Narrated selves and event structures: a phenomenological view on glocal connectivities (Linda C.H. LAI)

Presented on June 18, 2010, at the 7th Crossroads International Cultural Studies Conference (June 17-21, 2010) as part of a panel I organized, 'What is in a Talking Head? - a visual ethnography on performativity, reflexivity and social interactionism' with Dr. Kimburley Choi and Professor Eva Man.


Talking heads are usually used as a transparent cinematic device in showing the opinions of the subjects. The talking head videos we collected since 2005, however, demonstrate the richness of talking heads whereby facts and fantasies mingle. The complex speech-performance events in these talking heads challenge assumptions on narrated ‘truth’, suggesting the need for close examination of the textual and performative richness of speech, from manner of speech, basic information, choice of subject matter, anecdotal deployment, narrativization strategies, culturally coded self-confessions, to the articulation of one's 'philosophy' of life. This suggests the importance of the process of speech performance over the extraction of message or content alone.

I have derived a philosophical framework for the analysis of the ‘process’ from phenomenological thinking, especially the notions of ‘events’ and ‘event structure’. An ‘event’ is ‘the lived experience.’ ‘Event structure,’ a notion in phenomenological history, focuses particularly on the study and effects of ‘inner temporality’ articulated in the talking-head subjects’ judgment and action in their respective everyday contexts. In line with Mark Blum’s discussion, the analysis of the talking heads in this paper examine what constitutes an ‘event’ to each subject in an episode of perception and verbal judgment. The implied ‘logic of events’ leads us to analyze the language configuration in each talking-head document: in the case of talking heads, event structure is most detectable in the thought path of a person.

As an interim conclusion to an on-going visual ethnographic field study, this paper examines the aesthetics of talking heads in visual ethnography and the politics of reflexivity in visual ethnography, the visual and textual authority of visual ethnography and the invention of ethnographic realities, and talking heads video as a way to solve the problem of power imposition between the interviewer and the subject.


powerpoint version [......]

Panel Brief

What is in a 'Talking Head'? – a visual ethnography on performativity, reflexivity and social interactionism.
-- a panel organized by Linda Lai (City University of Hong Kong)
The panel consists of two paper presentations analyzing around 60 talking heads video shot between 2005 and 2009, initiated and supervised by Linda Lai. A group of video researchers and media studies students in aspects of visual ethnography, social interactionism, gender politics and globalization theory had been assigned to invite acquaintances to talk in front of a video camera for about 5 minutes. These talking heads fall into three categories: some were assigned a specific story to re-tell (the story of Cinderella), some were asked to tell a self-selected tale to the camera, and some for free, spontaneous talking. Improvisation was allowed in the field work, such as turning the talking event into a game, or ad hoc interviews.

The use of talking heads seems to have been a usual practice in mainstream documentaries and audiences are conditioned to view talking heads as pure vehicles for information that are transparent and neutral in showing the opinions of the subjects. The single use of talking heads in these collected video works, however, highlights these videos’ constructedness as cultural artefacts and the performative nature of the observed in the presence of the video camera. Both presentations will use the software NVivo to do video analysis.

Since the presentations need time to show the video, the panel consists of two paper presentations and one discussant.