view and they passes by. In short, even as I first time listener I do glean some sense of how relationships are being enacted through sound.

This listening exercise, in concert with the Hurston self-recordings, prompts all kinds of questions from the audience:

  • Of the relationship between hearing and seeing, was this qualitatively different than listening along with video? Many of us found ourselves projecting the visual version in our minds as we imagined the sources of sounds and spatial relationships. Conversely, if we saw only images, for example of the baby crying and a passing fire truck, would we have imagined the sound of the siren?
  • One audience member commented that the sirens were overwhelming, the voices fragmented, making the experience a mystery; while another wondered how to make sense of these seemingly disjointed sounds as intentional, meaningful utterances, thinking of the people in trucks pushing buttons.
  • Another interesting thread concerned the violence of abstraction in the move away from sound as an object. Peterson responded by pointing to microphones as technologies of hearing, just as cameras are technologies for seeing. Iphones, for example, are calibrated to pick up voices above all else.
  • Kheshti used the opportunity to comment on aural positionality, borrowing language from film studies to consider point of view in sound recordings. Though Peterson did not put much forethought into where and how beyond “I need a recording of this,” as audience members pointed out, she was there, and the firsthand experience of the event was distinct from the position of the rest of us listening for the first time.
  • And of course, the meta question: can we get at what other people are sensing?

The conversation then returned to questions of method. The first step is to plan methods around questions of sound, but to what extent do we need recording, especially if it is a question of how others listen? Does recording show how people orient themselves through sound, for example when listening in a conversation?

Kheshti points out that track-based recordings and studio techniques isolate sounds in a way that would never exist in reality, and with people doing field recordings editing out some sounds. At the same time, an audience member points out, sensational experiences have to be constructed because raw footage doesn’t work. There have been attempts to invite the musician to do the mixing, but perhaps this is just egalitarian idealism at work as the process of isolation then replication is covered over in the final synthesis.

In any case, I think we all agreed on the worth of considering new starting places for sonic ethnography and the anthropology of sound. Starting places that refused to see (John Cage and field style) recordings as windows to social environments; starting places that start instead by asking fundamental questions about the ethnographic ear, and by making explicit the listening processes of the researcher.


Upcoming Event: Sonic Ethnography Studio February 4th – Suggested Readings Below

Sonic Ethnography Studio


Schafer “The Soundscape” 

Feld & Brenneis “Doing Ethnography in Sound”

Kheshti “Touching Listening”

Ingold “Four objections to the concept of soundscape”

MARINA PETERSON “Everyday Aurality”

I draw on an audio recording of the Moonshine Festival parade in New Straitsville, Ohio to explore the use and limits of field recordings for a project of sonic ethnography. In asking “what do we hear?,” I move from a consideration of “What is the sound of…” toward a project of sonic ethnography that asks not only what do we hear, but how do we listen such that we might understand the ways in which others hear. Listening is a way of paying attention and being present, both by people in the world and in conducting research. Sonic ethnography begins with listening, and listening to how people listen. It requires paying attention to social and environmental sounds, ways in which people orient via the aural, how expertise is enacted through listening, and how attachments of kinship and friendship cohere around an attunement to sounds.

Marina Peterson is Associate Professor of Performance Studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts at Ohio University. An anthropologist, her work focuses on practices and processes of city making. Her research has explored multi-scalar dimensions of urban space through the study of sensory, sonic and embodied processes ranging from musical performance to planning and labor. She is the author of Sound, Space and the City: Civic Performance in Downtown Los Angeles (UPenn Press 2010) and co-editor of Global Downtowns (UPenn Press 2012). Her work has appeared in Anthropological Quarterly, O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies, Space and Culture, Journal of Popular Music Studies and Urban Anthropology. A cellist, she primarily plays experimental improvised music.  

ROSHANAK KHESHTI “Learning from Zora Neale Hurston’s sonic ethnography”

Author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston participated in numerous audio recording expeditions in the 1930s. Rather than record only local research subjects in Florida and Georgia, Hurston can be heard participating in the performances she set out to record, often recording only herself singing. What can we learn from what I have come to call Hurston’s phonographic refusal? Focusing on the question of fidelity–the faithfulness of recorded sound to source in ethnographic and ethnomusicological field recordings–I examine Hurston’s “sonic infidelity” or how her choices have effected what sounds are contained on record in the archive and how her interventions have disrupted the mythical production of an authentic African American folk.

