Video Uses

Wickett, Elizabeth. “Video for Development.” Visual Anthropology 20 (2007): 123-41. Web. 1 May 2012.

This article is about using video for development (as it is titled), but for development in terms of social/community development–not in terms of student development or composition studies development. I put it in my queue because it seemed possible that an argument that found videos rhetorically sound strategies for giving voice to the marginalized might easily be able to do the same thing in a classroom.

steampunk_archive_icon_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d5jsav0Wickett was looking at crossing gender lines in Pakistan and Egypt. For rural women she hoped the project would “endow them with credibility on a larger social and political scale” (Wickett 124).

Wickett is not a participant observer in the ethnographic terms. Rather, she is the change she wants to be. She wrote that she brought videos to educate and persuade the rural peoples, “to propel behavioral change” (Wickett 124).

Anthopologists are aware that they “construct social realities through filming” (Wickett 124). This might be an interesting discussion to have with my students.

“Ways of seeing’’ are multivocal and culturally determined. I felt the need as a filmmaker and anthropologist to bridge this gap in communications, and to experiment with video as an interactive mode, using elicitation, performance, and playback… (124)

I found it interesting to note that in her discussion of indigenous successful (and non-dangerous) solutions to the very real rat problem of rural Egypt, her first example is of a man cursing the rats. Note that it is in the successful category. She also decided to include the successful indigenous solutions (why not focus on those?) that the rural women had found, in addition to her preferred method of live trapping rats. I wondered what she was going to do with the huge collection of rats. Take them home? Two other indigenous solutions are given by a single woman: knock them on the head with bricks (if there are few of them) and take what you are trying to keep safe (pigeons–a main source of protein) to bed with you (Wickett 126).

Wickett explains how she sees the film development as process and performance. One woman acts out the scene she had previously described to the anthropologist, showing how while she was baking the rats came and at the loaves which had just been leavened (127).

The film was shown, but not as we would see a movie. Instead it was used as a stimulus for debate. This she contrasted to the potential propagandistic aspect. Again I am confused. She has just mentioned a woman who has caught 20 rats in the live trap Wickett brought, who says that she still has a rat infestation. Under what circumstances will the live trap actually rid the households of rats?

Part of the process of the film was giving live traps to women of standing in the communities and then coming back to interview them on the efficacy of the traps. This, Wickett argued, could not be said to have created their answers, particularly as there were a wide variety of responses (128).

Originally the film was denied airtime in Egypt because of the realistic aspects (extreme poverty, local accents and dialects), but when it was eventually aired, “they were praised locally for their performances” (Wickett 128).

Wickett was asked to work on a film where women were shown going to training centers in their long black robes and at home in their kerchiefs and dresses. She said that she didn’t see the point, since sewing machines had not made any difference to the economic levels of the people. However, because the women felt more confident after having been chosen as trainers, the younger women envisioned a brighter future if they learned how to sew. These two points caused Wickett to change her mind (128). This may not have actually been a good idea. If the microcredit loans and business building were not economically impactful, why would you teach a generation to do the same thing again?

The trainers earned a monthly salary, so they thought the project was a success (130). That’s the end of that tale. (Doesn’t say much about its actual usefulness, does it?)

Wickett then discusses films for water, sanitation, and birth control. She is clear that she was going for testimonial and she mentions a particular example where a woman saw the camera and asked what they were filming for and told how birth control had helped her daughter because she didn’t have to have a child a year as this woman had–for seventeen years (130).

This is more anecdotal than I had hoped it would be.

Wickett’s next project was in Pakistan. All the men had left–to the city or another country–for work. The government wanted to put in water and sewage lines but the all male workforce could not go into homes that were headed by women and speak with them (131).

Because women cannot speak with men unrelated to them (and vice versa) and the price of breaking the taboo is high (though Wickett does not specify, we have heard of the deaths that come from a simple conversation). She decided to have a women-only camera discussion.

The first experience was a middle class woman who had excellent, modern cleaning methods; this was contrasted with a servant in an upper class household, who cleaned pots with fire ash and rolled dung in her hands, which she then washed with water but no soap (Wickett 132).

These women considered water bad if it wasn’t flowing; washing clothes in a running faucet meant the wealthy wasted water and created stagnant pools in which disease bred (133).

The key to success, Wickett says, was the plan to ONLY show the videos to women. Men seeing them would have caused problems with the husbands of the wives. However, she then immediately says that the women gave permission for the videos to be shown to the engineers so that they could see how the water and the facilities were used in the villages (135).

Men kept the sample latrines for the male guest house. Women kept the children out of the latrines they built, because they thought they would fill up quickly. Children were sent to the compost heap (filled with stagnant water) and were often ill. No one made connections between these things (Wickett 136).

Women needed the latrines, to keep the social custom of women being unobserved by other men.

Men, though, usually just went out in the field–a sanitation disaster.

video is a particularly effective medium for communication with nonliterate rural populations who value rhetoric and “good speaking.” (Wickett 138)

Visual anthropologists are uniquely empowered to contribute their intimate knowledge of rural life and vernacular languages to the field of development communications. (139)

Odd to me, but I am probably behind the times. This is the interventionist viewpoint that has been smacked down continually as patronizing.

What does this article add to a discussion of new media?
It highlights the fact that many people still live in an oral culture, without literacy. For many people the video will be like the cell phone was for the poor of Africa. It will be the step which allows them to skip over the expensive and difficult step in the middle (either learning to read and write or having land lines installed).

It shows that people talking to people can be persuasive. (And even, despite what she argued, have high value as propaganda.)

It shows that video can make a difference in the health of a community and in the understandings of one segment of a society by another.

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