Transcript of Presentation Speeches

RHEA

Black Lives Matter have not only rendered black people visible but also the existence of white supremacy within the United States. The power of the hashtage #blacklivesmatter has fostered the transmission of video footage that means that cases of brutality can no longer be hidden. This is linked to the social epistemologies of Miranda Fricker and Charles Mills in the following ways:

For Charles Mills, we interpret data- in our case, photography- through a grid of concepts which are orientated toward theories of knowledge about how the world works. Political culture in the US is conceptualised as essentially egalitarian and inclusive with its long history of racial subordination trivialised as deviation from the norm. Strategic colourblindness, in existence since the civil rights movement, denies past differential treatment which is tantamount to continuing. The black lives matter movement then -particularly the accessibility of such information facilitated by the hashtag- pools knowledge which reminds oppressors of their history.

Fricker’s epistemic theory of testimonial injustice posits that certain information or testimonies may not be considered credible due to an identity prejudice in the hearer. The black lives matters movement, through photography, pools knowledge and offers a conceptual tool for those trying to articulate these issues. Significantly, these mediums are considered authoritative which undermines hegemonic knowledge systems in so far as power relations structure society and by extension, the knowledge it produces. Hermeneutical injustice, refers to the injustice experienced by groups who lack the shared social resources to make sense of their experience. The internet, the decreasing cost of capturing information, and social media have thus undermined the unfair advantages of the powerful in structuring collective social understandings, due to their lack of interest in achieving a proper interpretation.

Ultimately then, the black lives matter movement serve to undermine hegemonic narratives and bring to the forefront of our consciousness the reality of America’s history of racial subordination


 

MOUNA

In an image-based knowledge economy, where words are often sublimated in favour of easily digestible images, these synecdochic prompts wear the guise of knowledge, without ever really telling us whether the ‘knowledge’ we are consuming through an image is true, impartial or verifiable.

The question offered by both Sontag and Nelson, of what kinds of knowledge can be generated through images, gains even more significance in our contemporary context, where almost all of the ‘information’ we process is image-based.

Through television, smart-phones, tablets and screens, the images we receive are transmitted to us at the speed of light, often a single click away.  Where speed creates the sensation of having unrestricted and immediate access to information, this immediacy equally fosters a relational perspective which feels like that of impartial and unfiltered knowledge.

An image offers us is a single view into a singular conception of a near or distant past. Insofar as a snapshot offers proof that a given thing has happened, the role of the image is to furnish evidence, and as such images exist to corroborate specific narratives.

YET where images do a good job at helping us remember – by eclipsing other forms of understanding – they equally, implicitly prompt us to forget. As such, images are not only about selective or prescriptive remembering – they are about stipulating – about telling us that something happened ‘this way’, that ‘this was important’, that ‘that’s how it ended’.

Nelson calls into question the instability of images arguing that although they may goad us into feeling something, that feeling neither produces truth nor reflects understanding. She states: ‘Focusing on the question of whether or not an image retains the capacity to produce a strong emotion sidesteps the problem that having a strong emotion is not the same as having understanding’.

The industrialization of photography brought about a shift in which photographs became important institutional mechanisms of social control. From this moment, the worth of an image could suddenly be quantified, not only by what narratives an image could offer, and what narratives it could negate, but equally how quickly these narratives could be disseminated, processed and internalized by a viewing audience.

A photograph is not only unstable insofar as it can be attached to specific narrative. This instability is added to, when we start to consider the agency of the photographer; when we begin to question: What is going on outside the frame?’ ‘What are we not seeing?’ ‘Why has the photographer chosen to show us this thing that we’re seeing?’  In this way every photograph, by definition contains an absence, a patch of silence, and a blind spot.

A photograph is a piece of incomplete knowledge.
The question we will be asking today is to what extent images defy or define the narrative and knowledge produced both by, and about Black Lives Matter movement. As such, we will be arguing that substance of the image is cultivated not simply through what the image in isolation shows us, nor simply through the narrative that is superimposed onto it .

