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MisRepresenting Slavery SPR14

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Julie Jenkins

on 24 January 2014

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Transcript of MisRepresenting Slavery SPR14

(Mis)Representing Slavery
--Reinforces Bales' definition of slavery
--violence, no pay, lack of mobility
-- doesn't recognize the way people are actively resisting
---"...victim subjects...cannot accommodate a multi-layered experience." Kapur
This is our monolithic narrative of slavery
--imagery manipulated to make argument that certain practices should be included in definitions of slavery or slavery like institutions
--even when it doesn't make sense in context
Problems of cultural essentialism & discourse of "victims of culture"
Why do these (mis)representations occur?
"This form of human rights media utilizes symbols, images, and stories of suffering in such a way as to form identification with the suffering of an 'other' and thereby emotionally engage and persuade their audiences of a cause's moral worth. Through this process, we as viewers become connected to a political project and can be moved to action"
reinforces simplistic, stereotyped and racist representations
---while privileging the West.

"It is called Trokosi and it means wife or slave of the gods. It is an
ancient West African tradition
that to this day enslaves thousands of women and young girls, some as young as 7 years old. They are condemned to a life of slave labour and sexual servitude, not because they did anything wrong, but because someone in their family committed a crime sometimes generations ago and to pay for the crimes, their families must send young virgins to be the slaves of
priests, often for the rest of their lives”. (CBS 60 Minutes)
"I don't know how many times I've wished I've never heard that damn word" - Raymond Williams

What are the consequences?
--clouds our ability to understand and gather better ethnographic information to inform policy
--makes it more difficult to determine what is and what isn't slavery
--legitimizes problematic interventions
Walley-- representations make it feel as if you have to speak about certain issues in either/or terms- either political outrage or cultural relativism
--Universalism-- claims for a universal code of ethics/morals/values
--extreme/moral relativism-- can't be universal code b/c each society should be judged on its own standards.
everyone accepts to some degree that HR concepts are partly culturally relative, depending on
--how rights are prioritized
--how the person is socially constructed via duties and obligations towards one another.
Many understand cultural relativism to mean:
"that there is no absolute truth, be it ethical, moral, or cultural and that there is no meaningful way to judge different cultures because all judgements are ethnocentric"
Moral Relativism--Problematic b/c represents culture as 'static', practices persist b/c they must be functional
More useful to look at:
--Whose interests are being served?
--Whose interests are being marginalised?
distinction between 'methodological' and 'moral' relativism
What were your thoughts on the film?
What is being left out? Are we getting the full picture?
"Here, as in “Lincoln,” black people—with the exception of the protagonist and his love interest—are ciphers passively awaiting freedom...It seems almost pedantic to point out that slavery was nothing like this. The slaveholding class existed in a state of constant paranoia about slave rebellions, escapes, and a litany of more subtle attempts to undermine the institution. Nearly two hundred thousand black men, most of them former slaves, enlisted in the Union Army in order to accomplish en masse precisely what Django attempts to do alone: risk death in order to free those whom they loved." (Cobb, The New Yorker, 2 Jan 2013
--loss of agency
What does Kapur highlight about the problems of the '"victimization rhetoric"?
I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong, he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the morning light
He's gotta be sure, he's gotta be soon
And he's gotta be larger than life, larger than life
Martinez - Slavery in DR
--"erasure of the initiatives of the oppressed"
--racial, national, and gender implications of the hero narrative
"'A culture' need not be homogeneous, or even particularly coherent. Instead of assuming far-reaching cultural sharing, a 'replication of uniformity', we should take a distributive view of cultures as systems of
meaning...(look at culture) in more processual terms. There is a 'management of meaning' by which culture is generated and maintained, transmitted and received, applied, exhibited, remembered, scrutinised and experimented with." - Hannerz
--culture changes; it always has & always will
--created by social actors who have differential access to power, economic & social resources
--shapes and is shaped by economic and political structures
--Who then, defines? Who has the power to define?

These are NOT innocent
--discourses represent how we think about the world AND how we should ACT in it.
What problematic interventions have resulted from a poor understanding of the DR situation?
"At stake is the difference between believing what we see and seeing what we believe" (Martinez)
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