Ep. #29 TFS at AAS: Multimodal ethnography, monolithic China, online bans & the ‘anthro helmet’ – Guest panel with Viktor Baskin, Sacha Cody & Katherine Giunta

We, at The Familiar Strange, would like to acknowledge and celebrate the First Australians on whose traditional lands we recorded and produced this podcast, and pay our respect to the elders of the Ngunnawal, Ngambri, Yindinji and Yirrganydji peoples past, present and emerging.

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This month on TFS, we bring you a special panel episode recorded at the Australian Anthropological Society’s (AAS) 2018 Conference at James Cook University, Cairns, in December. In this episode, our own Simon Theobald is joined by Viktor Baskin from James Cook University, Sacha Cody from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Katherine Giunta from The University of Sydney. The theme of the conference was Life in the Age of Death, so our panel guests embraced this theme to share with us the things they had been thinking about during the week, covering a range of angles of enquiry related to this theme, from anthropological methodology to social media policy changes and their effect on the community.

(Just like our  last conference episode, this one was not recorded in our usual studio so you may notice a slight change in sound quality – don’t worry that’s just our super cool ‘travel’ mic!)

Viktor [0:53] begins our conversation by reflecting on the enriching experience at the conference. Particularly during the presentation given by Lucas Bessire, she felt moved by the images that accompanied his talk that showed the context in which his presentation was situated – as Sacha put it, you could see the “vastness of this dead, barren land”. She asks us about the limitations that text has, and how can we, as anthropologists, take the work that we do into the world and keep it ‘alive’ through a multimodal or multi-media based anthropology – something more than just words on paper. Sacha adds that “there’s a huge opportunity and need for a multimedia anthropology because it communicates in a way that the written word cannot”.

Next, Sacha [6:10], turns our attention to China. With China’s increasing assertiveness on the global scale, he wonders what that means for him as an anthropologist of China in situations where the country is framed as a threat, as “a yellow peril out there to destroy the world and eat up our resources, infiltrate our governments, steal our technology…”. He asks the panel how they navigate sensitive topics and the balance between advocacy and participant observation. Both Viktor and Katherine recall their own ethnographic work in the marginalised groups of transgender artists in India and Sydney’s queer community.

Katherine [13:13], brings the conversation back to the conference, during which she has been watching her social media fill up with comments regarding social media policy changes. With Tumblr’s new bans on sharing adult content and Facebook’s ban of discussions about sexual preferences, Katherine is concerned about the resulting effect that this will have on self-expression in the queer community that utilises these platforms to form connections with one another.  “As we are talking about life in the age of death, I’m thinking about what is going to happen to my own community and the community that I work in – the queer community – when some of the key ways in which we connect with each other across physical borders is taken away from us.” Can computer algorithms appropriately filter content?

Finally, Simon [15:50] wraps up this episode with a brief look at the recent and highly publicised death of John Allen Chau. The missionary had decided to make contact with the North Sentinel Island indigenous people, who had remained largely untouched by the outside world, with the intentions to bring Christianity to the island. This incident incited a range of responses from the public about John, either criticising his actions or eulogising his martyrdom, so Simon asks us to put on our ‘Anthropology Hats’ and consider how we would respond to this incident.


The official site for the AAS2018 Conference, including information about the speakers (including Lucas Bessire who Viktor mentions) and information about the theme, can be found here: https://www.aasconf.org/2018/

More information about our panel guests can be found below:
Viktor – Website or James Cook University page
Sacha – Website
Katherine – Website or Academia page

TFS has covered some aspects of the topics spoken about in this episode, such as forms of knowledge production in Katerina Teaiwa’s interview which can be listened to here https://thefamiliarstrange.com/2018/11/12/ep-26-katerina-teaiwa/ and the struggles of walking the tightrope of values in anthropology here https://thefamiliarstrange.com/2018/10/29/ep-25-zombie-nouns/ 

For more information about the effects of the Tumblr and Facebook policy changes give the article by The Daily Dot, BBC or Pink News a squiz:

If you would like to know more about North Sentinel Island, ABC News reported on the incident last year, Curiosity wrote a feature on the Island prior to the event, and Live Mint recently published an Op-Ed about the necessity for protecting isolated indigenous tribes.

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com

Shownotes by Deanna Catto

Image ‘The Barren Lands’ by Dion Raftopoulos (2016) available at:

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