Archives for the month of: December, 2013

Film Studies, Affect and Ethics

Victoria Grace Walden

In-keeping with Mona’s recent ’10 things I know about…’ blogs, I have accepted the challenge of attempting to summarise my own research in such a way. Here are 10 thoughts about affect and film scribed without reference to notes or quotation:

  1. Film phenomenologists such as Vivian Sobchack consider ‘affect’ to be the corporeal relationship between spectator and film;
  2. Laura Marks focuses specifically on the notion of haptic visuality (and briefly haptic aurality) considering the ability of the camera to ‘graze’ rather than gaze over surfaces, textures and spaces –to bring us closer to things which provoke sensuous memories of touch or movement;
  3. Psychologist Tomkin considers ‘affect’ to refer to intensity changes rooted inside the body;
  4. While, phenomenologists consider affect in relation to bodily reactions, it has often been used as an umbrella term of emotions, feelings and mood;
  5. Cognitive film theory, in its thinking about emotions, might be considered to identify ‘affect’ as related to character- or narrative-identification. Such thinking reinforces Christian Metz’s notions that the cinema screen is an illusionary, post-Lacanian mirror where we identify with a fantastical Other;
  6. This approach would suggest we respond to the diegesis as ‘that world over there’ –a hermeneutically closed space;
  7. If we are positioned outside the space of meaning-making during the film experience, it could be suggested that it is the film, not us, that is the ethical subject because the audience is considered a passive consumer of the film’s message. In this sense, Catherine Wheatley suggests that Hollywood-style narrative films encourage the spectator to only consider ethical questions after the film has finished and such questions tend to relate to the final consequences of narrative actions;
  8. However, sometimes films are playful with style, montage and reflexive in such ways that they slip between emotionally and critically engaging the spectator, and in doing so, turn the spectator’s attention towards their own body as well as the film’s. Thus, according to Wheatley, such films encourage spectators to confront their position as a participant during the experience. These films might be considered to be ‘morally consequent’ (to use Wheatley’s term);
  9. Ergo we might consider affect and ethics as intertwining concepts: when we watch a film we are an ethically inscribed body; we are embodied in the film experience as an ethical being. Ethics is after all, always inscribed in the actions we perform in our life;
  10. By turning our attention to the film experience rather than the film text we are turning towards a study of the ethical relationship between film and spectator.
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By Anna Xambó, Carey Jewitt, and Sara Price

Scanning a shoe at the Fashion Digital Studio, London College of Fashion (UAL).

Scanning a shoe at the Fashion Digital Studio, London College of Fashion (UAL).

MIDAS involves collaborators from different disciplines and backgrounds connected to Digital Arts and/or Social Sciences.  It addresses a pressing problem for contemporary research: how to synthesise approaches from the Arts and Social Sciences to develop innovative methods of research on digital technology and embodiment. It addresses this problem in the context of digital technology and the issues the digital raises for interacting with the body and the different methodological demands this places on disciplines where the body is a primary object of study, particularly in the Arts and the Social Sciences. The key objectives of MIDAS are to:

1) Describe the concepts, practices and processes used to research embodiment in digitally assisted arts (performance, fashion, design), and social sciences (medical simulation, technologies for education, online games);

2) Identify points of methodological connection and synergy across this multidisciplinary terrain;

3) Experiment how to integrate and exploit the methodological synergies and approaches to evaluate their applicability to embodiment research across the Digital Arts and Social Sciences;

4) Design training and capacity-building resources to support methodological innovation across the boundaries of the Digital Arts and Social Sciences.

MIDAS is currently investigating methods used to research notions of embodiment in different disciplinary contexts, through an exploration of six ethnographic case studies. Each site is a hub of methodological innovation, engaging in research on the body/physical interaction, and advanced digital technologies (e.g. body scanners; motion capture; or virtual environments). We are particularly interested in understanding what and how: methods are used at an institutional and individual level; body/physical interaction and digital technology are used; and methods are used for methodological innovation.

Through ethnographic observation, we try to get a sense of the methods and practices used in each site. This is complemented by informal conversations, and literature review packages suggested by each site. We are focusing on understanding how the different sites look into embodiment. As each site thinks differently about embodiment, we listen to the way they talk and observe their practices focusing on body, technology, and methods in order to get a sense of the assumptions and principles used in each site when thinking about the body. We use field-notes, photographs, and video recordings to document these ideas and routine methodological practices. This data will be analyzed to understand the different ‘methods world’ of each site. We plan to conduct a series of workshops in 2014 with the attendance of experts to explore themes, perspectives, experiences, and contribute to the development of future methods.

The MIDAS blog aims at providing a shared space for researchers and practitioners connected to the project to express their voices about research methods on digital technology and embodiment, and also finding out methodological synergies between Digital Arts and Social Sciences via documenting, reflecting, and sharing practices, processes, and ideas about digital technology and embodiment.

Project website: http://MIDAS.ioe.ac.uk

You can follow us on Twitter: @MIDAS_LKL