458.5 Visualizing culture and power: The aesthetics of farming among African-Americans in the rural U.S. South

Friday, August 3, 2012: 9:48 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Sarah FRANZEN , Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
The realm of aesthetics provides a space for considering the sensuous, implicit, and practiced aspects of culture. Aesthetics is also a space for political re-imagining and resistance to status-quo policies. Within my research I investigate how aesthetics are used by rural African-American communities in the U.S. South to reframe a historic legacy surrounding the act of farming, to resist current oppressive trends in the dominant agricultural system, and to develop and promote community food production. In particular, my research focuses on the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/ Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF), a collection of agricultural and rural cooperatives that promotes rural development. My research site is centered on the FSC/LAF's Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama. In conducting my research, I follow the efforts of local organizers, work with local farmers, and observe the practices of two local farmers' markets.

A key method I use for observing and understanding the role of aesthetics is visual ethnography. I produce films in collaboration with the FSC/LAF and local participants in order to solicit, capture, and analyze the performed aspects and practiced meanings surrounding farming and food production. In addition, I participate in the work and practices of the farmers and market organizers, collect oral histories, and conduct interviews on camera. Drawing on preliminary research and findings, the paper I will present illustrates how resistance figures into practices of everyday life and examines the role of aesthetics in promoting community-based development. The paper also discusses the use of collaborative film production as a research method, detailing the nature of collaboration and agreement between the FSC/LAF and myself. Finally, the paper considers the benefits and limitations of a visual methodology.