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Ethnofiction - Practicebased PhD in Applied Drama and Ethnographic Film

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Ethnofiction. Jaguar (West Africa 67) Dir: Rouch performs practice-based research within the frames of a doctoral education at the department of Drama at the University of Manchester.

The subject of the research, which is financed by ‘The Arts and Humanities Research Board’ in the UK, is 'The Ethnofiction'. The research will result in one thesis and two films in 2007.

Title: Ethnofiction: genre hybridity in theory and practice-based research

Programme: Practice-based PhD in Drama

This research project will consider if the largely unexplored genre of ethnofictions, as described by theorist/practitioner Jean Rouch (Eaton 1979; Rouch 2003), offers means of integrating a hybrid study within drama and ethnography. A key question is whether a nuanced understanding of foreign cultures can be created and mediated by combining ethnographic research methods with the processes of dramatic work? This proposed doctoral research builds directly on my experience in both fields, having worked as an actor/ director on intercultural theatre projects for fourteen years and completed a first degree in Social Anthropology and an MA in Visual Anthropology.

Research Project
My proposed doctoral study, entitled, Ethnofiction: genre hybridity in theory and practice-based research, will be a practice-based PhD in Drama. The Ethnofiction is an experimental ethnographic film genre, where the practitioner asks the subjects of his fieldwork to act out aspects of their life-experience in front of the camera in improvisations (as exemplified in Rouch’s classic film, Jaguar, 1967). Given the relative paucity of literature on ethnofiction, I will seek to examine whether the use of improvisation, combined with participant observation, can be an effective research method.

Following a detailed background study of Rouch’s methodology of ethnofiction, I will test these approaches in Year 2 of my studies by making two films: an ethnographic documentary and an ethnofiction, about Brazilian transsexuals and travestis living in São Paulo. Brazilian transsexuals (males-females) and travestis have been males that have adopted a female appearance. While transsexuals (male-female) identify as women, a Brasilian travesti identifies nor as as man nor as woman - she identifies as a travesti. Brazilian transsexuals and travestis often work as prostitutes and suffers from intolerance.

The work relates to preliminary research I have been conducting on transsexual and travesti groups during trips to São Paulo, to make arrangements for my doctoral research. Contact groups for my research include the ‘ENTLAIDS´ (a national meeting of travestis and transsexuals) and regional organizations such as TRANSA SÃO PAULO and ASTRA RIO.

The interdisciplinarity of my study is illustrated in the crosssection of literature that I will be drawing upon, which covers Film Studies, Visual Anthropology and Applied Drama. Baseline texts include Boal’s (1979) work on the theatre of the oppressed, Rony’s (1996) and Loizos’ (1993) inter-pretations of ethnographic filmic practice, and Kulick’s (1998) and Jabor’s (1993) research on travesti in Brazil.

References: Boal, A. 1979. Theatre of the oppressed (London: Pluto); Eaton, M. 1979. Anthropology – Reality – Cinema (London: BFI); Jabor, A. 1993. Os canibais estão na sala de jantar (São Paulo: Siciliano); Kulick, D. 1998. Travestí (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press); Loizos, P. 1993. Innovation in Ethnographic Film (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press); Rony, F.1996.The Third Eye (Durham: Duke Univ. Press); Rouch, J. 2003. Ciné-ethnography (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press)

Year 1: Background research and literature survey conducted at Manchester University, initial research trip to Sao Paulo, completion of 20,000 words.
Year 2: Fieldwork and filming of practical component undertaken in São Paulo, completion of a further 20,000 words.
Year 3: Post-production of practical component, completion of final 10,000 words, revision of thesis and submission.

My fieldwork in Brazil will be aided by the fact that I speak Portuguese fluently. I have established a number of professional and subject contacts in São Paulo. Having completed the MA in Visual Anthropology at the Univ. of Manchester, I have the necessary filmmaking skills for undertaking the practice-based elements of my doctoral research, and am well-acquainted with the state-of-the-art video post-production facilities at the Univ’s Media Centre that I will be using. As a member of the Nordic Anthropological Film Association, I will draw upon colleagues in the organization to provide feedback on my filmed experiments during the latter phase of my research.


Johannes Sjöberg
Rua Albuquerque Lins, 107 - Apto 82 A
Santa Cecília - São Paulo - SP
CEP: 01230-900

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