Research team

Visual and Digital Cultures Research Center (ViDi)

Expertise

visual anthropology, digital anthropology, visual methods, digital methods, ethnography, indian studies, medical anthropology

Contemporary Kasala and Lukasa: towards a Reconfiguration of Identity and Geopolitics. 08/10/2019 - 07/10/2023

Abstract

This project aims to create new memory devices, based upon two existing devices used by different Luba groups living in the DRC: - kasala is a ceremonial poem, sung or recited by Luba in the provinces Kasai Occidental and Kasai Oriental and Sankara, that serves as a public and solemn way to pay homage to and laud the actions and accomplishments of kings, chiefs, lineage heads and other types of public figures; -lukasa is a memory board used and 'read' in a ritual performance by Mbudye, an association of men, responsible for the transmission of historical knowledge at the court of Luba kings, situated in the former province of Katanga. These two different Luba groups were divided during the colonial era by boundaries between the former provinces of Kasai and Katanga. Descendants of Luba groups from Kasai who live in Katanga are now often considered 'foreigners' by those who claim to be the 'original' inhabitants of Katanga. The art works to be created are meant to bring these groups back together through a narrative that is part personal, part historical, par fictitious.

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Traveling words and images. A study of tourist fiction and non-fiction of contemporary Spain and Latin America. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

This project focuses on the impact of tourism on contemporary fiction and non-fiction in the Hispanic world. While both Spain and Latin America can boast a long tradition of travel writing, tourism's more recent impact on their cultures has gone largely unnoticed. This is due to persisting prejudices concerning tourism as an inferior, more mass-consumerist practice than travelling, as well as to a predominantly sociological approach in tourism studies. The project remedies this gap by focusing on tourist imaginaries of both fictional and non-fictional nature in literature and film, but also provides an interdisciplinary take on this cultural production by collaborating with a cultural anthropologist specialized in tourism. While the Leuven applicants will concentrate on literary and cinematographic renderings of tourism, the co-applicant in Antwerp will provide insight into how real tourists negotiate their relationship to the tourist industry, with special attention to the digital dimension of tourist experiences. In their research hypothesis, the applicants contest the idea that "travel writing is dead", claiming instead that it has been transformed under the effect of the recent expansion of tourism and digitalization of contemporary society. The project will focus on three keyresearch sites for this topic: Spain, Cuba, and the Southern Cone.

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Safeguards of the cultural heritage. Tools and practices for its intergrated management in Santiago de Cuba and the Eastern Region of Cuba. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

This project focuses on the development of tools and practices that relate to cultural heritage, ICT and sustainable local development from the logic of public spaces, places and memory, valuing the main results of the first stage in different contexts and institutions, in order to contribute to its integrated management. The development of heritage information systems and methodologies for intervention in heritage buildings are some of the tools that integrate the project within the wider societal context.

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BOF Sabbatical 2019-2020 - Paolo Favero. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

Mijn project gaat over oude mensen in Delhi. Ik ga en langere abstract later toevoegen. Conducting ethnographic fieldwork in India in the framework of my new project on the aesthetics of dying. Focussing on hospices, hospitals, crematoria, funerary services, temples, homes for the elderly and the widows etc. as well as on digital/virtual environments (hence exploring online negotiations with death in social media, etc) this research explores the various ways in which aesthetic practices (such as image-making, music/singing, poetry, etc.) are engaged with, by subjects in different settings, for mediating, accompanying and coping with the experience of death and grief. Building upon consolidated anthropological research methods (participant observation, interviews, filming, sound recording, photography) and emerging digital techniques and technologies (smartphone storytelling applications, wearable cameras, techniques for "nethnography") the project approaches the visual field as its privileged entry point into this terrain. Fieldwork will be conducted mainly in Delhi, but partly also in Mumbai, Goa and Ladakh. 2.Collaborating as visiting professor and on the basis of my ongoing research in India, with the school of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai, India) and the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna3.Starting to write-up the volume "An Introduction to Visual Culture in the Social Sciences" (London: Bloomsbury). Offering an introduction to the field of visual culture for students and researchers in the social sciences, this book will benefit from the insights gathered during fieldwork.

