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Title: Edmund Carpenter’s Experiments across Visual Anthropology and Critical Media Pedagogies
Authors: Darroch, Michael
Cohen, Hart
Heyer, Paul
Issue Date: 5-Jul-2016
Series/Report no.: Theories: Other Senses;07.11.2015 Session 6A
Abstract: This presentation explores the neglected contributions of the unorthodox cultural anthropologist Edmund Carpenter (1922­2011) to cross­disciplinary media and communication studies. Carpenter worked in CBC radio, film, and television in the 1940s and 1950s, contributing his studies of Aivilik Inuit concepts of space and time to the very shape that early communication and media studies would take. His belief that literate cultures privilege visual information, excluding multisensory information that informs the worldview of oral cultures, found a champion in McLuhan with whom he led the innovative Explorations group at the University of Toronto in the 1950s. From 1959­1968, Carpenter was Chairman of an experimental Anthropology Department at San Fernando Valley State College, initiating an early model of research­creation pedagogy combining anthropology, visual arts, film production, ethnomusicology, and jazz performance. Carpenter's later studies among peoples of Papua New Guinea (1969) and his monumental re­evaluation of art historian Carl Schuster's unfinished analysis of cultural patterns across ancient symbolism (12 volumes, 1986­88) led him to produce a series of radical pronouncements about visual anthropology's role in creating comparative frameworks within media and cultural studies, and the interdisciplinary and experimental methods needed for studying contemporary culture and cultural memory. Our paper address contradictions between critiques of his work with Indigenous people on ethical grounds and his own politics that became virulently anti­academic in its own exploitation of the indigenous spaces, and questions why Carpenter was never embraced by visual anthropology in general. This presentation is based on original archival research in Carpenter’s papers and projects.
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