Methodologies of Participation: Shared Anthropology, Corporate Parenting and Care Experience by John Morrison Part Two
This continues the presentation given by John Morrison exploring ‘Methodologies of Participation: Shared Anthropology, Corporate Parenting and Care Experience’. The first part contained an introduction to some of the themes and ideas which John explores and follows how he has laid out his PhD focusing on the participatory approach of Jean Rouch in Shared Anthropology.
This next section explores the design research giving the theoretical background to his practice and provides a transcript to the conversation he facilitated in Napier University with a collection of people interested and involved in corporate parenting:
From Dziga Vertov’s perspective, the camera had agency in investigations which is what Jean Rouch was interested in; the role that the camera played – so the camera over the pen. And the uses of fiction which come across in some of the early documentary films where they realise that you got a closer representation of the culture by including some fictional recreations.
And then the Surrealist Manifesto around the idea that there is a lot going on underneath the surface of things; so how do we go about potentially eliciting the more hidden aspects of the complexities we are studying in social phenomena.
The shared anthropology is a creative approach to engaging with people which developed in Jean Rouch’s field work in west Africa in the 1950s. So he was playing surrealist inspired games with his informants. The approach resulted in a new genre which became known as ethnographic fiction or ethnofiction.
So he was hired by the French state which was doing more traditional ethnographic work there but at the same time he was exploring new ways of working with people, and I think it is important to acknowledge the time period and the way that ethnographic research was being conducted. There was very much an idea of them and us, and he was challenging these ideas through his approach.
Later on in his own manifesto; I think a nice quote which sums up some of the work says “This type of participatory research is idealistic as it may seem, it appears to me to be the only morally and scientifically feasible attitude today”
Quite a bold statement but if we start unpicking some aspects of shared anthropology it becomes very interesting to see some parallels that we recognise today in participatory action research, design or any co-design projects which involve working with people.
At the heart of shared anthropology there is this idea of participation in each stage, which we can see in natural research. And then there is more of an unique aspect of his approach was the use of fiction through projected improvisation. So he would be working with people who would be navigating from the rural areas into these townships, into the colonial towns in west Africa
He was using a camera in that experience and rather than just filming people like an interview he was using a camera to provoke a different kind of reaction. Importantly the camera had moved from being purely in the observational mode into a more participatory mode through playful uses of the technology.
The people involved were essentially playing a role play version of themselves, but in the improvisation and in the fictional representations of themselves he was tapping into a deeper aspect of their world view through the approach. The little figure and then the larger one represents through this reflexivity, through the participation in the experience that there was a change which occurred; the reflexivity, the idea being that it is not just a reflective practice but one which you notice change which is occurring.
To give you a quick overview of the way that the process worked, I will go through the next slides and I will talk a bit more about the ethnographic approach which he was using. So collaborators were actively involved in each stage of the data gathering process. It acknowledges and celebrates him as the researcher in the experience and contributes to the culture through teaching and sharing of knowledge with the participants who were involved
He was using a 16 millimetre film camera which was at the time had just become small enough to become hand held, but you could not capture sound at the same time. He would film these short fictional ethnographic films, there would be a time when the film would have to get processed, and then he would invite the participants back for a screening.
It was during the screening then that you could imagine a parallel to the data coding of an interview where it might be a solo experience but the people who were involved in seeing how they were represented at that stage. Even to the fact that they were adding a sound track to the production because of the nature of the silent film.
Then the sharing of that initially was between the people in the culture and the next films which were created were often of elicited through the conversation with the people in the culture – it was what they were interested in.
This idea that I highlighted before – that you can learn more about a person through an hour of play – I just hacked that a little; you can also understand more about technology in an hour of play. This brings me up to working with some digital technology.
So we imagine how working with Rouch’s 16 mm camera has evolved then we have got important digital revolution which occurred meaning that it was more of a democratisation of camera technology. For him, although the camera was handheld it was still only him using and operating the camera; today we all have these cameras in our pockets, so we can make a big jump from 16mm to video to the digital cameras in our pockets.
Importantly with these cameras they are married with a digital microprocessor and the internet. So not just a taking device but a device which can be used for sharing content on a global stage. Also we are interacting with the content afterwards, it is not just passively receiving it like screens maybe may have been in the past.