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FWO Sabbatical 2019-2020 (P. Favero). 01/10/2019 - 31/03/2020

Abstract

Core topic at the centre of the research I plan to conduct during my sabbatical is, as mentioned, the connection between dying, loss and aesthetics. My entry into this terrain is from the vantage point of images and visual culture. Indeed, aware of the multisensory character of perception, of the ekphrastic qualities of the field of vision (that is, of the capacity of words and sounds to translate into images, Ingold 2010) and of the embodied nature of images (Belting 2011) my research will inevitably expand into a broader terrain of aesthetics and sensory practices. Such broadening also responds to the diversity in practices that may be found between different communities (see Hindu vs. Buddhist or Muslim environments) as well as to the changing role of images in the digital realm. As I have recently suggested (Favero 2018a), "present images", i.e. the images that circulate in today's digital habitats, stress a desire to abandon the duty of 'representing' the world out there, embracing instead a new role as multimodal, multisensory and multi-perspectival producers of relations, of material, spatial and temporal engagements with the world that surrounds them. A matter of "presence", they signal a passage away from simplistic notions of the image as a "transparent window on the world" (Mitchell 1984: 504) marking an entry into the terrain of performativity and transformation. More than ever we live our lives today in regimes of "visual co-presence" (Ito 2005) and images concur in the crafting of our lives.

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Social cooperative monitoring tool for the production of inclusive public spaces. 01/12/2018 - 31/05/2019

Abstract

The project explores inclusive planning and design, specifically related to the needs that disabled citizens have as users and creators of urban spaces. It questions how to plan, design and govern cities as growingly complex systems to ensure justice, equality, inclusion and sustainable growth. Particularly we try to understand how cities can enhance collaboration between public space users and public space agents through the use of participatory and collaborative digital tools in a most holistic way. Hence, we aim at reaching beyond the quantitative research and big data that mainly offer insights into what is happening. We rather focus on qualitative ways of understanding the how-s, and the why-s. For this purpose we design an exploratory model of four dimensions: a) human, b) special, c) technological, and d) relational level. This 4-dimensional model serves as a framework for conducting qualitative research within the urban practice by first defining specific societal challenges and questions that we aim to explore, and second by exploring them through a combination of methodological approaches. Based on the experimentation with diverse technologies, tools and techniques, conducted within four case studies in Maribor and Ljubljana, both Slovenia, we propose a combined methodological approach (CMA). The CMA is grounded on slow, small and deep-data oriented ethnography, complemented with behavioural mapping and post-occupancy evaluation, and as such offers a wide array of complementary and overlapping techniques and tools. It aims supporting stakeholders in gaining in-depth understanding of the people, space, technology and the relations between the three in order to be able to make informative decisions and appropriate responsive measures.

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Six Degrees of Image Creation: Developing a community-driven, photographic production and distribution cycle in the virtual and material world. 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Social issues in a context that is conventionally been addressed as "developing" have been constant topics in both historical and contemporary documentary photography. Despite the diversity of topics covered though, the images themselves often stem from a generic, visually exotic and/or sensational template that does not take into account the visual culture, i.e. the understanding of the meaning of images and photographs, of the people photographed. The latter are consequently reduced to mere objects in one-sided reproductions of the same scenes. Additionally, the images mostly appear via exhibitions, magazines and websites that will very likely never reach the people portrayed, unless in the unlikely case that the photographer takes the initiative to again get in touch with them. The goal of this project is to visually describe socio-economically disadvantaged communities through personal stories of their members that together counter perceptions of the community as a monolithic group of homogeneous 'victims'. For this purpose, we develop a community-driven, photographic production and distribution cycle operating in the hybrid space of the virtual and material world. The objectives of the project are 1. To develop a participatory, ethnography-driven photographic approach in which personal stories within a socio-economically disadvantaged community are captured through digital images. 2. To investigate the impact of bouncing the digital images back to the community in a materialized form. 3. To explore the potential of an online platform to reach people within and outside the community, inform their perceptions of the community and generate social interactions. Specifically, audio-visual diptychs will be created to present, on the one hand, the daily life of the participants and, on the other hand, the personal story that they will tell starting from a self-chosen object and that will be audio-recorded. The diptychs will then be shared through a material track (by transforming prints of the images into street art) and a virtual track (by publishing them on Facebook). The case study of this research will focus on the waste-pickers community in Mumbai (India) in collaboration with Stree Mukti Sanghatana. The potential applicability of the methodology in different settings and different communities will be part of the evaluation of this research. The results of this project will be presented through an academic publication, a Facebook page and two exhibitions.