Roshanak Kheshti is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies and affiliate faculty in Critical Gender Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Her forthcoming book Modernity’s Ear: The Race, Gender and Sexuality of Listening in the World Music Culture Industry focuses on the world music industry’s production of racialized and gendered sounds and a deracinated American world music listener. Her research broadly centers on the consumption of race, gender and sexuality through sound and film. She has published in the journals Feminist Studies, American Quarterly, Hypatia, Anthropology News, Parallax and Theater Survey. She has also published numerous musical recordings both as a former member of bay area-based experimental rock band The Ebb and Flow and independently as composer and performer for film.


Upcoming Event: Putting it on the Wall, A Design Workshop with Elizabeth Chin

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THE PLAN: Participants will use the designerly technique of “putting it on the wall” to visualize, organize, and work through complex material. Bring a project you are working on, preferably one in the relatively early stages with which you are struggling. We will be working on 32×40 foam core (provided by SED), so when you print out images and etc keep the overall size in mind (don’t make them huge).

Please RSVP to Elana Zilberg or to Kim De Wolff


  • A printed version of any relevant writing
  • 10 or more printed images related to what you are working on (fieldwork photos, something culled from the internet; a film still, etc.)
  • Relevant citations/bibliography, printed
  • 5-15 key quotes, printed out
  • Other materials that you think would be useful and that can survive a thumbtacking (letters/pamphlets/trinkets/scraps…)

ELIZABETH CHIN is an anthropologist whose practice includes performative scholarship, collaborative research engagement, and experimental ethnography. Primarily concerned with questions of social justice and inequality, her work features examinations of race, class, and gender in the urban United States and in Haiti. Her book Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture (Minnesota 2001) was a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award.  Her course “The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie” was identified as one of the so-called “dirty dozen” by the Young America’s Foundation which listed the “most bizarre and disturbing examples of liberal activism in the classroom.”  She joined Art Center in 2011 to become a founding member of the Media Design Practices/Field program.


Putting it on the Wall Design Poster



Notes on Fieldwork After Ethnos

On Thursday December 6th, a team from UC San Diego headed north to the UC Irvine Center for Ethnography “Fieldwork After Ethnos” conference. As advertised, Tobias Rees (McGill) gave a thoughtful paper exploring the forms assumed by fieldwork when researchers are no longer interested primarily in ethnoi, the territorially imagined societies and cultures at the center of classical traditions of ethnography.

For those interested, you can find more detailed notes here, Notes on Fieldwork After Ethnos but I thought I would summarize some key points too.

What characterizes fieldwork “after ethnos”?

  • Interest in space (territory with culture, how people live ‘elsewhere’) –> interest in time (events, emergence, assemblage)
  • Fieldwork produces data –> Fieldwork produces questions (so research happens ‘after’ to address surprises/questions that emerged in the field)
  • Emphasis on surprises as a characteristic of fieldwork that produces knowledge
  • Framework is emergent, cannot be explained based on already existing paradigm
  • Cutting fieldwork loose from ethnography to open up new possibilities for research in anthropology

Basically, this is the difference between going to study the effects of neoliberalism on culture in Russian cities vs. going to Russian cities to question neoliberalism itself (as in Steven Collier’s Post-Soviet Social) Or, the difference between doing an ethnography of geeks and an ethnography of open source software (as in Chris Kelty’s Two Bits).

Other scholars mentioned as doing this kind of work included Joe Dumit, Stefan Helmreich, Cori Hayden. At this point, I think all the STS people in the room are kind of wondering what the big deal is here – isn’t this just what we are already doing?

Then it finally comes out that almost no one in the room – including those presenting – currently has a home in an anthropology department ( though we all “like the anthropology community”). So, as ethnographic methods continue to permeate all kinds of disciplines, do these interventions need to take place in anthropology? Or are we content with supportive homes found elsewhere?

But not everyone agrees with key premises here: does the ‘after ethnos’ argument start with a rather limited (and classical) understanding of ethnography today? Ethnography is arguably better defined as the study of practices than of bound systems. In any case, not all anthropology should be ‘after ethnos.’

The day ends with the suggestion that we do a better job documenting what we mean by ethnos. The Greek definition even includes ‘swarm,’ meaning we could have an ethnos of bees! If ethnos does not have to be defined by current associations with race, class, gender etc. alone, then maybe the solution is to reconfigure ethnos rather than divorce it from fieldwork altogether.