So we can see that the digital media aspect starts to potentially reshape each stage of the very quick introduction which I am giving you to shared anthropology. The acquisition of the data, the coding of the data, and the sharing of that outside of the experience. So importantly involving the people at each stage.
So part of my research question was ‘how is digital altering that ?’
So I started my first experiments pretty much by staying true to Jean Rouch’s approach trying to spend a lot of time almost reverse engineering shared anthropology. I realised that became slightly less true to the spirit of what he was talking about and at the end of the digging through literature, for Jean Rouch, the shared anthropology was more about a way of operating as opposed to something which can be theorised as a method. A form of engagement and an ethos for engaging and connecting with people.
So the digital technology is what I wanted to spend the last five or ten minutes on talking a bit about. I mentioned some of the potential of the humble smart phone but we also have lots of other types of technology. I think that if we are going with that idea that the camera evolved from a film camera into a digital camera into married with a microprocessor we are carrying around in our pockets….
…we find that on the other side it is still a physical camera. From about the 1990s onwards we have completely virtual cameras which were pioneered in cinema; we think of films like The Matrix or David Fincher’s film Fight Club and Panic Room where there’s a completely CG environment and the film director can basically choose where the camera moves in that environment. So it opens up other really interesting possibilities of representation and also who is involved in the recording of experiences.
So we can trace our way back to the idea that there are multiple views of reality, how can the technology enable us to see or engage with multiple views on that reality ?
Navigating this new terrain of technology is obviously challenging but also really interesting. Around the same time as I was working with some students last year I came across a book from the MIT Media Lab called ‘Whiplash; How to Survive a Faster Future ?’ and essentially it is a manifesto from the Media Lab.
The essence of the book is that technology, even the mobile phone in our pocket, as soon as you marry a camera with a microprocessor it starts to get tagged with Moore’s law so there is a change which is happening so fast that the technology supercedes our capacity to understand it. So it was interesting for me that by using shared anthropology you could also generate new insights to the digital media that we are now working with.
Im going to give a couple of examples of projects which the students have been working on. So just a quick overview of the module;
The demographic on the module ‘Design Thinking and Doing’ is primarily students who have come from college. We do have some European students who have come from Erasmus programmes and they were giving the challenge to explore aspects of university policy which were especially around improving transitions into university in that entry point.
We know that there are challenges around feeling a sense of belonging and also around academic achievement as well. So they were involved in the assessment design to dig a little deeper in these themes. So they constructed or gathered data using traditional approaches. We did interviews and focus groups and then we created what is called an empathy map which is essentially a character diamond from the research data.
Then we started exploring what a digital version of shared anthropology might look like. The remit was in essence about creativity and about play and feeling comfortable about failing. The little camera which is attached to the Ipad – that Im going to demonstrate to you in a minute – captures sculptural data (z-depth data) as well as RGB data from the camera.
So if anyone has used a Microsoft connect which captures depth data, it is a camera which is capable of doing that. What you end up with is a sculptural photograph which is very interesting. This little video clip is with students exploring how Go Pro cameras and mobile phones might be used in a shared anthropology experience.
The guy behind is actually holding a little Go Pro camera. These students were actually on exchange from France, and what they wanted to look at is how they can improve the canteen experience. They were saying the food in the canteen is rubbish, and so they were coming up with some different scenarios of like a food truck and they were using the Ethnofiction session to play out what the customer touchpoint between the service user and the service provider…
…and they were playing with the cameras in an interesting way. They were not told how to use the cameras, they were just given the cameras and through playful exploration they were roleplaying aspects of that which resulted in some really interesting forms of video.
We also then created a sculptural photograph of a particular experience. If anyone knows anything about forum theatre, it is a tabloo, a frozen moment and in forum theatre you would invite people in to create what is called a statue and that would be a key moment which others in the group could come to understand. So essentially it has just created a digital version of that.
This little video is of the students taking that sculptural photograph of that particular moment inside of silkbrush (??) using HTC vive. And this is where we go back to the shared anthropology approach:
There is the acquisition of data using digital cameras, and then the coding of the data. So rather than the screening, they are experiencing that particular moment they created in virtual reality and the way they used that technology – again this was just explorative – they started drawing gaps of what their service experience would be like.
