Researchers performing ethnography have long reflected on the use of various sensory media as ways to document their work and interpret everyday occurrences. From audio-visual technologies to more recent digital platforms and algorithmic techniques, media offer tools through which researchers come to understand concrete and embodied engagements with interlocutors and their relationships with the world. Contemporary shifts across disciplines, not least in anthropology, have broadened a researcher’s toolset to encompass media practices not limited to familiar forms. More crucially, technical and conceptual experimentations with media open opportunities for collaborating across disciplines, outlining new ways of understanding, making, and performing multidisciplinary work. Together, sensory media serves not only as tools of inquiry, but also as viable forms to co-generate theoretical reflections and present ethnographic research across disciplinary bounds.
Though ethnography is a hallmark of the discipline of anthropology, ethnographic methods have increasingly been incorporated into a wide variety of disciplines and fields of practice. This article is a reflection of such multidisciplinary commitments to collaborate and experiment with sensory media and ethnography; anthropologists, filmmakers, photographers, curators, interaction designers, and information scientists gathered to ask how the senses might help craft fuller stories and make better media.
Making Sensory Ethnography: A Workshop Series
In 2017, the interdisciplinary workshop Making Sensory Ethnography (MSE) commenced as a graduate student-led space of inquiry under the guidance of Dr. Jason de León and supported by Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan. We convened to explore media-based methodologies and multimodal forms of research presentation. Central to our efforts in fostering cross-field discussions about research practices and productions are the prefixes “making” and “sensory” that encapsulate a focus on process. Specifically, we pursue an ongoing experimentation with media that engages multi-sensorial modalities and affords varied forms of theoretical and aesthetic expression.