Of the utmost importance to our presentation are the power structures which shape or warp this narrative, the structures which implicitly provide us with our knowledge of how the image should be read.

Using the black lives matter movement as our case study, we will attempt to question – To what extent can a photograph ever be read ‘transparent account of reality?’


 

MAY

For philosopher Walter Benjamin, ‘the image must be understood as historical’ and history ‘must be conceived as imagistic’. Thus, ‘history happens with photography’. A statement of such magnitude warrants careful consideration almost a century later– to what extent can a photograph be understood not to mirror, or depict history, but in fact to dictate it? According to Benjamin, it was photographic technology that reversed ‘the total function of art… instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics’. If the ‘transparent mediation’ provided by photographic representation can be taken to drive a narrative, then the space occupied by Black Lives Matter, a movement rooted firmly in and wholly dependent upon the instancy of the digital age, can be seen as emblematic of this.

In the defiant removal of the Confederate Flag from South Caroline State House, according to the New York Times Bree Newson ‘by scaling the pole and removing this emblem of hate has stolen its power and demystified its history’. Although in the act itself, Bree Newson’s antagonistic action of protest arguably constitutes heroism, the photographic representation of a flag lowering alongside a promptly trending hash tag becomes instantly symbolic – a freeze-frame of feel-good fantasy, an allegorical elimination of white supremacy.

The camera now documented a symbol’s imminent invisibility. Yet, in the end, it goes without saying that the celebration of such is not the same as dealing with the underlying institutional, emotional, economic and historic complications that it represents. Through the camera’s immortalizing lens, society is represented as objective, allowing concrete meanings and myths of significance to be assumed, attached and entrenched by the global online masses, through the prevalence of social media and what Baudelaire cites as photography’s ‘natural alliance with the mob’. Black Lives Matter thus to some extent becomes a willing slave to its own representation, defined through and by the photographic medium whereby it thrives.


 

MONA

Photographic coverage seek to depict strength and agency displayed by participants/protesters of BLM against a backdrop of police/state brutality and violence. My argument is that despite the intention of BLM photographic matter to challenge hegemonic stereotypes of Blacks, several visual representations appear to be hinged on images of Black people fuelled by their roles in American film, television, radio and other media as thugs and maids.

In particular, since Blacks gained visibility in American films, good Black characters either played assistants to white lead characters as magical black man or black best friend and had no inner drive or live stories, or were domesticated servants. On the other hand, bad Black characters were thugs, dangerous criminals involved in illicit activities, or brash women who were aggressive.

This binary stereotype of Black people as either good helpers or bad troublemakers continue to haunt the narratives of some BLM photographic materials. In particular, BLM activists display drive and agency, and therefore do not fall into the stereotype of secondary helpers. As such, visual representations which attempt to depict the agentic nature of BLM activists can often be influenced by hegemonic stereotypes, and end up defining rather than defying narratives of Black activists as troublemakers. I therefore align with Sontag’s (1977) perspective that “to photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have”.

Through a comparative analysis of visual materials, I seek to demonstrate how Bogle’s (1973:10) comment that “there was a moral order at work in the universe. […] that things were in order only when whites were in control and when the American black man was kept in his place” emerged in some of the BLM visual narratives. In particular, several depictions came to criminalise BLM activists as troublemakers, justifying the actions of the policing state (in the form of white supremacy) to restore order. An example is the picture below which depicts a black man challenging a group of armed police officers.

The above image may be trying to convey the strength and determination of black people in their struggles against state violence and racism. However, the depiction of a black, naked man with a masculine profile, trying to fend off a group of armed officials lined in an orderly manner, parallels filmic portrayals of black people as brute black man. This brute  black man imagery first emerged in Birth of a Nation (1915) where black men were portrayed as innately savage, criminal, destructive and deserving of punishment.

In the above picture, the protestor is in the foreground, standing with his bare, masculine back against the camera. The focus on his strong, bare, black body with outstretched arms suggests an image of innate savagery, an oversexed body which is violent and powerful, such as in the black brute. Light is also cast on the blackness of his skin and his immense physicality, with a faceless representation further reinforcing the suggestion of intense violence and sexuality innate in him.

