Supplementary Material

Anthropological Ethics and the Communicative Affordances of Audio-Video Recorders in Ethnographic Fieldwork: Transduction as Theory

ABSTRACT This article contributes to the development of professional anthropological discourses about audio-video recording technologies in ethnographic research. Synthesizing scholarship on ethnographic partiality, doing ethnography in sound, and multimedia technologies, this article reflexively applies the concepts of transduction and affordance to analyze how recorders may be theorized as part of fieldwork encounters. This is based on fieldwork with a Zulu gospel choir comprised of people living with HIV in South Africa. Here, I discuss how research participants guided my use of recorders amid inequality and HIV stigma. I analyze the ethical-communicative affordances of recording technologies, examining how the design of audio-video technologies intersects with cultural and communicative conventions for use and evaluation of use of these technologies. This analysis suggests that the ethical-communicative affordances of transducers yield both an extension of an ethnographer’s social self and a disconnect from that self in ways that can be productively navigated during fieldwork.


Note: All photographs and videos of research participants have been altered to avoid inadvertent disclosure of some participants’ HIV statuses. All faces in photos have been blurred, and video has been filtered in “x-ray” mode to hide faces.

1) Birthday Video (July 2008): This is a clip from a choir member’s birthday party that I attended in 2008. Other attendees were choir members or colleagues from the HIV clinic where the choir member worked. The clip provides an example of the sorts of fieldwork experiences that I was able to capture on camera with a flexible, attentive attitude toward video recording as data collection. In the video, the choir member is about to cut her birthday cake and distribute slices of cake. Participants sing a Zulu version of “Happy Birthday” with lyrics translated as, “How old are you?” followed by a second version of the song with lyrics translated as, “How many cows (are you worth)?”

The first version of the song, while common, was especially poignant in a room full of people living with HIV. Gentle fun poked at the choir member’s age was also a way of celebrating her continuing good health despite her HIV positive status. The second version of the song indexes a pastoral bride-price tradition still common in South Africa, where a groom (or his family) compensate a bride’s family for their loss of labor due to the bride moving to live with the groom’s family. Traditionally, the bride’s family would be compensated in cattle. Singing, “How many cows are you worth?” was another way of having fun with the choir member whose boyfriend was present, suggesting that they ought to get married. It was also a way of facing pervasive stigma that often prevented people with HIV from getting married. These sorts of subtle, mostly implicit moments of dialogue (or here, song) constituted support during a key life moment.

2) Life Changing (March 2008): This is a clip from the conversation captured after I moved into the center of the circle during a choir rehearsal discussion (discussed in the article in the section titled, “Choosing Transducer Affordances For Research Amid Inequality And Stigma.” The larger conversation from which this clip is taken is analyzed in another article published in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, “Laughing to Death: Joking as Support amid Stigma for Zulu-speaking South Africans Living with HIV,” especially pages 99 to 102. In the conversation, one choir leader was asking about whether or not the group could appear in a local TV documentary at half-past eight in the evening. He was emphasizing that the possibility of disclosure to neighbors, family, and friends would be great. Other group members denied this as a significant issue, emphasizing that “even if it plays every day like Generations” there would be no problem (Generations was a popular South African soap opera).

3) Recording in Action (August 2008): This is a picture taken by a choir member of me video-recording choir members performing a traditional Zulu dance at a wedding. Two former group members were getting married, and I was invited to the event primarily to be the cameraman for the wedding. The photographer was using my camera, which I had given to her for the purposes of helping me to document the event. I later printed out photos and created a wedding DVD that I gave to the couple.

4) Taxi Rank (June 2006): This is a picture of one of the taxi ranks in downtown Durban discussed in the article.

5) Taxi (June 2005): A picture of a minibus taxi (Khombi) that research participants used as a primary means of transportation. I traveled by minibus taxi to choir rehearsals for the first few months of fieldwork in 2008 until I was mugged near the downtown taxi rank.

6) Car Ride (August 2008): This is a video taken by Zethu’s adolescent son while we drove from one wedding function to another. This is the car I rented and drove after being mugged near a taxi rank. This rental car allowed me to provide transportation to choir members and other research participants. In this instance, there were six adults and one child in the small five-seat, four-door hatchback. This crowding was not unusual as group members tried to save money by squeezing into the car on the way to events such as weddings and funerals. Usually there were fewer people in the car on the way to choir rehearsals, since most group members lived in the township where rehearsals were held. I generally did not record car rides as mentioned in the article, but in this case the drive was framed as part of an extended party/celebration and the presence of a child in the vehicle discouraged discussion of sensitive subjects related to HIV infection or stigma.

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