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Imaging alterity: Discourse, pedagogy, and the reception of ethnographic film

, University of Southern California, United States

University of Southern California . Awarded


This dissertation addresses the construction of ‘primitive’ alterity and selfhood by the ethnographic film apparatus, a communicational system comprising textual discourses, pedagogical practices, and the reception of ethnographic film. Through critical analysis of textual representation and ethnographic research of pedagogical practices with film and of undergraduates' reception of selected ethnographic films conducted in an introductory anthropology course at the University of Southern California, I interpret the following communicational dynamics that may result in challenging and/or reinforcing hegemonic, stereotypical constructions of ‘primitive’ alterity: (1) the major tropes of discourse in ethnographic film, their cultural and disciplinary assumptions of selfhood and their respective modes of representing other cultures; (2) the dominant pedagogical approaches and strategies for teaching with ethnographic film and their potential effects for promoting critical, reflexive learning at both the academic and cultural levels; (3) the role played by students' social, ethnic, ideological, and political self-positionings, and by their incoming stereotypical notions of ‘primitiveness,’ in their reception of ethnographic films; (4) the complex, multilayered dynamics of reception processes and the relevance of cognitive, affective, unconscious, identificatory, gratificatory, cultural, ideological, and political factors affecting the degree of correspondence and/or mismatch between filmic texts and viewers; (5) the significant degree to which classic visual ethnographies tend to reinforce ‘good’ and ‘bad’ stereotypes of ‘primitiveness’ (i.e., the Ju/'hioansi and Yanomano film series, respectively); (6) the correlation between films addressed to a ‘general public’ and the more complex and ambiguous student responses as well as the risks entailed in the ‘popularization’ of anthropology; and (7) the contradictory patterns of self-reflexivity and self-stereotyping linked to students' reception of films about their own cultural selfhood. I argue that the significant degree of students' stereotypical responses is closely related to the discipline's discourses of ‘truth’ and objectivity and to the binary logic of Western culture concerning identities of selfhood and alterity. I suggest the need to decenter such oppositionalist thinking primarily through pedagogical practices that focus on the constructed nature of ethnographic films. I draw theoretical and methodological implications for the production of ethnographic films, for teaching practices, and for the study of reception in introductory anthropology courses.


Martinez, W.M. Imaging alterity: Discourse, pedagogy, and the reception of ethnographic film. Ph.D. thesis, University of Southern California. Retrieved February 23, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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