In addition, superimposing the black protestor against a background of orderly police dressed in official uniform with more subdued hand gestures overemphasises the brute/state, orderly/disorderly, lawful/unlawful, violent/defensive divide. In so doing, the black protester becomes criminalised, depicted as the destructive one who is deserving of punishment, further justifying the use of state violence to subdue the barbaric black who is out to raise havoc, to “put [Blacks] in their place” so that the nation can grow and proper again.


 

NAT

What we finally have yet to consider is the photographer’s position in constructing the photograph’s narrative.

 

For this part, we will be not looking at how the photograph’s narrative is changed with its distribution and contextualisation, but going backwards to look at how the INHERENT NATURE OF THE PHOTOGRAPH IS SUBJECTIVE.

 

And the reason is: why is it, when we read a book, we will refer to and quote the writer instead of the character, we will speak of the techniques of the piece in terms of the writer and not necessarily the story itself, and yet, we look at a photograph, we talk about it as itself an entity and not for the photographer as its creationist.

So if we look to the photographer as we look to the writer, we come to the question of: can we define photography as historical artefact or art?

 

When we cross this boundary, we then have a challenge to confront: the question of subjectivity of the photograph and in what ways a subjective viewpoint benefits the viewer. As Susan Sontag said in ‘on photography’: ‘the very question of whether photography is or is not an art is essentially a misleading one. Although photography generates works that can be called art- it requires subjectivity. It can lie, it gives aesthetic pleasure.’

 

Yousef Khanfar, in his essay on storytelling with photographs, suggested that the essence of photography is writing with light and describes photography as the ‘visual language’ we use daily to communicate with.

 

In considering the photographer, we will be looking at, and cross-studying two photographs: one from a civil rights protest in 1963, and another from a Black Lives Matter protest in 2015.

 

 

Firstly,Civil Rights photographer: Charles Moore.

His photographs supposedly spurred the passage to the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The photograph at hand, is probably his most famous. As a contract photographer for TIME magazine, he set out to specifically photograph what could bring the reality of the situation to the magazine’s audience. Covering some of the most famous protests of the movement.

As described of the photograph, in the recent exhibition at the Steven Kasher gallery of Moore’s work: ‘He wanted his images to be felt; if the firefighters were going to use hoses, his images had to feel wet.’

This shows how the photographic medium even transcends the senses – as Moore describes the aesthetic feel of his photographs, making it an all-encompassing, more immersive source of knowledge?

Why is it that the most famous pictures from the era were taken by those in favour of the movement and of black civil rights?

That is where we see the subjectivity lie – we use the photographs of Moore for example, someone in favour, particularly because we know the outcome, but I guess if they hadn’t received the civil rights act, would we be seeing these photographs? Or in the same way?

It is from the civil rights movement in USA in the mid 1900’s that we know the effect photography has upon the documentation of both the acts of racial discrimination made against the black citizens, and with it, their response.

So here we have Charles Moore- though never provided a caption to his photographs, distributed his photographs to the Times and other prints where they provided a caption or narrative to them. He never provided his own narrative and yet could we argue that he, with a visual language, said everything he needed to anyway?

ALLEN

In comparison to Moore who never aided his photographs with a narrative or caption, Allen from the offset has always had the opportunity to give a direct narrative to his photos.

 

Devin Allen, a 26 year old amateur photographer became a viral sensation on Instagram with his photographs of the Black Lives Matter protests, namely the one you see before you. His photographs have consequently been shared and reused by media organisations around the world.

 

Adding about his work: ‘Of course, since I’m a black man, I understand the frustration, but at the same time, I’m a photographer. I’m not going to lie to you. I’m going to tell you exactly what happened..’

 

But isn’t a subjective viewpoint exactly what we do see in photography?

 

‘Repost: Spread the word’. With that, Allen captures, literally and figuratively, the effect of the photograph. In its ability to spread an unwritten ‘word’.

