5 Guidelines for Ethnofiction and why this might be a bad idea.

According to Johannes Sjoberg there are 5 guidelines for ethnofiction:


As Sjoberg quite rightly notes, ethnofiction founder Jean Rouch did not articulate any precise method for ethnofiction. Instead, Rouch discussed the production of ethnofiction in terms of Jazz, of improvisation. So instead of making guidlines as rules it may be more productive to explore the epistemology that Rouch is forwarding. Sure it is certainly easier to set up a series of rules that one can follow in the production of ethnofiction, but is it simply replacing observational documentary with film? Is there really a difference between observational documentary and the conventional cinematic gaze? It is telling that Rouch took inspiration from Surrealism, not Hollywood, not conventional theatre, but a specifically artistic-philosophical project.

It is not simply a matter of avoiding  a method, a checklist of parts, but an intentional attempt to avoid falling into the trap of objective method, because the articulation of method runs the risk of moving in the wrong epistemological  direction;  falling back into the observational documentary mode, into positivist anthropology.

The move Rouch makes is away from this model of anthropology and hence his regular recalling of Vertov and the kino-eye. I don’t think Sjoberg would disagree with this at all, but I’m also not certain that he has taken as seriously as one might, Rouch’s epistemological position. It’s not lack of method for the sake of it, but precisely an engagement in film as expanded participatory anthropology.

My orientation therefore is to attempt to explore ethnofiction through another well known renegade anthropologist Gregory Bateson. I see very important resonance between Cine-trance and Bateson’s Sacred that I will continue to explore in my work.

My exploration of this approach is influenced by suggestive observations like Anna Grimshaw’s (2001) in The Ethnographer’s Eye where she provocatively suggests:

Rouch’s practice unsettles the very division upon which such an epistemology (Cartesian subjective-objective) is founded. He disrupts the boundaries between the self and the world, mind and body, the mind’s eye and the surveying eye. I want to suggest that his anthropological cinema may be considered to be ‘the irruption of the night light o fRomanticism as the libertarian Other of le siecle des lumieres, the Century of Lights, the Enlightenment’. It is at once part of the enlightenment and yet its antithesis, the shadow around the light. (91)

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