Visual Ethics Roundtable: AAA meeting, San Francisco, 14-18 November

Screenshot by me of the American Anthropological Associations webpage for the 2012 meetings in San Francisco, 14-18 November.

The time has come again to recruit contributions to our annual roundtable discussion on visual ethics at the American Anthropological Association meetings.  The deadline to express interest in participating is very soon – 5 April – so please get in touch with me if you’re keen to present on your ethical negotiations with imagery.  My contact details are available via my York webpages.

Here’s the call for contributions!:


Chairs: Sara Perry & Jonathan Marion

This roundtable discussion, organised on behalf of the Society for Visual Anthropology’s (SVA) Ethics Committee, seeks to continue the SVA’s now six-year-old tradition of nurturing debate and critical reflection on the ethics of anthropological imaging. Building on this year’s conference theme of “Borders and Crossings,” we aim to probe anthropologists’ ethical negotiations with image creation, circulation and consumption within and across disciplinary boundaries. Of particular interest is the iterative and unstable nature of image use—the navigation of visual value systems and moralities across time, space, cultural and institutional context, particularly when circumscribed by programmatic ethical review models. How have histories of anthropological, scientific and related social scientific practice impacted on our contemporary management of imagery? Where is representational authority situated in unstable, multiply-occupied/authored anthropological contexts? How are shifting visual technologies and intellectual paradigms disrupting or rearranging our ethical priorities? How do we anticipate and negotiate future relations with pictorial materials?  And what legacies are our current approaches to image ethics likely to leave behind?

Taken together, the intent of this roundtable is to give practitioners an opportunity to discuss the ethical implications of in-progress or recently-completed visual research, and to draw upon the collective input of roundtable attendees to plan for or rethink our visual responsibilities.


For those interested in participating, please provide a brief description (max. 150 words) of the particular scenario or issue you wish to contribute to this year’s discussion as soon as possible, and by 5 April at the latest. Decisions will be made by 10 April, and contributors will need to register for the conference via the AAA’s web-based system by 15 April. All correspondence should be sent to Sara Perry.

The roundtable will take the form of a series of brief, 10-minute presentations by participants, culminating in an extended period of group discussion and debate.

Please note: As per AAA participation rules, presenting as part of a roundtable counts as a person’s one “major” role, the same as giving a paper or poster.

Of brains, material culture and other cool things…

The YouTube trailer for our Brains exhibition at the Wellcome Collection has recently gone live (see above), so now seems like an appropriate moment for a blog update.  Much of my involvement in this project was in the original planning and sourcing of objects—and the writing of labels for those objects—so I’m very keen to see how the whole show has come together.  It opens on 29 March, and I’ll be hanging around the exhibition quite a bit until its closing on 17 June (so please say hello if you see me!) owing to related research.

I’ve alluded to that research before, but I’m collaborating with the fantastic Dr Richard Wingate, a neuroscientist at King’s College London, on analysing the use of real human tissue (generally human brains and spinal cords) in medical students’ education.  The intent is to tease out—via interviews, focus groups, and associated methods of participant observation—the significance of learning from the ‘real’ thing (human remains themselves) as opposed to other means like models, illustrations, videos, 2D and 3D renderings, etc.  Via engagement with both students and faculty/staff, we’re studying how experts and experts-in-training relate to ‘authentic’ human material, what such authenticity means to their professional and personal identities, and how their access to human remains resonates pedagogically and ethically—e.g., as regards mastery of the subject matter, and relationships to other humans.

This project has implications not only for medicine, but for material culture studies and archaeology, teaching and learning, ethics, philosophies of practice, embodiment, expertise, and anthropology overall.  Richard himself has a long history of negotiating at the intersections of science and the humanities (read more on his blog), and I’ll be contributing to some work that Richard and others are spearheading at Somerset House in London in the upcoming months; namely, the Between project which brings together an incredible and completely inspiring range of scientists and artists for debate, display, discussion and exchange.  The exhibitionary component of Between is previewed here:

Beyond this work, I’ll be out and about in the UK quite a bit in the next couple of months, so I do hope that I run into some of you at the following events where I’ll either be talking, discussing or assisting in some capacity:

One last note that I’ve just finished teaching my Cultural Heritage Management (CHM) MA module, and I have to say that I had the loveliest group of intellectually-engaged and enthusiastic students.  York’s CHM and Digital Heritage courses attract a student body that is diverse both internationally and in terms of academic background.  This makes for a productive and thought-provoking learning environment, and I’m actually quite sad to see the term end.  Thanks to all who made the module such a success, and thanks to my colleagues, friends and family for your continuing support.