A Balance of Perspective in Global Society: An Argument for ‘Reverse Ethnography’ in Documentary Film.
Smith, Nathan James
Globalization is a unifying force spreading a predominantly neoliberal culture that is eradicating the world’s cultural diversity. It is directed by transnational powers, notably states and corporations, largely networking their influence through mass media. Television and associated visual media represent the most influential form of media, emanating from points of capital and political power with huge influence over recipient culture. Ethnographic documentary film emerged from the foundations of globalization with a core objective of documenting the unrepresented and disappearing indigenous cultures for aesthetic, imperial and scientific values. Scientific ideology during the 20th century pressured ethnographic documentary to minimise subjective influences and incorporate methods that adhered to scientific methodology. Pressures failed to yield results and post-modernism yielded a move to new ways of managing what became an accepted innate subjectivity in the genre. These moves however limited the application of ethnographic documentary into mainstream media while continuing to fail academics insisting on a scientific approach. Traditionally ethnographic documentary acts as a subjective statement about an ‘outside’ indigenous culture communicated by a filmmaker to an audience, the latter two sharing a common cultural sphere and its corresponding subjective reality. By contrast reverse ethnographic documentary is based on observations of globalized society by indigenous cultures. It communicates across cultural spheres rather than internally and allows indigenous peoples’ input on the emerging global culture. It allows the positioning of our own subjective reality in the context of others and offers a more faithful understanding of the observer’s subjective reality. Allowing indigenous cultures to do ethnographies of other cultures will strengthen their ability to identify with and protect their own cultures in the same way traditional ethnographies have done for the West by positioning themselves against others. It offers a balanced, multidimensional communication between global society and traditional cultures providing outside representation, social self-reflection, cross cultural education and the sharing of ideas. The film made as part of this thesis, Sacrificial River, is about the coming together of two cultures around a story of a dying river and an investigation of how western culture developed its current relationship to the natural world. It aims to demonstrate the benefits of reverse ethnography documentary.
Advisor: Rock, Jenny
Degree Name: Master of Science Communication
Degree Discipline: Science Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: reverse ethnography; visual anthropology; visual ethnography; ethnography; anthropology; indigenous media; salvage ethnography; globalisation; global media
Research Type: Thesis