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“Opacity, Rézonans, and the Politics of Bearing Witness in Anthropology”
October 21 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
As part of the Anthropology Colloquium Series
About the presentation: What are the politics of bearing witness through ethnography? As demands for anthropologists to acknowledge and confront our discipline’s entanglements and complicity with structures of dispossessions inherited from the colonial plantation system, Deborah Thomas models ethnography as a practice of bearing witness through the constitution of affective archives (Thomas 2019).
For the past several years, I have been studying postcoloniality as an embodied practice by dancing alongside Guadeloupeans as they learn gwoka—Guadeloupe’s secular drum-based music—both in Guadeloupe and metropolitan France. In 2020, as I was interviewing an Antillean woman living in Paris about her interest in traditional dance, she quickly shifted the tone and direction of our conversation, calling on me to bear witness to past trauma. I ask: how can a white, male, French, researcher bear witness to the afterlives of colonialism without reproducing the sort of voyeuristic gaze central to the colonial enterprise? The answer, I argue, lays in embracing Edouard Glissant’s call for a “right to opacity.” Part of a wider project seeking to re-imagine ethnography through a critical engagement with Glissant’s poetics of Relation, this presentation explores the politics of bearing witness from and through the dance studio and the dancing body.
I propose that the dance studio offers a space of shared vulnerability from which a “community of practice” (Conquergood 2002) can emerge. The sonic and kinesthetic copresence experienced in the studio allows for a different form of relationality that spills over into interviews outside the dance space. Whereas Glissant critiqued an anthropology based on an effort to comprendre (French, to grasp or to understand) as appropriative and reductionist, I foreground a method based on rézonans (Creole, resonance) in which the ethnographer can be called upon to participate in an affective, embodied, archive of the lingering effects of slavery and colonialism.
About the presenter: Jerome Camal is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research focuses on music, dance, and postcoloniality across the French Atlantic world. He is the author of Creolized Aurality: Guadeloupean Gwoka and Postcolonial Politics, published by the University of Chicago Press. He holds a PhD in musicology with a specialization in ethnomusicology from Washington University in Saint Louis.