An Anthropological Experiment: From the Cutting Room Floor
Author/Ethnographer: Kathryn Linn Geurts
Photographer: James E. O’Neal
Sensorial anthropology asks that we engage the sensual revolution in scholarship in part by thinking beyond the academic text. This piece experiments with materials that are usually “left on the cutting room floor” as the paradigmatic journal article is written, edited, and produced.
The audio-taped ethnographic interview is a mainstay: it is listened to, transcribed, coded, analyzed, and the content is woven textually into theoretically dense prose. But we seldom glimpse the dynamic interview process; we rarely view the emotional vicissitudes of the exchange. If we are fortunate enough to see a photograph, it is often a posed portrait of the “interviewee.” This piece rescues photos from “the cutting room floor” to display and explore the feeling tone of an ethnographic interview.
For more than 20 years I have been studying sensory-emotional elements of experience and bodily ways of knowing in Ghana. In one of the local languages this is referred to as seselelame: feel-feel-at-flesh-inside or feeling in the body and the skin. Seselelame is a sensibility that is highly valued, trusted, and believed. So while Westerners may say that “seeing is believing,” Africans might say “feeling provides proof.” If Cartesian dualism or mind-body split characterizes a kind of Western way of being-in-the-world, seselelame rivals this as an African style of fusing body to mind.
This slideshow (from fieldwork in 2010) makes evident that ethnography derives from and thrives on relationality. You see the anthropologist interviewing one of Ghana’s leading Deaf activists: Mahama Johnson Numeri. But this is made possible only with the assistance of George Pinto – an interpreter who works with the Ghana National Association of the Deaf. The photographs produced by James O’Neal reveal some things but in turn conceal others, prompting me to invoke seselelame as an analytic tool.