So they started drawing and enhancing that frozen moment with what the vehicle of what the delivering of the service would look like. It was really interesting to see how the digital technology offered a new kind of perspective with that new sculptural photograph. You could essentially occupy the different view of the different people involved in the experience, so it was a different application for seeing a bit more of the perspective of another in an experience.
Another thing they were looking at was how multiple feeds from cameras could be put together and shared with an audience. There is a bit of software called echo studio and it lets you click on a video and you can shift perspective between the different feeds of video. So again, it was an interesting way that digital mediated technology can be altering the shared anthropology experience, and also importantly, how the people who are viewing the technology. So people outside of the experience you were sharing it with could interact in an ongoing experience.
To finish off these slides before opening up to a bit of discussion: With the original ethnographic fiction of the outcome from shared anthropology, Rouch originally intended it to be a dialogue between the researcher and the participants. With the digital ethnographic approach or using digital media technology where there was a lot more potential for connecting with an audience as well.
There are interesting ideas on how the digital technologies could involve a more democratic engagement with the people who the research is for but also a wider audience afterwards.
I will finish up by hinting towards some of the future work. I realised that at the end of the module that rather than continuing to have the separation of two lines of enquiry of inside the school and outside there was great opportunity – again this came about with conversation with Alex about ideas of a Porous University – that we could be delivering experiences in the classroom and using technologies to push out into wider culture and involve people.
Google recently launched a Jamboard which is essentially a smart or improved version of the smart TV. So you can have, or be working with an agent out in the culture, delivering a lecture in the classroom and have this digital technology; this really interesting engagement with outside cultures. And that was really the interesting turn around which came out of the study with the students.
At the beginning it was about how to better support students assimilate into the university environment, and at the end of it and there was a nice kind of nod to Jean Rouch and the empowerment process – they came to the idea of how can the university better change to cater for their needs.
I will distribute the slides which have some useful links to talk about corporate parenting and also some of the references which are in the slides. I am conscious that it was a kind of lightening look at shared anthropology and also of the topic of corporate parenting. I’d like to capitalise on some of the people in the room and maybe you can tell us a little about how the corporate parenting plan is developing.
Peter Tormey: So as John mentioned, my name is Peter Tormey I work in the widening participation team. Ive developed a corporate parenting plan in partnership with Katrina Castle who is the former head of the Widening Participation who has since left; and now Sandra Cairncross who is the assistant principle for Widening Participation and community.
So the plan is in its final stages and will be published by the end of this month. The deadline for publishing a plan is the 1st of April, so we are going right up to the deadline. Currently only half of the Scottish Universities have published a plan so I think we are not unique in that sense.
As Jan introduced, a corporate parenting plan essentially sets the guidance for the university to consider young people who are care experienced more holistically. I was interested in John’s perspective on normal parenting versus “corporate parenting” and that is similar kind of issues which I have faced with the corporate parenting plan.
It is the first corporate parenting plan which will be updated annually. Essentially the corporate parenting plan sets out the universitys commitment to supporting care experienced individuals of all ages into university.
Essentially it is built on some of the current practices we have which are admissions policies and some of the work which the Widening Participation team does. We also have specific data that Ive looked at in the corporate participation plan that we can advance in the future. So John mentioned how individuals may be accommodated, so foster placement at a home; and again, though grossly underrepresented at the university even within care-experience-data, individuals from specific backgrounds can be underrepresented.
So for example, looked-after-at-home have the lowest expectations and positive destinations as of any care experienced individuals in Scotland, and looked at as an almost unique status to Scotland.
So that is part of the corporate parenting plan which I have looked at in this instance, but certainly one in the future can identify and support care experienced individuals in the university. Similarly, the period of time in care is something we have looked at, so we know some of the individuals may be looked after for a week; that is as far as their data will go down to when students are applying.
But equally some may be looked after for three weeks or up to three years as well. So there are all these different aspects of corporate parenting that on the surface, how universities and public institutions adopt will differ. My inclination is to have something of a more holistic approach in looking at how universities can identify and provide equity to individuals.
John Morrison: That is really great and it really brings home the idea that if you can imagine what you would want for your own child or what you liked about your own parenting – or equally disliked – then that would be a good way of thinking about how we can create better services for young people who we have a responsibility for as corporate parents.
