Doing my first bit of trolling the Anthro blogosphere looking for interesting stuff, I came across a very interesting post on Anthropologi.info. Apparently, a couple of cultural anthropologists in Norway have taken a rather unorthodox approach to reporting their findings – they’ve written a comic book!
If this sounds crazy to you, you’re probably not alone. I must admit, my first thought was “ok…that’s…different…” I was skeptical about whether the authors thought they could accurately present their findings through cartoons. Anthropologi asked one of the researchers to write a short blog entry about the project, which answered most of my questions.
Turns out, the researchers were very much aware of the potential for disaster in this project, yet they maintain that visual anthropology in its many forms is just as valid an approach as traditional written ethnography.
“While working on this collection, various storylines, narrative arcs, drawings, and so forth, we were faced with a series of esthetic, philosophical, and ethical choices. We not only interpreted our ethnographic findings but also presented our view of the world. In some instances, we used irony and humor to clarify situations. These forms of expression also represent our informants’ subjective experiences. They reflect the tone, emotions, and comments that were expressed by the students and employees during our conversations with them.”
The project was meant to explore the intersect between social/cultural diversity and informational services on a college campus in Oslo, Norway. The challenge that followed was to present their findings in some way that made it usable to the general public…a challenge all anthros can relate to, I believe. The resulting comic book can be found online here, along with a more detailed discussion of the project and methods. Anthropology is a fascinating discipline that studies important and relevant issues, yet we’re often relegated to the background, if we make it into the picture at all. The authors of this comic book were looking for a way out of the rut of traditional writing, a way to make sure their findings were noticed.
“People tend to better understand the complex issues when they are visible. Literally. Sometimes we need to see ourselves in a mirror to see ourselves at all. These comics were like a mirror that made people reflect upon the social and cultural issues without the distance which written texts often are creating.”
I’m not saying that comic books are the new form of ethnographic writing, nor would they appropriate for every project (incidentally, the comic book authors aren’t saying that either). However, getting anthropological research to the general public is an issue of real concern, and we definitely shouldn’t turn down an option simply because it’s “just not done”. There are many different options, and we should be thinking about how to take advantage of those.
As a side note, I still think that longer, technical writing (yes, even with the discipline-specific jargon) is very important. I don’t think we should be writing ONLY for the public lay person, but ALSO for the public lay person. Anthropology has a lot to offer! Blogs, websites, social media, and even comic books can be good ways to spread the word on good, current research that has relevance for the public.
I’ve heard of plans in the making for children’s books, video games, and wiki pages meant to broaden the audience for anthropology. Any other bright ideas out there for bridging the gap?