Ethnography & Design on the AnthroPod PodCast

I am glad to be featured this week on the AnthroPod podcast, produced by the journal Cultural Anthropology. The piece is the first of three in a series on ethnography and design, featuring two other dear colleagues and my collaborators the past two years in the UC Collaboratory for Ethnographic Design, Lilly Irani and Keith Murphy. As an avid podcast listener myself, I am especially fond of the work that AnthroPod does to bring the anthropological perspective into my podcast app and earbuds (take that, Freakonomics!), and commendations are especially in order to the exceptional Tariq Rahman and Katherine Sacco, both in the PhD program at UC Irvine, who put the series together.

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2017-2018 at Yale

I’m pleased to announce that I will spend the 2017-2018 academic year as a postdoctoral associate and lecturer for Russian Studies in the European Studies Council at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. I’ll also be cross-appointed in the Department of Anthropology. I will be teaching two courses, moving the ethnographic play project along, and working on my ethnographic monograph.

Red Sox nation, I’m coming home!

New courses at UC San Diego

I am looking forward to teaching several new courses at UC San Diego in the coming months.

This winter, I am teaching a course originally designed by Dr. Tom Humphries. The Problem of Voice takes the trope of “voice” as an important mode of understanding representation, recognition, and multivocality in contemporary cultural perspectives. The course, in the Department of Communication, asks upper level undergraduates to read and discuss social theory, autobiography, and fiction in order to interrogate the question of who gets to speak on behalf of an identity group, how to reconcile internal diversity, and how speakers establish authority, authenticity, and what counts as “truth”.

In spring 2017, I will teach another course in Communication, Performance and Cultural Studies, and a course in the Department of Anthropology, Ethnography in Practice.

Ethnography in Practice is a practicum for upper level undergraduates, in which each student picks a field site and over the course of the quarter researches, analyzes, presents to peers, and writes an original ethnography. The course is appropriate for undergraduate anthropology majors, but also for communication majors and writing majors interested in taking observation of real life events into compelling, rigorously thought-out writing. Ethnography as a practice first and foremost seeks to represent the insider’s point of view to describe or translate a cultural scene to others. We will read examples of written ethnography to explore the practice of ethnography as a genre and practice of writing, learn how to write, organize and analyze ethnographic field notes, and follow a contemporary adaptation of the Spradley method of conducting and analyzing ethnographic interviews.

Performance and Cultural Studies is in the Communication Department and cross-listed with the Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies (REEES) major and minor. The course begins from the question of what performance is, and what it does, as a form of dialogic communication. We will discuss a variety of genres of performance in cultural contexts, engage core texts of performance studies, and draw on examples of how performances can be mobilized as political resistance. Students will participate in workshops to develop a performative term project. REEES majors and minors must chose examples and subject matter related to the major for their term project (in addition to relevant material throughout the course).

Finally, during UC San Diego’s Summer Session I 2017, I will offer an upper level undergraduate course on Queer & Crip Theory for the Program in Critical Gender Studies.  This course takes a critical, contemporary approach to understanding disability and sexuality.

Read more here.

ETHNOGRAPHY & DESIGN: MUTUAL PROVOCATIONS

Over the past year, in my role as postdoctoral fellow for the Collaboratory for Ethnographic Design (CoLED), it’s been my great privilege to work with an outstanding array of scholars interested in the intersections and conundrums presented by thinking about ethnography and design.

A little over a year ago, in September 2016, we launched the CoLED website, which, with guidance from co-PIs Elana Zilberg and Joe Hankins, and groundwork laid by Yelena Gluzman, I was glad to develop.

Now, based on a year of work, and thanks to a workshop grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and input from the CoLED faculty, postdocs, and graduate students across six UC institutions, we are so very excited to be presenting the fist CoLED conference, ETHNOGRAPHY & DESIGN: MUTUAL PROVOCATIONS.  We are thrilled to present a conference that answers concerns brought by the scholars in our network: how can we make a conference that is about design and ethnography without reproducing a paradigm in which ethnography is constantly coopted for capital accumulation, as design enlists ethnographic techniques to work to produce value? How can we address the variety of stakes, concerns, approaches, disciplinary lenses, and arguments surrounding the ways that the words “ethnography” and “design” are circulating in our time? What would a conference program look like if the “standard” research presentation were demoted, and other “designs for ethnography” including artworks, performance, pedagogy, interactive digital interfaces, and experimental labs were offered equal footing? Who would even come to such a conference.

It has been a fascinating challenge and enthralling visioning process to work with the CoLED conference committee to bring this conference into existence. I’m personal very excited for the event, and I know that the rest of the team is as well. Please join us at UC San Diego next week, Oct 27-29th, for the event, or stay tuned for a multimedia conference publication to come.

Still Images from the Staged Workshop of I WAS NEVER ALONE

One of the interesting challenges of conducting performance ethnography is learning anew how to document non-text-based happenings that become part of the ethnographic record. The recent staged workshop of I WAS NEVER ALONE, my ethnographic play script, produced an overwhelming barrage of moments of meaning-making and storytelling as actors, directors, lighting and set designs, and our access researcher, came together to create two performances and move the work toward a full staging (the workshop engaged professional actors and MFA theatre student designers in a very short a two week process with light tech and props, but no set. In director Joseph Megel’s hands, this stripped away aesthetic was just enough to draw the audience into the stories in the play, presented with stirring energy by the talented cast.