This initiative came about because of changes to the Children and Young Persons Act 2014 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2014/8/contents/enacted) in Scotland, and Section 9 of the act highlights some key criteria which corporate parents should be following. Essentially they are pretty common sense things about, for example, spending time to make sure that we are looking after the interests of the young people who are our ‘corporate children’ if you want to think about it in those ways.
This is a crucial date which three years on Scottish government wants us to report back on the different agencies who are responsible for corporate parents. This is all the universities, colleges, hospitals, doctors and nurses, plus the police – who are here. There is an important conversation about how we can bring the young persons voice into the construction of the policy.
The project I was working on within the university I want to take out and work with Champions Boards. Champions Boards are groups of young care experienced people – so the idea being that I do a condensed version of the design thinking module with these students and invite them to participate in the design experience where they have a voice on what corporate parenting looks like within institutions which are designed to cater for their needs.
Have you guys had any insight into your process because you were working with Who Cares Scotland
Police Scotland: Good afternoon, I am Sergeant Sarah Marshall. It was really really difficult to find out where to start with. I think the key aspect was working with other corporate parents in trying to come up with a set of commitments which are going to help the care experienced; ones which can add value. So that was in particular with Who Cares Scotland. It was just a plan, version one, and we gave it to Who Cares Scotland and they said ‘It needs a bit of work’…
…and they gave us some pointers, some key things about working with young people and making them realistic. Obviously working with partners too, we re-presented it again and that is the polished version. We are looking to produce a child friendly version as that one is very corporate and has a lot of jargon in it as well. It is really important that we produce a version for the care experienced so that they know what it means for them, and again involving the Young Radical group in Who Cares Scotland to help us design the language because the language we use is really important.
He touched on the report, we are just in the process of finalising our 3 year report on the progress we have made in relation to being corporate parents and what our responsibilities are. So you touched on it earlier. It is about the real commitments to the care experienced and what we can do to help them because the statistics that come to us are absolutely horrific We have actually got a shock when we looked at the statistics and the outcomes of how many will end up in prison or not have good destinations and also death as well. All that kind of thing for us really brought it home that it is relevant that we achieve being good corporate parents.
Question: I was really interested in your presentation too; I am not really sure if we have talked about this. I made a film over a period of time and one of the contributors to that film was a young woman called Ashley Cameron. Ashley grew up in care – I didn’t know this when we started making the film, but the film is available. But film is quite an interesting way of hearing the experience in writing it. Ashley is now studying in Stirling University and we started filming with her when she was just ten so it kind of follows the trajectory of her experience of the care experience. And when she was filmed last year, one of the things she said about the process of coming up with this legislation was that she had gone to a meeting with Alex Salmond as she was involved as an ambassador for Who Cares Scotland.
She said – “You’re my dad” – we are all her dad; we are all the parents of… I think that is what the interesting thing about what you are doing, you are personalising and finding ways of personalising those experiences. Ashley is a very important voice in this whole subject.
John: there was photography involved in Polmont…
Someone continues:…. I had a photography department and we had two lots of volunteers working at my young offenders unit; three young women last year and two young women this year basically teaching a course in photography. Basically we did a classic empowering and exchanging of skills – and in both years they produced an exhibition out of objects which were important to them. I should have brought it along; we produced a small booklet with a half a dozen lads who produced still life’s about their experience of friendship and lack of friendship and so forth.
Paul Grey as well has been doing some interviews, not specifically with care experienced individuals but with prisoners there and exploring how this making practice can be used to communicate the stories. So even ways of using verbatim techniques where you can protect the anonymity of the people you are interviewing but allow their voice to be heard using visual media.
Speaking just briefly after that, in both of the years the lads expressed interest in learning more about photography in Napier. There was no way – there didnt seem to be any mechanism – I mean obviously my students could engage in any depth of conversation about continuing to teach them; there did not seem to be any mechanism to assist these young lads, no way of creating a way to be in touch or apply to Edinburgh Napier.
Someone else: I think that is one of the big challenges for corporate parents. The ethos of corporate parents is that corporate parents link together, just as families link together. It shows that through that transition period of leaving school and applying for college that people fall through cracks and end up in negative outcomes and circumstances.
