Berkeley Film & Media Seminar

Pooja Rangan

Berkeley Film and Media Series Presents Pooja Rangan

Thu, Mar 09, 2023, 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm

142 Dwinelle

Pooja Rangan

Listening with an Accent: The Documentary Audit as Raciolinguistic Pedagogy

This talk explores the role of documentary forms in cultivating “neutral” listening habits that justify linguistic profiling and discrimination, and their capacity to engage audiences in listening with an accent, or listening with a relational awareness of one’s embodied social vantage. To that end, I offer a history, a method drawn from my co-edited anthology Thinking with an Accent (UC Press 2023), and an illustration of that method in practice. Early sound documentaries by the British GPO Film Unit were instrumental in shaping the “objective” listening vantage that has become the habitualized locus of documentary listening, or what I call the documentary audit. Pioneers of the neutral commentator voice, these films exported a supralocal accent as a national-imperial norm and gave audiovisual form to raciolinguistic ideals. I trace the postcolonial resonances of the documentary audit in the evidentiary logic of forensic speech analysis through an engagement with works by artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan. Abu Hamdan’s investigations of the linguistic profiling of asylum seekers by UK immigration authorities are both diagnostic and propositional: they show how documentary forms and comportments are complicit in listening for an accent, and simultaneously cultivate a perceptual and interpretive mode that does not listen for so much as with an awareness of the place from which one has been taught to listen.

Pooja Rangan is a scholar of documentary media based in Amherst College, where she is Associate Professor of English and Chair of Film and Media Studies. Rangan is the author of the award-winning book Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Duke UP 2017), and co-editor of the anthology Thinking with an Accent: Toward a New Object, Method, and Practice (UC Press 2023, now available in print and as a free open access ebook). Her new book-in-progress, The Documentary Audit, explores how listening has come to be equated, in documentary discourse, with accountability.

This event is free and open to the public