 

Time used the photograph as its cover in 2016, with 1968 crossed out, and 2015 written over it. Accompanying with it: ‘What has changed. What hasn’t.’

Why is it that newspapers and newsreels such as TIME, The Times, CNN, the Guardian as so forth have so much of their stories as ‘in pictures’? – Why to photographs have a higher intelligibility and what can we receive from photographs that we cannot from the written word?

 

Similarly, Andres Tardio, in an article for ‘The Hundreds’ on Allen’s rise to fame as a photographer, describes him as ‘one of the most powerful voices in Baltimore’ – This added element of the ‘unwritten word’ and voice beyond our vision, suggests the medium’s ability to permeate the boundaries of our sensory experience.

 

As time defined photographs such as these in its edition: ‘These visual representations represent only a millisecond of a long, contested struggle, but shape how we see and remember these events for years to come’ , as they did with Moore’s photos.

 

The impact of the traumatic image is not only shared, broadcast etc. but also internalised by the viewer.

The visual narrative of the protests define our knowledge of the events whilst also building sympathy for the cause, as the written word would.

 

Where accounts or expressions in literature account the human experience, photography has the individualistic ability to dehumanise the subject or make the subject abstract. – The photographer can either take the subject out of context or contextually imbed them.

In using instagram, Allen has contextually imbedded the photographs into the Black Lives Matter narrative with the use of captions, he has assigned his photographs directly to a narrative. In one caption:

‘still controlling and pushing the narrative for my city’ – alongside this photo: uprising

 

Handout

Knowledge of Truth, i.e. Knowledge of Bullshit

How can knowledge be transformed into truth or bullshit – and does this matter?

Maud Gittens

This presentation uses a court case in order to explore how people attempt to perform and discern the truth from bullshit. The decision to use a discipline none of us are familiar with has enabled it to be a truly collaborative project – with each person bringing a different angle to the discussion and overcoming the segmentation of our usual studies as ‘discrete bricks’[1]. We are using the mediums of the court, the press and theatre, taking the preconceptions about these and turning them on their head. While we normally assume theatre to be false, the press to be (mostly) true and court cases to discover the truth – in this instance we have reversed this.

 Joseph McCarron-Shipman

 ‘It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.’[2]

 Francesca Nardone

 Locke says that in order to form a clear notion of truth, ‘it is very necessary to consider truth of thought, and truth of words’[3]. Is a judge expected to assess truth of thought? Truth of thought does not change even when we misrepresent. What counts is our intention to distort when we use the incorrect words to represent the correct ideas we have.

 Melissa Ashcombe

 Diversity and Multiplicity of Knowledge

Zeynep Doganci

 ‘The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.’[4]

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 12.20.52

Map of Innocence Network

 

 

 Cast

 Maud Gittens: Ms. Gold/the presenter

Joseph McCarron-Shipman: Mrs. Tramp (the mother in law)

Francesca Nardone: Ms. Fisher (the secretary)

Melissa Ashcombe: Harriet Frankfurt (the defence lawyer)

Zeynep Doganci: the newscaster/the judge

References:

[1]Graff, Gerald, ‘The mixed-message curriculum’, in Clueless in Academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind (New Haven, Yale: 2003), 63.

[2] Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bullshit (Princeton University Press: 2005).

[3] Locke, John and Winkler, Kenneth P. Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, 1996), 255.

[4] Innocence Project, 2017. Web. [Accessed: 28 March 2017] https://www.innocenceproject.org/

 

 

Gerald Graff: ‘The mixed-message curriculum’, notes.

In case it’s helpful to anyone, I’ve typed up my notes from the article to give you a snapshot of Graff’s ideas. It also gives you a very ‘Go Liberal Arts!’ feeling.

Graff, Gerald, ‘The mixed-message curriculum’, in Clueless in Academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind (New Haven, Yale: 2003):

‘In this chapter, I show how the disconnection of the curriculum not only obscures the issues and arguments that give coherence to academia, but compounds the problem by sending students confusingly mixed messages about how academic work is done… To put it another way, academia’s external impenetrability is a result of its internal disconnection’ 62.