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From the Peripheries of the Wired World: An ethnographic study of everyday digital visual practices in Havana (Cuba) and New Delhi (India). 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Questioning the deterministic and Western-centric assumptions that underline the idea of "the digital" as a monolith capable of engendering similar reactions across the globe, the present project aims to offer an ethnographically driven, in-depth analysis of the spread of digital media from a transnational perspective. Focussing on two urban locations representing different types of fringes of the global spread of digital media (the cities of Havana, Cuba and New Delhi, India), this study will approach the topic from the particular vantage point of visual culture. The attention to digital visualities, i.e. to instances of production and consumption of images in a digital landscape, constitutes a concrete opportunity for studying what we could call paraphrasing Manovich (2009) practices of everyday digital life. The attention to concrete mundane engagements with digital image technologies will allow us to generate new insights into the multiple faces of the digital turn. Regarding the sites for the research both Cuba and India host a very rich visual culture, while offering also examples of different trajectories of digital development. While India constitutes a territory where digital technologies are scarce resources but at the same time also symbols for a rich and powerful future, Cuba is just presently witnessing to the public arrival of digital connectivity; it is facing its own digital turn. This is a unique moment in history for studying these contexts.

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Researching the new urban experience: a Transnational Multi- Method Study of the Intersections between Direct and Mediated Visual Enactments in Cosmopolitan Contexts. 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

This research project aims to produce an in-depth, multilayered analysis of the contemporary urban experience addressed in particular from the point of view of the cultural changes that have been made possible through the greater involvement contemporary cities have with mediatized flows of information and communication. More concretely this project will seek to produce a better understanding of the ways in which multiple intersections between direct and mediated experiences of the city (enacted via media representations, screens in public places, image sharing, augmented reality and geomedia, etc.) influence social actors' uses and experiences of the urban space.

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The Media-Tourist: 'Mediation', Image-Making, and Enchantment in Tourists' Experiences of Antwerp, Naples and Helsinki. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2017

Abstract

The present project aims to offer an ethnography-based analysis of the dialectic between ICT "mediated" ("virtual") and "unmediated" (direct, bodily, "real") experiences of the urban space in the context of tourist practices. Research will be conducted in Antwerp, Naples and Helsinki hence offering an innovative transnational European perspective on the subject.

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Defying social invisibility: a study of empowerment and social intervention in the field of contemporary digital imaging practices in South Africa. 31/08/2014 - 30/06/2017

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand Erasmus Mundus. UA provides Erasmus Mundus research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

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The social sciences and the humanities facing the challenge of social and cultural local development: enhancement of heritage preservation. 01/04/2014 - 31/03/2019

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand VLIR. UA provides VLIR research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

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Defying Social Invisibility: A Transnational Study of Empowerment And Social Intervention in the Field of Contemporary Digital Imaging Practices. 01/01/2014 - 31/12/2017

Abstract

Digital images filter today most of our experiences of ourselves and of the world surrounding us. We consume them daily through our computers and mobile phones and, given in particular the spread of latest-generation mobile phones, we also constantly produce them. It is estimated that every day 6.7 billion people view the world through their own lens. Despite their ubiquitous character digital images are, however, conventionally approached as a matter of entertainment detached from the material and social conditions of our lives. Questioning such stances, this study looks at digital imaging as an instrument of empowerment and social intervention. Focusing on a number of image-based projects in Belgium, India and South Africa that aim to combat social marginalization, the study explores the manifold ways in which digital images can actually bring about change. To what extent can they help bringing visibility to marginalized groups or groups at risk of social exclusion? The innovative aspect of this study is that it addresses questions of digital empowerment though a specific attention to images, a language with enormous potential to favour communication across boundaries. The study will also give birth to an integrated methodological model for the study of digital imaging at global level in which participant-observation, interviews, audio-visual recordings and online ethnography will be integrated into a coherent whole.

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