The audiovisual as an extended space among native peoples

Reception: September 18, 2020

Acceptance: December 14, 2020

Espacios mediáticos transfronterizos: el video ayuujk entre México y Estados Unidos

Ingrid kummels, 2018 Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology, Mexico, 409 pp.

The text is a Spanish translation of Transborder Media Spaces: Ayuujk Videomaking between Mexico and the us, published in 2017 by the Berghahn publishing house within the series Anthropology of Media.1 The ciesas has been in charge of the publication and its translation into Spanish. With this ethnography, Kummels joins a series of investigations interested in the current changes and readjustments related to the media among indigenous populations (Magallanes and Ramos, 2016; Stephen, 2013; Zamorano, 2017, to mention a few examples). On the other hand, it makes us turn towards the series of Anthropology of Media composed of 10 volumes (so far) to review for those who have an interest in the media and social changes. In the case of Cross-border media spaces, It is a text that offers some guidelines to explore topics of interest in Mexican anthropology (indigenous peoples, community, to mention the most classic) along with other emerging issues derived from the media, digital technologies and the experiences of transnational migration.

Kummels' research addresses media practices in Tamazulapam, or Tama, as the inhabitants themselves call it, a town in the Mixe region of Oaxaca, and with it addresses the characteristics that are acquiring notions such as the community, the people, the ethnicity and the transnational experience. These axes permeate the lives and experiences of people, and their senses are debated and negotiated through the cultural resources they have to elaborate representations and narratives of themselves, in contrast to external representations loaded with previous perceptions. This point is already problematic to delimit, due to the academic discussions that could arise from assuming that the conformation of meanings and meanings, as well as the terms of these negotiations, are framed by relations of differentiation and inequality (Di Leonardo, 1998; Roseberry, 1989 ). To pay for these discussions, this ethnography describes the media practices in the town and their circulation between the population that lives in the place and that emigrant who has formed ramifications of the community, who try to participate from a distance and who require audiovisual products that allow them to create a bond with their place of origin.

The questions that guided Kummels' research were related to the explicit and implicit intentions of people when using and adapting media resources, with the representations that they have been elaborating, and their influences to establish broader relationships towards other social spaces such as those that are they conform to the Mexican State, as well as the senses of identity and belonging at the local level and in the context of migration to the United States. These questions are developed in the five ethnographic chapters and are supporting the idea of “media spaces”, which is proposed as a tool to understand media relations and practices that flow in visual and audiovisual forms and that circulate among people belonging to Tama, in the town and on its satellites (places where they have migrated, such as Mexico City or Los Angeles).

From the text as a whole it should be noted that elements of the making of holistic ethnographies can be recognized where there are synthesis efforts and interest in showing heterogeneity to describe different aspects, in such a way that it manages to give a broad and general vision of the field site, allows us to know places, people, actions, relationships and processes. At the same time, these descriptions revolve around media practices; thus, they offer a particular aspect of the local history related to the media, and with this we get to know individual trajectories of media actors that are interwoven with collective interests at different times and in different spaces.

In addition to the ethnographic descriptions, the accompaniment with photographs that allow us to visually know some details of the people, what they do, the images and the field site stand out. A skillful and experienced eye can be noted on the part of Kummels. It also highlights that collages photographic at the beginning of the chapters have been made by one of Tama's people, who also has experience in the production of images, so an intention can be observed to communicate in a mixed way between what is captured and the composition.

This ethnography exposes some points that can be taken up to make comparisons and to investigate other indigenous villages. Next, I mention only three that, based on my own field work, are closer to me, so they are not the only ones or the most remarkable; they are entrances to begin to dialogue from the orientations that the text gives us. The first point is that Kummels carries out an exercise of reconstructing fragments of local history, focusing on the processes of mediatization; Thus, it takes us on a journey that goes from the performances schoolchildren during the first half of the previous century until the current audiovisual documentation, together with the changes in the representations and their hierarchical meanings. Tama's history has some parallels with that of other indigenous villages that share social processes and practices, such as post-revolutionary educational policies and indigenism; also the visits of people who brought films and projected them in remote locations as a traveling cinema (just as the muleteers carried products), or the first photographs that were taken in public events, such as the construction of works, or views panoramic views of the village festivals. Precisely, it is possible to identify that in recent years initiatives have been emerging to recover visual history by groups or collectives in rural and indigenous towns. A “current demand for audiovisual memories” is growing (as Kummels mentioned for Tama, or as I have been able to observe in the Sierra Norte de Puebla where various groups carry out projects linked to local memory from the visual point of view) and new images are circulating throughout means of digitizing old photographs that are incorporated into the family and collective memory.

