- Nat NesvaderaniNat NesvaderaniLaval University
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.
Since the 2010s, there has been an enthusiastic call for the use of multimodal methods in anthropological research. This call dovetails with the democratization of media production technologies that make the collection of data and the distribution of findings more accessible, particularly to audiences outside of academia. Some of these “modalities” include social media, digital mapping, video games, soundscapes, graphic novels, AI technologies, and critical archival practices. The contemporary field of multimodal anthropology has developed from longer-established fields of visual anthropology and media anthropology, which have participated in the production, dissemination, and study of images since the advent of the camera. Anthropologists were among the first to use new audio and visual technologies in their research activities in the early 20th century. These experimental filmmakers developed the tradition of ethnographic filmmaking, a cinematic genre that for decades was nearly synonymous with the field of visual anthropology.
Newer multimodal methods strive to redefine and expand what counts as knowledge in ways that move beyond racist, colonial, and ableist legacies in the field of anthropology. Like the field of media anthropology, multimodal anthropology acknowledges and embraces the central role that media places in everyday life for anthropologists and interlocutors alike. Notably, the initial excitement for multimodal methods has been closely followed by an ambivalence among scholars who account for how new digital media tools often fall short of creating the hoped-for social and political change. The ethical use of new online platforms requires scholars to remain cautious of the ways in which popular digital technologies are often subsumed in contemporary forms of racial capitalism and white supremacy through ongoing issues of data-centered extraction and exploitation. Scholars working with multimodal methods are called to embrace the potentials of this new field while being aware of its limitations. Such awareness requires scholars to center the contributions of intersectional feminist and decolonial approaches when engaging in multimodal anthropology.
- Applied Anthropology