And there are initiatives undergoing universities in the region and college, led by Napier called Hope For Success – which will link into schools, colleges and universities and supply that support. But it is the big challenge of corporate parenting; the document itself can be a well done document, and look fantastic and have great aspirations but in practice, that is really when we will know how good a corporate parent we are.
There is someone called Armistead Maupin who writes autobiography called ‘My Logical Family’ not ‘My Biological Family’ and how he has created that within a community, how to create that across corporate.
It is interesting on where people are living and how people are excluded from most education and what she discovered is that you can be listed as being in foster care but in truth you are living in a studio flat with a warden, so what you will have is twelve children who are listed as being in foster care but they are really just living by themselves in bedsits. So if you look at that figure of 35% of people in foster care, that’s the reality for those children.
…and also, the individuals being looked after at home, which is under a supervision order, there is no social work involved, there is no council involved. There is obviously something that led to the supervision order being placed but there is no intervention so you are essentially left to kind of live under pseudo-supervision which again seems implausible.
John: In formal conversations I had with Tom which I had, it was interesting to see how they map across. Tom would say that ‘your dad would always say to respect your people like they are adults, never talk down to people’, to listen, to always be there. And with you Pete, as well, when we were looking at some of the specifics of policy and the energy which was coming out of Who Cares Scotland they were talking quite a lot about love….
….and love can be pretty problematic when we are talking about corporate parenting – actually, what does that mean when you dig into what that really represents about listening with a willingness to change respect that those things start to make a lot more sense in terms of about how corporate parents could adopt aspects of what it means to care for someone and let them know that they will be accepted and that they will be there.
There is definitely a lot more work to do to unlock those statistics and my hope that from part of this research is that I can connect different people who perhaps normally dont normally connect together, and crucially to involve young people in the different policies which are being designed.
Are there any more questions, was there something which you wanted to say ?
Alex Dunedin: Yes, well, Im very interested to hear people’s experiences of working in and under corporate structures because this is about relationships and non-instrumental relationships. So some of the thinking that John has stimulated in me is to look at the natural history of families and our assumptions about families….
…and there we foreground the positive and we tend to not include in our mental impressions of families some of the devastating relationships that go on. Narcissistic relationships, opportunistic, exploitative, amongst siblings, among the parent-child relationship. But everybody in the structures will understand this. Talking with people in different sectors, often people will find that they are hired into jobs that are caring and then by following the very policies they are bound to follow they are prevented from offering and extending that care; and the result is that the holistic human experience is reduced to an instrumental relationship.
So I am wondering about people’s experiences of trying to do things but being hindered by the structures, be it funding, be it resources….
Someone responds: …I am often put in the situation where I talk to a student and I dont have the training or the understanding to be able to advise them properly, and I wont do that because that might mean that I would advise them to do something foolhardy or that it is the wrong thing to do. So I will then give them over to a professional. So to me that is the only problem with it, and my job as an academic is to be an academic to them not…. – it is not that I dont care or I dont want to help.
Someone adds: ….I did work in educational psychology for a long time with care leavers in Derbyshire and in that area because of the diffused nature of the context that the children might have had with lots of well meaning and some teachers who were perhaps better than others in social provision. They brought in a model of social pedagogy which was to have a single dedicated person who would be with you because that was – as you said right at the start – sometimes you can be that one teacher at school who can be that person who is there for you but only while you are in that school and then they change again.
And then sometimes because of geography it is not possible to maintain the school placement. The idea of social pedagogy is that you have got this person – for good or bad – because parenting is not always about the good as you said, it is also about dealing with it and not being able to escape from that parent as well… because I think that is one of the things that kids in care learn, that you can run away from things because they can say ‘I dont like that social care’ and avoid problems.
I am interested to know how you are going to do this as using your technology. That is what I dont really get.
John Morrison: So for me, the shared anthropology of my contribution to some of the complexities in that area was about involving people in a process for understanding aspects of their particular needs.
So shared anthropology, you can think of it as a type of action research. So if you want to work with, now someone outside of the university, say with some of the care experienced champions boards, these are people currently not in tertiary education. What I am hoping is that by participating in a research project they are essentially learning how to be social researchers. They realise that they have the skills to actively be engaged in university and at the same time through the process generate insights which may not – which may be a bit more nuanced and may be a bit difficult to unearth in other approaches.
