Mediated Borders: Rouch, Reversal, and Reflections on Ethnographic Film

An AASRC Symposium Workshop
May 24, 2012
9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Sponsored by: The African and African American Studies Research Center (AAASRC) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Organizers: Bennetta Jules-Rosette, Director AAASRC (UCSD) and J.R. Osborn (Georgetown University)

Mediated images transcend and flow across cultural borders in multidirectional ways.  This panel addresses ethnographic film and media as a source of paradigms for border crossings.  Emphasis is placed on films dealing with Africa and the African diaspora.  Films carry their own passports and visas as they travel from sites of production to both local and global screenings.  Increasingly, online videos may sidestep official checkpoints of customs and migration to reach wider and more diverse audiences.

 When filmmakers cross borders, they carry with them the cultural baggage of their preconceptions and technologies that frame the interpretation of culture.  Communicative gaps, creating an echo effect, emerge at moments of encounter and reception in which visual and iconic signs are coded. A feedback loop occurs in which the “noise” of cultural unfamiliarity simultaneously invokes involvement and distanciation on the part of the spectators.  This disjuncture arises from the overlay of images upon the scaffolding of narrative structures. Conventional narrative structures frame and limit filmic messages, resulting in the imposition of competing cultural assumptions on the recoding of unfolding events. Filmmakers may become absorbed in the ciné-trance­ of the moment of encounter and its immediate translucidity.  Likewise, filmic audiences are absorbed in mediated narratives as the channel through which to experience foreign events.

Some of the ethical and political challenges raised by ethnographic film arise from issues of spectator stance and the processes of cross-cultural identification.  The narrative structure of mediated ethnographies and their audiences—both intended and unintended—reintroduce and remediate the tension between anthropological conceptions of “the order of the same” and “the order of the other.”  By examining the projects of classical ethnographic filmmakers such as Jean Rouch in relationship to audience reception and the ethnographic archive, this panel explores the ways in which actual and virtual, or physical and digital, border crossings open new vistas for ethnographic film production and criticism.


  • Bennetta Jules-Rosette, UCSD Sociology: Unpacking Ethnographic Film: Imbricated BorderCrossings and the Communicative Gap In Spectatorship 
  • Andy Rice, UCSD Communication: Reenactment as Border Crossing in Sensory Ethnographic Film: A Reconsideration of Observational Cinema and  the Legacy of Jean Rouch
  • J.R. Osborn, Georgetown University: Remixing Rouch: Collaborative Discovery In the Visions and Noise of Ethnographic Media
  •  Eduardo Santana, UCSD Communication: “Shared Anthropology” in the Production of the Diasporic Tango Body 
  • Ricardo Guthrie, Northern Arizona University: Reading Radmilla: The Semiotics of Transgressing Racial Borders