A second aspect is related to the regulations of recording and sharing the activities and practices that are considered proper to the culture. ayuujk ja'ay. Kummels explains that the people of Tama have been familiar with images and audiovisual products for several generations, which would lead to think that any activity that is carried out could be documented, however, it is from this close relationship that it has been delimited what is conducive to record. In this sense, it has come to be reconciled that the public is what can be part of the recordings, for example parties, dances, changes of authorities, etc., and the sacred is left off-camera, that is, the rituals and ceremonies in the patron saint festivities, those linked to agrarian cycles or the change of authorities, to mention some activities that Kummels managed to identify. Also, the text states that there are different moments and contexts in which these considerations are negotiated, in such a way that what can be recorded depends on the general ideas of respect and protection of the community. This aspect is suggestive because it invites us to identify and reflect on the values that are at stake in current conditions, where young people in indigenous villages have more access to telephones with cameras and digital social networks where they can share and circulate. multiple images and videos.

The third aspect is the context of labor migration of people from Tama to cities in the United States, which make up satellites of the locality of origin (already with a second generation). The text describes different situations in which audiovisual products are added to strategies that emigrants use to maintain or strengthen ties with their families and the community; These range from monitoring works in the houses to serving as a testimony of participation in a community commission. In addition, audiovisual demands have predisposed the form of specific genres of records that are requested in the town and, mainly, in migration satellites. This also allows comparisons to be made with other rural and indigenous villages and the role played by the media, access to digital technologies, and audiovisual products such as those described by Kummels. In Tama's satellites, they allow “congregation in the diaspora” at least momentarily, and for those who participate in a community commission, bring “the experience of their own participation” in village activities.

The ethnography presented by Kummels focuses, in the words of the same author, on the diversified practices related to the media and the internet, and on the actions that have shaped these resources, which cover activist and political objectives, but also, as emphasized in the text, they are for artistic, entertainment and profit-making purposes. Thus, media practices direct us towards emerging forms of sociality with open characteristics. With this, the community, the people, the identity and the migratory experience generate and recreate visual representations that were not previously considered within their repertoires, to argue and elaborate cultural and political messages around themselves. In this sense, the audiovisual extends these dimensions that are adapting to changing times.

The diversity of media practices also shows that, in addition to the political possibilities of the audiovisual, there is a set of interests and requests on the part of the local population, which do not exactly coincide with what is usually considered from the outside should be. carry out with the support of the media. Basically because the uses of digital technologies and the media are very diverse, they go through the types of access to resources, the training that has been had or even the type of spectator that has been trained, generational interests, to the networks and contacts that facilitate or guide the exploration of the media, and other aspects that affect the ways and forms that media practices take. Once we remove the expectation that indigenous peoples do what they are expected to do, we can see what is exposed in this ethnography, that there is flexibility and multiplicity in the uses of technologies and media, where there are social uses , but in conjunction with other media practices.

To lead us to this understanding, Kummels starts from considering the social agency of the subjects to appropriate external resources and adapt them to local cultural elements, hence one of the parts that stand out people, and the author herself, is the self-learning of the technical handling of devices and develop other capacities from which they have sought to explore a language linked to their cultural resources. Also, the social agency that goes beyond individuals is shown in the particular requests for audiovisual products, some are as evidence in the midst of agrarian disputes, others are testimonies of participation, or even a viewpoint from which to observe the actions and behaviors of relatives from a distance, and at the same time, documentaries with creative or ethnopolitical overtones are still being made. It is an interwoven and open repertoire from which people glimpse possibilities and, in turn, feed with the creation of other formats and content.

Another aspect that is explored is the constant negotiation between intentions and purposes when making audiovisual records, which are made within the framework of specific relationships. In this sense, Kummels refers us to three contexts, one is with the definition by the State and the programs directed towards the indigenous population (Castells i Talens, 2010), as was the case of the Indigenous Video Center that was part of the National Institute Indigenista, from which audiovisuals with certain characteristics were preferred (Becerril, 2015); Another context occurs when dialogues are established with producer peers from other indigenous groups that demand the expression of political messages, or of a certain type of indigenous video when the framework is film and documentary festivals; and a third focuses on the local population (physical and their satellites) who prefer and, in some way, demand recordings with the smallest possible cuts and that cover an entire activity.