Pyramid of knowledge, with subjects as ‘discrete bricks’ when it should be a ‘dynamic conversation’. 63

The Student as Double Agent: How we switch methods and mindsets between classes, not integrating the two at all. 63-4 This does allow you to experiment with different ways of thinking. 64. However, this does not encourage critical thinking, as the two modes of thinking never interact. 65.

The Student as Volleyball: mixed messages, even within a subject – old and new theories that don’t match up. 65-66 college as a series of instructor preferences. 67.

Contradiction and Compartmentalisation: This encourages students to ignore contradictions in their studies, and to assume authors are right out of hand. 68. This leads to a compartmentalisation that prevents students from applying academic ways of thinking i=to their everyday life. 69.

Redundancy Lost: ‘To put my point in the jargon of information theory, a disconnected curriculum tends to be low in redundancy, the reinforcement of convergent messages that enables us to map our environment and gain confidence in our ability to negotiate it.’ 70. ‘With the proliferation of methods and genres there is correspondingly less common ground in terminology’ 71. ‘The multiplication of methods, vocabularies, and -isms combined with the lack of a coherent conversation in which they can be compared and contrasted increases the likelihood of students’ feeling intimidated’ 72.

Who Cares? ‘Curricular disconnection, then, widens a gap between teachers and students’ 73. ‘I argued in chapter 2 that much of the oft-lamented relativism of today’s youth actually stems from the difficulty of imagining a world in which their arguments would make a difference. I would now add that this relativism is reinforced by students’ exposure to clashing course perspectives that never meet. The curriculum sends an implicit message that the institution does not care strongly enough about the intellectual differences between instructors to bother engaging them, so why should students be expected to care, either?’ 73.

Curricular Suburban Sprawl: ‘The American curriculum has evolved in much the same way as the American city: when threatening conflicts have erupted, they have been relieved by adding a new “suburb”—a new course’ rather than rethinking the whole. 74. Ensuring that professors and courses to not have to interact, preventing comparisons and development. 75.

Toward a Comparative Curriculum: need for collaboration in curriculums, share composition courses. Find ways to put courses in conversation. 78. ‘the more connected and focused experience provided by the thematically linked courses results in a higher proportion of students becoming insiders to the intellectual club, identifying with intellectual roles and becoming more independent and motivated. Students are no longer reduced to slavishly conforming to whatever individual instructors “want,” since the authority has been shifted from the individual instructors to the community of instructors and students’ 78-79.

 

Final Analysis

I’ve been going back through the original brief and the marking criteria of the project in order to re-edit my analysis. In light of Simon advising that we be as clear as possible, I’ve decided to expand my section on interdisciplinary and the narrative of our research/project. I have tried to address the challenges of interdisciplinary/team work.

I have particularly drawn on the essay by Gerald Graff that we were set right at the beginning of the course.

Here it is:

This presentation is concerned with the ownership and performance of knowledge. In particular, how this can be truth, false or bullshit.

We decided to base the presentation on the work of Harry Frankfurt, but have also drawn on other theorists and disciplines to expand our ideas. My team mates will go on to talk about how politics, philosophy and history in particular have contributed to our research.

One of the challenges of interdisciplinarity has been overcoming how our majors and minors are taught as what Gerald Graff calls ‘discrete bricks’ in the pyramid of knowledge and trying to approach the project as a ‘dynamic conversation’ instead. Our way of doing this have been to specifically choose a neutral discipline – theatre – in order to project each of our disciplines onto it as a blank canvas. The decision to put on a play was decided collaboratively, as we found the amount of meaning you can load into what was unsaid as well as spoken can make the most of the short performance.

Different mediums can be used to relay knowledge. With a courtroom, the press and theatre being explored here. Using many different mediums to relay knowledge is itself problematic, making it easier to twist or blur knowledge. This is in part because these mediums are each already loaded with preconceptions that structure how we interact with them. We assume that theatre will give us false information, while the press can be (mostly) believed, even in an era of ‘fake news’. Moreover, a court aims to discern the truth, with significant consequences.