I think that there are a lot of challenges. We have talked in the university at the moment. As program leader I am not told which students are care experienced. We have an understanding in a certain area that most will probably in direct entrant routes but that is not all. So there is a lot of challenges around the labeling and then also I was talking with Marianne about different models – I think Strathclyde do this thing were they have a named person within a school but they are not students who you are teaching….
….So I am in school of computing and Marianne is in the school of photography – I could be corporate parent for photography students and particularly for computing; something like that. But again there is a lot of things to be worked out in that type of approach. And then, like you said, if perhaps a young person – how much say do they have if they dont get on with that person ? Is there another layer that they could go to ? And I think that it also brings up some interesting questions about institution as a corporate parent versus the individuals.
So something which Thomas was sounding out was that there is going to be plenty of people who perhaps are not really interested in being a corporate parent and what do they feel that they are forced into a role. So I think there is a lot of complexity and there is not straight forward answers but what is important is that we actively involve people for whom we design policies for.
We can learn lessons from other countries, for example if we look at the stats from Denmark; I have done different academic exchanges there and I introduced my research to one of our partners in Copenhagen and they didn’t even get the definition because every young person has a role model from a very young age, and it is very consistent and joined up. I think that is some of the energy that the Scottish Government is trying to do with ‘Get It Right For Every Child’ (http://www.gov.scot/resource/0042/00423979.pdf)
Someone: A broader question which relates to policy specifically is that this is an idea of simply being grassroots led into instituting polity. Now to what extent to how open can that be ? How much do the people who are involved in that process feel involved in that final space ? And also in terms of the articulation here … in the institutional aspect in the modeling of what this care provider is in that context, in my own personal experience of being young was that I was sent to boarding school, so I had parents but I had a boarding situation as well and I was abused in that boarding situation….
…and that has subsequently a lot of individual characteristics in the way that I am within the context of institutions, and the way that I am with issues around authority. So to what extent does this kind of research allow those kinds of issues to be opened out and made more transparent and maybe feed up into this structure of moving forward ?
I mean, you talk about Denmark, and they are so so far ahead of us and then one thinks about the kind of negative associations with the Scottish Governments provisioning of guardianship scheme which just seems to be somehow an imposition on that notion of the sacrosanct nature of the family. And as a sociologist and anthropologist my studies in the past have looked at what it is – ‘What is family ?’ – is family that nuclear model of parent and sibling or is it actually much wider than that ?
And that is when it draws all these questions around community in particular and these kind of potentialities within a broader structure. It is still far too early but is there any kind of indication from this kind of relationship that you are setting up with that group of peers in relation to the kind of structures in policy…
I have been looking at the models which shared anthropology had in the 1950s and Ive been looking at models since then, so I mentioned Forum Theatre or Legislative Theatre techniques and we know that film following the Canadian Film Board – this participatory film movement which happened after this as well, that storytelling using art, using a medium like film and photography can be great ways of involving people who are telling their own stories.
So bringing those stories out and amplifying them and including them in discussions. So being in the position I am in I am hoping that the digital technology can further democratise aspects of that. And that is a bold thing to say but we can see models, little hints, like the Arab Spring where the government was trying to restrict what was going on and then people on the ground suddenly realised that they could push through the firewalls because of the camera in their pocket. So there are really interesting hints towards that but I would not be able to say more.
My hope ? Ultimately I am going to be doing a PhD which is assessed on the rigour of the methods employed – it is not going be judged on the ‘action’ part of it, even if that is of personal interest to me…. but my hope is that with the experience I will be able to create some kind of toolkit perhaps inside of this area of corporate parenting by anyone who better wants to understand another culture or who wants to be complimentary to other social research science method.
I am not suggesting that you are going to replace interviews but it could be that we have successive or mixed approaches to the social science space. So you could be doing interviews but you could also be taking some of the energy that we came across in the past
Someone adds: ….I think that often there is ideas – I have ideas and feelings which I find very hard to express in words but to do something with other people that is externalised from yourself and that you can reflect on in an outcome in using a camera. I think it has great potential to be really powerful.
