Conflicted Fantasies: Anthropology and African Media Cultures in the Digital Age
In the high-contrast visibility of the Web 2.0 and the sounds of a new digital cosmopolitanism enabled by electronic sampling, Africanness holds a special currency to emerging global media. Online documentaries, travel series, viral nonprofit campaigns and street style blogs have come in recent years to trade in cinematic representations of African and Afrodiasporic pathos, dependence, and exuberance. This spectacular media-making relies on pseudo-ethnographic modes of immersion, participant-observation, special access, and interlocution to obscure its commercial, promotional and political underpinnings. In fact, the work of anthropologists is often indistinguishable from these lay projects online without careful investigation.
These ethnographic fantasies of imagined Africanness are further shaped by a neoliberal dynamic of “click-activism” by which the subjects of these representations are rescued by the commercial ad revenue generated by online viewership. The impact of digital media on global perceptions of African politics has also contributed to a sharp rise in American State-Department programs (particularly hip-hop and social media projects) designed to sway global attitudes toward US intervention into African culture and politics.
Meanwhile, the field of media anthropology evidences the modes by which young people throughout the Global South conduct media worlds of their own through direct and off-label uses of these selfsame digital technologies, both in conversation and in conflict with discourses and resources from the West. These alternate modes of digital “self-writing” (Mbembe) offer programs by which young African people cultivate a context of hope: one often confluent with the contemporary global lexica of mediatized self-promotion and hip-hop cosmopolitanism.
This round table speaks, in part, to the “conflicted fantasies” (Weiss) that texture the world of digital Africanness, and to the stylistic formations that erupt at these sites of struggle. As Africanist anthropologists, filmmakers, global copyright scholars, critics and practitioners with a longview toward the work of representational disempowerment, we call attention to the enmeshment of anthropological methodologies and readymade media representations across the Western digital landscape, and ask how we might differentiate and amplify the methodological rigor of anthropological work on African cultural practices in an age of unprecedented broad access to representational media.
Drawing from the possibilities collaborative ethnography, media anthropology, and digital representation entail, we seek a new model for the global circulation of Third World artists. Potential vehicles for this intervention in modes of African (mis)representation include de-colonial copyright practices, affordable access to social media and video editing software, the provision of self-sufficient recording equipment and media labs to Third World artists, and new forms of access to artists’ visas. Most importantly, we ask how anthropologists can help to mobilize new forms of self-representation--and of digital anthropology--in a surprisingly uneven digital media landscape.
This round table will use available a/v to feature contemporary examples of commercial--but “documentary”-style--representations of African and Afrodiasporic (particularly Caribbean) youth cultures, as well as the academic/ethnographic projects from which they draw, and analogous projects in global self-representation by African you themselves. Senegalese woman hip-hop artist Toussa Senerap will join the round table live from her own women’s recording studio in Dakar to speak about her campaign for young African artists.
Teaching Website/Student Work Showcase and Careers/Digital Sandbox Located Here
*2014 NAACP Teaching Award, College of William and Mary.
Publications and Presentations on Pedagogy:
Author, “Crunkology: Teaching the Southern Hip-Hop Aesthetic,” Popular Music and Pedagogy, ed. N. Biamonte, Scarecrow Press, 2010.
Co-Author, "Leaders of the New School: Applying a Hip-Hop Studies Paradigm to the First Year Experience," With Craig E. Arthur and Anthony Kwame Harrison, CIDER Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy, Virginia Tech, 2015.
Co-Author, “Teaching ‘Black Music’ as a Diversity Initiative and Pedagogical Intervention” Co-Authored with Craig E. Arthur and Anthony Kwame Harrison. Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy Proceedings 2016, Virginia Tech.
CIDER Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy, Virginia Tech, 2015. (Registered)
Teaching Race/Teaching Gender (Pedagogy and Social Inequality), graduate course taken with Wahneema Lubiano, Duke University, 2007.
Dr. William R. Ferris, 2005-6; Dr. Mark Anthony Neal (Duke), 2007; Dr. Marcie Ferris, 2007; Dr. Carole Blair, 2008.