We have turned this on its head, attempting to get at and establish the truth through theatre, whilst highlighting the falsity of the press and exposing the problems with attempting to establish the truth in the courtroom.

 

Graff, Gerald, ‘The mixed-message curriculum’, in Clueless in Academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind (New Haven, Yale: 2003):

My edited final analysis

I will be talking about Locke’s notion on truth. Locke insinuates that truth of thought and truth of words can merge into one category, that is the verbal proposition, when he says that mental propositions are “stripped of names” and “lose the[ir] nature […] as soon as they are put into words.”  Therefore, how is a judge supposed to choose the winning side of the case when their job is to determine what is true from what is false?  How are they to judge truth of thought in a person and is this even possible?  According to Locke, words are “signs” which represent our ideas and truth of words consists “in the putting together, or separating those signs, according as the things, which they stand for, agree or disagree.”  In other terms, allocating the right words to the thoughts we have.  But truth of thought, he says, as I put in my own words, is the action of us consciously ordering our ideas.  We are not talking about a skill, but a value.  This truth-value is the invisible relation between a thinker and their thoughts, and I am inclined to say that it exists at all times, even when we intend to misrepresent, as the mother-in-law does.  She claimed that Mrs Tramp ignored her and did not go to their tea time sessions, but just because we know, as the lawyer pointed out, that she was not ignoring her, it does not mean that she was not truthful in her thinking.  She was actually conscious of her own malicious set-up.  Her knowledge of the truth stayed the same, what changed is her intention to distort when she used the word ignore to represent Mrs Tramp’s busy lifestyle.  As philosopher Harry Frankfurt says, “I […] think that when bullshit is pretentious, this happens because pretentiousness is its motive rather than a constitutive element of its essence.”  So, in conclusion, truth of thought is a necessary part of the process of misrepresentation, but not an agent on which one can put blame.

Summary of meeting 24/03/17

Today we had a full run through of our play and together decided that we might need the following improvements:

– the newscaster to actually take the role of becoming a judge and wearing a wig when the court case starts

-introducing court calls before our court case starts and perhaps having a gavel

-introducing the roles of the witnesses either together before the first witness speaks or before each witness speaks

-potentially having more evidential material of the witnesses statement’s in our analyses so we make a clearer connection between our disciplines and the court case

– fully introducing Harry Frankfurt as a Princeton university professor and philosopher somewhere

-more jargon in the statements

-having more of a dialogic interaction between the lawyer and the witnesses.  The lawyer would address the witnesses as “you” rather than “he” or “she” and pose rhetorical questions to them.

-last and certainly not least we will need a sentence to generate doubt after the news flash towards the end (we are not going to say what we are trying to create doubt over as we are saving this for the official presentation) and we could all gasp.

We must also not forget to have the tune to the BBC news play!

Analysis

None of our witnesses have lied. Frankfurt defines a liar as someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. For a statement to be deliberately false the individual must have knowledge of the truth. Therefore as the witnesses did not know the truth they were instead trying to convince others of what they believed to be the truth ergo they were Bullshitting.

The Bullshitter’s objective is to sell their own version of the truth, they may or may not tell the truth in their statement but it is of little regard to them. Frankfurt outlines the three methods as to how one may bullshit: to misrepresent, the mother-in-law; to obfuscate, the accountant; and to omit, the secretary.

Society sees lying as the most grievous form of deception, however Frankfurt argues that it is bullshit which is far more damaging. For the reason that the liar has some respect for the truth, because they deliberately try to present an alternative, however when one bullshits there is no respect for the truth whatsoever.

So what does this mean for politics and political economy? According to Frankfurt, social interactions rely on trust, they can only function if there is a reasonable degree of confidence that others in the society are reliable. The disregard for the truth by politicians has led to a mistrust of established sources of power and information, therefore it takes for an individual to sell their idea which opposes the untrusted status quo to win an election.