SCA is proud to award the third annual Gregory Bateson Prize to Karen Strassler (CUNY) for her book Refracted Visions: Popular Photogtaphy and National Modernity in Java published by Duke University Press.
Karen Strassler’s sophisticated, engaging, and beautifully produced ethnography explores the many ways in which photography became integral to the fashioning of national identity in Indonesia from the pre-independence period through the contemporary moment. Strassler tacks skilfully across photographic genres, examining amateur and studio photography, government identity photos, the introduction of the camera into family rituals, and the creation of a visual record of political protest. In the spirit of the Bateson Prize, she also moves across disciplines to parry with writers as diverse as Walter Benjamin (with her ethnographically grounded argument that photographic reproduction can enhance rather than diminish aura), Mikhail Bakhtin (with an innovative elaboration of the concept of refraction), and Benedict Anderson (with a compelling claim that Javanese photographs blend “revelatory” and “documentary” features in a way that necessarily complicates modernist readings of the nation-state as a political formation which replaces messianic with secular time). The artistry in her account lies in the way that she takes photographs seriously as arguments rather than mere illustrations. By placing her own “ethnographic” photos alongside archival images and photographs created by her interlocutors, she emphasizes that the photographs she details are not simply ethnographic objects, but ethnographies themselves. In the broadest sense, Refracted Visions encourages us to rethink the concept of documentation (especially in its relationship to modernity) as well as the notion that photography is delimited to the products of a camera in a world where a painting of a figure from the Javanese spirit world can be described as a photograph.
The Bateson Book Prize Committee would also like to recognize three Honorable Mentions from this year’s shortlist:
Julie Y. Chu
Cosmologies of Credit: Transnational Mobility and the Politics of Destination in China (Duke)
Erica Caple James
Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti (California)
Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War (Duke)
About Gregory Bateson
Among anthropology’s most distinguished experimental thinkers, Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) and his diverse body of work have long been emblematic of what the SCA was founded to promote: rich ethnographic analysis that engages the most current thinking across the arts and sciences. Welcoming a wide range of styles and argument, the Bateson Prize looks to reward work that is theoretically rich, ethnographically grounded, and in the spirit of the tradition for which the SCA has been known—interdisciplinary, experimental, and innovative. To learn more about the life and work of Gregory Bateson, please visit the website of the Institute for Intercultural Studies.