Teaching and Mentorship Awards:
Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award, UNC Department of Communication Studies, 2009.
UNC SURF Research Fellowship Graduate Mentor Award, Undergraduate Ethnography Mentor (two mentorship awards), $1000, 2008.
Graduate Seminar in Pedagogy, Taught:
Teaching Race/Teaching Gender: Pedagogy and Social Inequality, Virginia Tech, Fall 2016
WGS 2000, Gender, Pop and Media (Women and Creativity), Virginia Tech, Fall 2016
AFRI 4030, Digital Africa/Digital Blackness, Spring 2017
AFRI 4040, Digital Undergrounds: New Media and Emerging Subcultures, Virginia Tech, Fall 2015
WGS 4030, Women Who Rock/Women Who Rhyme: Gender, Media and Musical Performance, Virginia Tech, Fall 2015
SOC 1000, Introduction to Sociology, Virginia Tech, Winter 2016
Anthropology 350, Women, Africa, and Anthropology, College of William and Mary, Spring 2015. (Crosslisted AmSt 370, WmSt 370)
Anthropology 470/670/AMST 370, Media Anthropology, College of William and Mary, Fall 2014. (Crosslisted AmSt 370)
Anthropology 202, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, College of William and Mary, Summer and Fall 2014.
Amst 470, Digital Media and Popular Cultures, College of William and Mary, Fall 2014. (Crosslisted AmSt 370)
Afri 202, Wolof Language and Culture, College of William and Mary, Summer 2014 (Independent course), Spring 2015 (WM Africana Studies).
Anthropology 570 (Graduate Seminar), The Global South: Postcoloniality, The Black Atlantic, and Transnational Cultures, College of William and Mary, Spring 2014. (Crosslisted AmSt 570)
Anthropology 370, Saturday Night/Sunday Morning: The Sacred and the Secular in Popular Culture, College of William and Mary, Spring 2014. (Crosslisted Afri/AmSt 370)
Amst 201, Introduction to American Studies: American Popular Culture, College of William and Mary, Fall 2013.
Amst 150w, Digital Underground: New Media and Emerging Subcultures (Writing Seminar), College of William and Mary, Fall 2013/Spring 2014.
Amst 690, Guided Readings: Digital Humanities and Cultural Studies, College of William and Mary, Fall 2013.
CCO Comm 142, Popular Music: Global Perspectives, UNC Carolina Courses Online, Spring and Summer 2012-13.
Comm 142, Popular Music, UNC-Chapel Hill, Spring and Summer 2011.
Comm 450, Popular Media and Cultural Studies: Technologies and Representation, UNC-Chapel Hill, Fall 2009.
Comm 120, Public Speaking, UNC-Chapel Hill, Summer 2009 and 2010.
Comm 142.2, Popular Music: Local Movements, Global Resonance, UNC-Chapel Hill, Spring 2009.
Comm 451, Crunkology: The Southern Hip-Hop Aesthetic, UNC-Chapel Hill, Fall 2008.
Comm 162, Introduction to Performance Ethnography: Oral Traditions, Spring 2008.
Comm 130, Introduction to Media Production Lab, UNC-Chapel Hill, Fall 2007.
Comm 270, Rhetoric of Social Controversy, UNC-Chapel Hill. Assistant to Dr. Carole Blair, Spring 2008.
Comm 230, Intermediate Media Production, UNC-Chapel Hill. Assistant to Ed Rankus, Fall 2007.
Amst 390, No Place Like Home: Material Culture of the American South, UNC-Chapel Hill. Assistant to Dr. Marcie Ferris, Spring 2007.
AAAS 130, The Hip-Hop Aesthetic. Duke University. Assistant to Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, Spring 2007.
Hist 560, Southern Literature, UNC-Chapel Hill. Assistant to Dr. William Ferris, Spring 2006.
Hist 570, Southern Music, UNC-Chapel Hill. Assistant to Dr. William Ferris, Fall 2005.