Finally, there are two points to continue the dialogue and discussions. The first is related to the idea of "media spaces", since in ethnography it is possible to understand that it allows to orient the analysis towards what is related to the media, the production contexts and the production of visual and audiovisual messages, the circulation of these, the trajectories, actions and media practices of certain “media actors”, and all this as interactions in the midst of social transitions. In general, the idea of “media spaces” is adequate to answer the questions that Kummels asks in the investigation. However, the proposal of “media spaces”, following the author, has its support in Edward W. Soja (1996), who in turn recovers the space trilogy by Henri Lefebvre (1974), composed of the conceived space ( of experts and planners), perceived space (material experience) and lived space (imagination and the symbolic). This third space corresponds to appropriations and creations, and with it to transformations, but, Lefebvre clarifies when criticizing everyday life, when they were inserted in processes of emancipation. That is, both authors put the accent on the political2 and they were interested in the ways in which social inequalities were reproduced and materialized in the continuous production of social space. This aspect is what I think should be expanded in other approaches that take up the proposal of “media spaces”.

The second point to debate is related to audiovisual decolonization mentioned by Kummels. The text mentions that there are material and historical conditions that have limited access to technological resources and the media (visual gap and digital gap); This can be observed when visiting any rural and indigenous town in the country, but it involves another aspect that is less perceptible but at the same time more profound: familiarity with the media resources from which to explore one's own languages and, furthermore, with the previous representations of the ethnic and the indigenous that already predominate and that serve as a frame of reference. Thus, the point would not be whether or not native peoples can position themselves in audiovisual decolonization, but rather that this task must be carried out in a shared way and in correspondence between those who make audiovisuals and those interested in this issue. I believe that it opens questions about the design of the investigations, in the way in which the people with whom we work are conceived. If we share the same socio-historical processes3 although in different positions, the global society would be in a common process of decolonization (taking reservations of whether or not we agree with this term). Kummels makes an approach by highlighting the contradictions of the audiovisual field in which the ayuujk ja'ay they participate and highlight local and transnational genres of the videos they produce. Those of us who are interested in the subject are still looking for alternatives to think about how this could be reflected in our ethnographies and how they can open lines to continue debating around media practices.


Becerril, Alberto (2015). “El cine de los pueblos indígenas en el México de los ochentas”. Revista Chilena de Antropología Visual, núm. 25, pp. 31-49.

Castells i Talens, Antoni (2010). “The Training of Indigenous Videomakers by the Mexican State: Negotiation, Politics and Media”. Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, vol. 29, núm. 3, pp. 83-94.

Di Leonardo, Micaela (1998). Exotics at Home. Anthropologies, Others, and American Modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fabian, Johannes (1983). Time and the Other. How Anthropology Makes Its Object. Nueva York: Columbia University Press.

Lefebvre, Henri (1974). La production de l’espace. París: Éditions Anthropos. (Traducción al español: [2013]. La producción del espacio. Madrid: Capitán Swing.)

Magallanes, Claudia y José Manuel Ramos (coord.) (2016). Miradas propias. Pueblos indígenas, comunicación y medios en la sociedad global. Puebla: Universidad Iberoamericana.

Roseberry, William (1989). Anthropologies and histories. Essays in Culture, History, and Political Economy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Soja, Edward W. (1996). Thirdspace. Journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places. Oxford: Blackwell.

Stephen, Lynn (2013). We are the Face of Oaxaca: Testimony and Social Movements. Durham: Duke University Press.

ZamoranoVillareal, Gabriela (2017). Indigenous Media and Political Imaginaries in Contemporary Bolivia. Lincoln: University of Nebraska.

Oscar Ramos Mancilla He is a professor-researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities, Autonomous University of Puebla. Doctor in social anthropology from the University of Barcelona. For his research he has received an honorable mention of the Fray Bernardino de Sahagún award from the inah, and the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz del Inmujeres awards, the International Colloquium on Otopames, and the Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán Bi-Institutional Chair of the ciesas and the uv. His topics of interest are related to digital anthropology, the media and socio-historical processes.


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