John Morrison: All of the legislative theatre techniques which I have been involved in have been amazing for the change in bringing together and energising. I would love to see some more of that in the Scottish Government. There is a guy who couldnt make it today but he is from an organisation called Active Inquiry (http://www.activeinquiry.co.uk). They are a local Forum Theatre group and I am hoping to work more with them in the future as well.
Alex Dunedin: You had a Plato quote…
John Morrison: It is hard to tell where it came from because when you start digging into where the origin of quotes begun you find different attributions.
Alex Dunedin: I am curious about the Platonic family in all of this. Does that relate to what is behind the lens and that presence ?
John Morrison: Good question. Does it ? I am not sure ? If we think about Plato’s kind of conversational style with Socrates as well. It is interesting to think of that idea of an essence of a philosophical debate about moving forward to create understanding on a subject. I dont know, do you have an answer ?
Alex Dunedin: I dont know, I suppose when someone puts a camera in front of me I in some ways imagine the world looking on…. like I brushed my hair today etcetera etcetera. I am less awares of that in general because I am just naturally scruffy. Any kind of capturing I do imagine in some way the world….
John Morrison: I think there is something quite specific about Jean Rouch’s time as well as the people he was working with. So a lot of people were looking at Hollywood films which were being shown and they were coming from these areas and so they wanted to be on screen.
When you check with a lot of teenagers today and the novelty factor of being filmed is long gone but there is still a lot of novelty around the technology, around virtual reality or finding ways of occupying space via avatars and things like that which is of interest.
He (Jean Rouch) actively celebrated the fact that the camera was altering the experience so there was no hiding the fact that people were performing, but it was in the performance – “the performative you is the ‘you’ you dont yet know” – is one of the quotes which I liked, which is the idea that through improvisation and play, and in the performative mode there was aspects of your world view that emerged and they became more easily accessible through fictionalising.
So you were not playing you, you were playing a character but in the fictional mode key aspects of your world view emerge which I think was really fascinating. But then he was moving away from the psychotherapeutic part of it – he would always steer it back away from that. I think in the screenback sessions it was up to the people themselves, through seeing themselves being represented on screen to have a deeper understanding of themselves.
Someone adds: …there is something really interesting in the timelines in relation to what Jean Rouch is doing and then the NFB (National Film Board) in Canada where you have two film maker researchers Sol Worth and John Adair….and it is now thrown out of the water but they were working with the Navajo.
They had this idea that ‘how do we see ourselves and how do we see life as it is lived ?’. The idea that they had is that the Navajo experience life holistically differently from ourselves. With their research they would give cameras to the Navajo who would then show us their experience. But of course, the Navajo are not outwith our culture so your reaction is very culturally normative – it is the experience of how we see ourselves through the lens and how we see others on the space of the screen.
My own work when I have worked in Africa with communities which have had very little in the way of technology. They are very aware of culture and the screen, the kind of telegraphing of information and how people are seen. One of the things I would like to look for is the very subtle markers of identity so I was working with a group of young people in Lesotho and they are shepards.
So from the age of 12 to 20 they are looking after their animals but they have a city and they go down to the city every so often. So when they are shepards they wear rags effectively – a very ragged university – so they wear blankets and Wellington boots for some reason, and they kind of look very different; they dont look like normal teenagers do.
And I was giving one of them a lift to Maseru which is the city centre and he went into… and said I’ll just go in to get changed, and I thought ‘fair enough, he’s just going in to put on another pair of wellies or what have you. He goes in and comes out in his streetwear and his streetwear is just as if he had just walked off the street in Brixton or New York, you know, a Kangol hat and slouch jeans, arse hanging out, so very aware of these kind of global trends and what have you.
So the representations is a fascinating space, so any particular research which is happening in Canada is exactly the same as Jean Rouch’s in West Africa and it is also the kind of parallel with direct cinema and the development of direct cinema in America with Cinema Verite which is Jean Rouch in France. There is a kind of paralell experience in talking about this sound off camera, and it comes in later on in Jean Rouch’s work – the sound in camera very much becomes a part of his work and camera techniques.
John Morrison: You couldn’t really tell because the sound engineering is done so well in the ghost editings…. well thank you all very much