Research Activity #2:
Linguistic, Visual, and Performance Anthropology
Note on Media Choice:
These media productions can include: a news program [either one 20-60 minute production, or a series of news clips from one particular program that equals between 20-60 minutes]; a song and/or music video that comments on a specific historical event / represents an attempt of a particular community to take control of a narrative of identity, community-representation, or language; and/or another approved media production [if you want to use a fictional TV show/movie, contact the professor and make your case as to why it’s applicable]. The more concrete the lyrics are [referring to specific people, places, or events], the better this assignment will be at illustrating specific functions of language in the media, so think carefully about which song, music video, news-program, or other approved media you want to choose. If you get permission to choose something that does not reference a specific event mentioned by the media itself, you must do outside research on two sources that explicitly mention specific events that people have created in places in time. You do not have to go farther in depth than the questions asked, and should not summarize these secondary sources, but should provide context [who/what/when/where/why] and connection to the goal of this assignment [examining language in a historically-particular media production.]
Pick one media production that presents a narrative or discussion about an event or issue of historical or political significance. This narrative should ideally be a response to a particular historical event, or series of events that have impacted a community. You will centralize your paper analysis around one of the categories in Set A, and be sure to answer all relevant questions to your chosen media found in the categories of Set B. See further details at the bottom of this document on media-choice and page-length requirements.
Step 1: Choose one of the following categories to focus your paper on:
1A. Class-Connections. How would linguistic anthropologists on opposite sides of the Sapir-Whorf debate deconstruct the impact of this media on audience conceptualization of and/or thoughts about the events discussed? To what extent do you agree, disagree, or find yourself on a continuum between agreement and disagreement with the debate around the statement that ‘language affects the way humans think’, in connection with the examples examined here?
2A. Analysis: What power dynamic is created, enacted, or resisted, with the speech or rhetoric of the media production you have chosen? Does this narrative reinforce or resist evidence in favor of dominant power narratives / myths that sustain other social practices? Are there fallacy arguments, outright false or shakily verified statements, or evidence-less claims presented? Evaluate if your media supports cultural relativity or ethnocentrism, and utilize the concept of descriptive relativism in your response.
Step 2: Complete any and all questions that are relevant to your media-choice: Make sure you only answer the questions here that are relevant to your media, but don’t skip over any that are pertinent.
1B. Context: Who is [/are] the narrator[s] of this story? What event or phenomena is discussed? What narrative is being told? Where and when is this narrative situated? Who are the actors? Why was this media produced?
2B. Agency and Audience: Whose voices are represented by the narrative? Who are the intended audiences? Who are the unintended audiences? What does this insider (emic) perspective say about the speaker’s experience, knowledge, or feeling? Why is this subject emotionally engaging for the narrator and intended audiences? What significance do the stories being told, and representations cultivated, have for the narrator and intended audiences? What does the narrator support? What does the narrator stand against? Whose voices are excluded from the narrative? Who might have a different perspective on the narrative told? Why is this an important story?
3B. Delivery: What methods does the narrator use to create the narrative? How do they send the message they are conveying [declarative statements; commands; questions; mythologizing; satire; hyperbole; screaming for emphasis; generalizations; specificities; objectification of non-object-things]? What emotion is evoked here, and how? How does the medium affect the message, if it does?
4B. Epistemology: Where does the narrator obtain the information they use to provide evidence for the argument they are making? What are the sources – and are they mentioned, invisible? Are the sources agreed upon, or is there debate? How does the information stand up to what you have learned about human beings so far in this class, as well as to other studies that promote physical evidence?
5B. Connections: What references are made to events or specific persons or people? How are women, men, non-binary, and transgender individuals referred to, or left out? In what ways are race, nation, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, or individuals racialized, nationalized, or crossing boundaries represented, or left out, in the media production? What relationship of human beings to other human beings, to the body, to nature, or to animals are talked about here? In what ways is religious imagery, belief, or reference utilized to make a statement, as evidence of a claim, or to put into question counter-evidence that has been presented by parties who have alternate beliefs than the narrative here? Is there any mythologization, or idealization of a time, place, person, origin story [of people, a material production, a quote, or an idea] that from a different perspective might look like an obscuring of origins to promote a ‘divine order’, the ‘natural way,’, ‘the way things have always been done’, or to promote the idea ancient works that must be from aliens and not ‘primitive’ peoples? How is material culture talked about in this media production –what material items are brought up [if any], what use value do they have?
Consider Before Writing:
Answers should be 2-4 pages and should engage all the questions in the categories below that are relevant to the media you are analyzing. If you cannot find relevance to it, skip the question – but be sure not to skip questions that are clearly relevant. Do not skip whole categories; if you can’t find at least two relevant questions in each category, reconsider the media you are looking at. Also, note: You do not get extra points for doing more time than 20 minutes, but this is an allowance for anyone who is watching a longer program, or is very invested in this activity.