19 May 2016

Critiquing Anthropological (textbook) Images

 Google images: "anthropology textbooks" from Dori Turnstall
Think about the typical cover images of anthropology textbooks. Most likely, you are thinking about exotic images of non-Western peoples such as these.

In the contemporary moment, when a) anthropologists are critical of how people and places we study are represented, b) more and more anthropologists actually study people "at home", and c) are concerned with "decolonizing anthropology," why are we still seeing these kinds of images on the fronts of our textbooks?

RB Anthro textbooks1_dt
Image 3: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Woman in Store.
These questions, and accompanying frustration, are behind the Rebranding Anthropology Textbooks project (detailed with great images in this thoughtful post from Dori Tunstall, 2016). Drawing on the skills of Swinburne Design Anthropology postgraduate students and alumni, the covers of anthropology textbooks were reimagined, replacing the exotic images with stock photos of things like "white women eating salads." The results are a wonderful starting point for thinking about the "anthropological gaze," issues of representation, and what contemporary anthropology means today.

In a classroom, it might be useful to have students discuss the 12 images already created such as this one, or have students create and explain their own images using their own, creative commons, or stock images (perhaps especially if the textbook you are using has one of these typically exotic images on the cover).

UPDATE - 25 June 2016: The discussion generated from Tunstall's original post about rebranding anthropology textbooks has lead to the recent Savage Minds update by Tunstall and Esperanza, "Decolonizing Anthropology Textbook Covers" (June 20, 2016) as the final installment of the blog's Decolonizing Anthropology series. As Tunstall writes on her own blog, this follow-up post includes "seven visual strategies for presenting images that reflect the diversity of the audiences, instructors, and practices of contemporary anthropology:

  1. Participatory Self-Portraiture Cover Series Provided by Indigenous Artists
  2. Participatory DIY Covers Provided by Anthropology Instructors
  3. Reversed Gaze
  4. Curated Mosaic of Images
  5. Curated Art Abstraction
  6. Non-Photographic Abstract Illustration
  7. Self-Portraiture with Literal Reflective Mylar Panel"