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Methods@Manchester

Ethnofiction

By Dr Johannes Sjöberg

In the late 1950s’ visual anthropologist Jean Rouch started to experiment with fiction and projective improvisation in ethnographic films such as Jaguar (1957-1967), Moi, un noir (1957) and La pyramide humaine (1959). French film critics would call these films ‘etnofiction’. Even though Rouch made his ethnofictions as a part of his ethnographic research and representation, he remained faithful to his passion for surrealism and poetry, and often opposed anyone making theories about his films.

Defying Rouch’s view on this matter, the presentation explores ethnofiction as an ethnographic method by drawing on a practice-led research project based on ethnographic filmmaking among Brazilian transsexuals and travestis living in São Paulo. Informed by other travestis and transsexuals, including artists, prostitutes, health informers and political activists, Fabia Mirassos and Savanah ‘Bibi’ Meireles acted out personal and social experiences in an ethnofiction called Transfiction (2007) (remix 2010).

Together with a selection of film clips the presentation will suggest projective improvisation in ethnographic film as viable complementary method for ethnographic research and representation. The presentation will also introduce AMP – a new PhD programme in Anthropology, Media and Performance, based on the approach of ethnofiction and other creative practices conducted in a collaborative and reflexive context, in combination with ethnographic fieldwork methods.

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Key references

  • Sjöberg, J. (2008) 'Ethnofiction: drama as a creative research practice in ethnographic film',Journal of Media Practice , Intellect Books & Journals, Vol. 9 Issue 3, pp. 229-242.
  • Sjöberg, J. (2008) 'Workshop on Ethnofictions', In: Runnel, P., ed. Mediating Culture through Film: Conversations and Reflections on Filmmaking at Tartu Worldfilm Festival. Tartu, Estonian National Museum, pp. 99-103.
  • Ethnofiction and Beyond: The Legacy of Projective Improvisation in Ethnographic Filmmaking. Paper presented at the international conference ‘A Knowledge Beyond Text’ at Centre Pompidou in Paris, November 2009.

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