Professor Fiona Magown
The term ‘expressive cultures’ refers in general to the sphere of the arts and, in particular, to the ways in which people express themselves creatively whether in dance, music, song, painting, sculpture, art, storytelling, drama or comedy. In many cultures around the world these elements of expressive culture are shaped by religious beliefs and rituals. This module examines the processes behind the shaping of expressive cultures in three different regions: Aboriginal Australia; Brazil and Papua New Guinea.
The first part of the module taken by Professor Fiona Magowan examines how landscapes and seascapes in Australia are spiritually recreated in expressive cultural forms by Aboriginal people in the context of a troubled and contested national history. We consider some of the anthropological terminologies and paradigms that have been used to explain Aboriginal religious beliefs and ritual structures. As rituals are now performed for and with tourists, this analysis raises questions about how 'we' and ‘they’ differentially order the spiritual effects of life and death in song, dance and art. It will reveal how expressive culture connects people emotionally to places, kin and ancestors as part of an integrated religious complex. Finally, we shall see how Aboriginal art encapsulates identity politics and embodies a contested politics of representation.
The second part of the module, taken by Dr Suzel Reily, centres on expressive forms among subaltern communities in Brazil. We will look at how the everyday experiences of the Brazilian underprivileged classes are interpreted through such arts as story-telling, dance, music, sports, carnival and other media. By looking at how the poor and excluded construct their expressive world, we are able to gain a better understanding of both inter- and intra-class relations, gender relations, and race relations in Brazil. The section will include a practical project involving cultural performance as a means of experiencing the power of embodiment in preserving the histories of the subaltern sectors of society.
The third part of the module, taken by Lisette Josephides, will consider some of the approaches to aesthetics, song and dance, myth and self-narratives in Papua New Guinea. Starting form a brief introduction to exchange and reciprocity as the basis of PNG societies, we will examine how aesthetics, particularly in the form of self-adornment, can act as a measure of morality and good social relations. Moving to song and dance (considered as one, song-and-dance), we will consider several examples and ask whether politics or sentiment are their major underlying motivation. Finally, we will compare some different analyses and interpretations of myths and self-narratives, and ask to what extent people in their storytelling construct or express individual selves.
By the end of the module you will have learned that anthropology is an holistic and comparative discipline that is concerned with society, culture and humankind in all its diversity across the globe. Its method is qualitative, based upon the in-depth study of people and groups through learning with and through them as they go about their everyday lives. In sum, the module will have introduced you to basic theoretical and methodological approaches to these anthropological issues via case studies from different ethnographic regions.