Regan Linton, a woman with blond center parted bangs, sits with legs crossed wearing a leather jacket and silver earrings, facing the camera, but lookign elsewhere. Behind her and to the right, out of focus, Vladimir Rudak sits behind a music stand illuminated by two small lights over the music. He holds a guitar in his lap, and his reading glasses are fogged or made otherwise opaque by blue-tinted stage light that washes across the image; the background of the photo is black. They are both seated, but only someone who saw other angleswould notice that they are both seated in wheelchairs because the wheels and handles hardly appear in the frame.

Regan Linton as Vera, and Vladimir Rudak as Musician, during the October 2016 staged workshop of I WAS NEVER ALONE at UC San Diego’s Shank Theatre. Photo copyright Jim Carmody, please visit his website for a full gallery and contact him for usage requests.

As an ethnographer, of course, I wanted to capture every moment of the process. What notes did the director give the actors? How did disability theatre specialist Jason Dorwart, the assistant director for the workshop, who also played the role of Rudak, differ in his interpretation of the script from our nondisabled director? What kinds of problems – embodying a role, pronouncing Russian words, working out what a Russian speaker might mean when referring to a particular political issue – arose during the rehearsal process? Most of these elements were captured by my digital audio recordings. And, with the help of Communication Department graduate student Olga Lazitski, who has a background in television news production, we were able to capture research quality video for several rehearsals and the two performances.

Finally, Jim Carmody, of the Department of Theatre & Dance at UC San Diego, brought his theatre & dance photography artistry to our final rehearsal, producing a series of stunning photos. View his gallery here: http://jimcarmody.zenfolio.com/iwasneveralone.

As performance ethnography scholar Dwight Conquergood underlined in his discussion of textocentrism, the process of knowledge production, and the kind of knowledge that is ultimately produced is curtailed if we cave to the hegemony of text-based forms of recording and knowing. Visual media like video and photography can only capture a limited glimpse of the social phenomena that live performance produces; a photo of a still moment in a performance can hardly produce the kind of communitas or social shift in emotive and interactional awareness that live performance creates. But these forms of documentation help us to understand the ways in which those performances continue to reverberate in the lives of people that the work has touched. How these images are taken up and used in the future is a question that interests me as a methodological problem: are they data, or are they objects in and of themselves? Are the publicity, interventions, illustrations, or texts? How will they be edited, read, shared, compiled, critiqued, or ignored? In an increasingly mediated world, these are questions that no longer pertain only to digital, media, or visual anthropology, or performance ethnography, but to many ethnographers whose fieldwork archives become increasingly media rich. In this way, I suspect that looking again to theatre, and understanding how our colleagues in those institutional locations have understood production photos, can be a useful pathway (as was Victor Turner’s alliance with Richard Schechter). Just some thoughts as I sort through the various media piling up in the wake of the play workshop.

I WAS NEVER ALONE on stage!

I’m pleased to announce that I WAS NEVER ALONE, my new documentary play based on ethnographic research with adults with disabilities in Russia, will be on stage for the first time this October at UC San Diego!

A two week workshop process with director Joseph Megel (StreetSigns, UNC Chapel Hill) and international collaborator Vladimir Rudak (Musician, filmmaker, disability advocate) will feature professional regional actors in each of the roles, and UC San Diego Department of Theatre & Dance graduate students in design and tech roles. The workshop will culminate in two performances in the Shank Theatre a black box theater at the UC San Diego Jacobs Theatre District (shared with La Jolla Playhouse).

Mark your calendars for Friday, October 7 & Saturday, October 8, 2016 at 7pm.

Seating is limited for the two performances. Reserve a ticket now.

The show runs for 90 minutes and will be followed by a talk-back session one each night. The Friday talk back will feature discussion with the director, assistant director, cast and crew about the work of performing documentary theater and disability theater. The Saturday talk back will feature local scholars discussing performance ethnography, and representations of Russia and disability on the stage. Further talk back details TBA.

I WAS NEVER ALONE keeps on moving

I WAS NEVER ALONE (IWNA), a play script based on ethnographic fieldwork in Petrozavodsk, Russia with adults with disabilities, just keeps on moving – developing in new ways and finding collaborators and possibilities that, as a first-time documentary playwright, continue to astound and amaze me.

The February  2016 staged reading  of IWNA (dir. Joseph Megel) at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill was the focus a recent video from Carolina Performing Arts. Check out a few clips from the reading, and me, trying not to not say the wrong thing, in the two-minute video feature.

Thanks to a grant from the FISP program, the play is moving forward with a more elaborated workshop that will take place in the fall at the University of California San Diego. Auditions for cast members, and meetings with prospective production team members will take place on June 2 & 3rd at UCSD (Dept of Theater & Dance, Galbraith Hall, Rm 20 on the lower level). Sign up for an audition slot here, or contact me or assistant director Jason Dorwart for more information or with access requests.

Meanwhile, script development continues on the Russian side of things, with the Russian-language version of the edited script nearing completion thanks to the collaboration of Valeriya Markina, my colleague at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, whose own project looks at disability theater in Moscow. This version of the Russian-language script will be shared with research participants, who will have the opportunity to review their own segment privately, and then, in late July, participate in a day long table reading and workshop about issues of disability representation that the script brings up. I’m looking forward to heading back to Russia for the first time since 2014 in order to conduct that workshop!

I guess the show’s subtitle, Oporniki, might have something to it — this thing really does seem to have a backbone!