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Is there a “respectful” way to film vulnerable populations? Can we report on subjects without tacking onto them our own prejudices and assumptions? In this section we civically engage at an individual level towards culturally and socially different environments and people to share knowledge and experiences. In doing so, we raise issues such as our own position of power as observers upon these populations and find ways to overcome them through communication and exchange.

Food Without Borders

Food without Borders is a collaborative ethnographic film project involving Maurice Ravel Junior High School (a public school in Paris’ twentieth district), Filmmakers Without Borders (an international non-profit), and the American University of Paris. 

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Through a series of interactive workshops carried out in the fall 2017, AUP Professor Christy Shields, MAGC graduate student Beth Grannis, and a team of AUP graduate and undergraduate students worked with a unique 6th grade class and their teachers to produce a class film that explores the interrelationship between food, the senses, memory and identity.  By transmitting a series of anthropological perspectives and filmmaking techniques, the AUP team strove to use food and film as vehicles for collective reflection, individual empowerment and community building.  See “The Making Of” (10 mins.) above, which outlines the process of this participatory media endeavor. 

Explore the full project, including the class’ final ethnographic food film

Pass the Tech

Pass the Tech aims to send 100 used and refurbished laptops to Mombasa each fall, so that the program’s students have laptops for their university studies.

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Pass the Tech was born in a Development Communications class at AUP. The students took on an assignment where they collected used laptops and sent them to Hatua Likoni, an NGO in Mombasa, Kenya, which follows and supports students from secondary school to university. Afterwards, they were challenged to create an organization that would ensure the sustainability of their efforts. In its current iteration, Pass the Tech aims to send 100 used and refurbished laptops to Mombasa each fall, so that the program’s students have laptops for their university studies. Take a look at the video below titled "Kenya's Digital Divide: Empowering Mombasa's Youth" through which you get to experience first-hand the impact of this student-faculty collaboration. 

Read More about Pass the Tech

Obruni: Black Expats in Ghana by Sarah Mahgoub

Exploring the theme of “African Roots Tourism”, this short ethnographic documentary follows two American young women expats trying to integrate during a year abroad in Ghana.

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During ten days in the spring 2017, I followed Lina Salam and Sydni Kynard around as they experienced their daily lives while living in Accra, the capital of Ghana. I wanted to understand how they were perceived by the locals, and how they perceived themselves as outsiders in a place they felt they belonged to. In the case of Lina and Sydni, I wished to explore the experience of Black individuals (specifically those of lighter complexion) who do not get to be considered as Black or African “enough”. This lead me to question the importance for the local community to categorize these expats in a way that did not necessarily fit with their expectations. Through my interviews with Ghanaians, I understood that these categories referred much less to race than ethnicity and social class.

Ghana has been seen by the African and Black community as the “mecca of Africa” due to its history of being the first emancipated African country from colonization by the British in 1957, and due to its initiatives to be the “United States of West Africa” by Kwame Nkrumah (lead in 1960-1966 as first president of the Republic). Known previously during colonization as the Gold Coast, the country’s Pan African movement was fathered by Nkrumah, a man who befriended WEB du Bois, Martin Luther King and various other significant African American figures whom he met and even welcomed to Ghana. He is known to have said that “peoples of African descent” were African and “belonged to the African nation”. His position has inspired many Black expats in Ghana who have an Afrocentric perspective and, like the two young women I followed, seek to discover their African roots. Lina Salam and Sydni Kynard explained how they resented being labelled as foreigners by being called “Obruni”, and were not given credit or respected enough for their “Africanness”. Lina, especially, shares her background growing up in the U.S, and explains how she struggled to know herself fully due to her multiple identities as an African and as a Black American.

By following these girls and beginning to de-construct their lives in Ghana, I explored the relations and power dynamics between foreigners and Ghanaians, shaped by the shifting and blurry contours of the notion of “Africanness”. As my friends were not exactly perceived as being “African”, I found myself asking, what does it mean to belong to a group when you belong to the African diaspora? What of those with no knowledge of their exact ancestral roots due to the erasure by the colonizers? Where do these people belong and if they really can never know, can they “choose”?

Of Paris

Encouraging students to consider their engagement with the cultural opportunities available in contemporary Paris.

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As part of Professor Russell Williams’ class 'Production, Translation, Creation, Publication' (CL3020), students are pushed to consider their engagement with the cultural opportunities available in contemporary Paris. In addition to discussing various theoretical approaches, and welcoming significant individuals from the Paris culture industry to share their perspective with the class, students undertake a range of written assignments where they explore and analyses their own experiences. Professor Williams and his students have collaborated on Of Paris, a website which aims to provide an innovative and informed panorama of life around the city. Of Paris hosts reviews, features, interviews and creative work as well an interactive, digital map of cultural experiences. The website, created with the support of the Civic Media Lab, was launched at a panel discussion including Alice Pfeiffer (editor-at-large, Antidote Magazine) and Hannah Westley (Global Communications).

Learn more on the Of Paris website

Bizü: Making Distant Connections

A social platform meant to encourage meaningful dialogue from vastly different worldviews.

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Inspired by our Parisian cosmopolitan environment and our academic research on ideas of digital utopias and the virtual cosmopolitanism, Bizü has sought to create an international digital community that reduces extreme behavior. Bizü is about “making distant introductions”. It is a digital space where cultures are shared and learned – where people of all walks of life can interact and learn from one another. It is the cultural epicenter where people and life can occur.

We’ve started photographing individuals all over Paris who wanted to make an introduction with someone of a different cultural value or belief, which we shared with the #Bizu. It is an ongoing campaign where we have thus far photographed 10 individuals and shared the photos via social media, and thus generated over 826 likes, and increased overall engagement. So far, our photo campaign has reached 33,085 people.

In order to simulate our Bizü group chat functionality that we hope to develop in the application, we also held a focus group that we framed as an International Meet and Greet. The incredibly successful event was held at a local café where we were able to include 23 participants. The participant pool was incredibly diverse and representative of the Paris cosmopolitan. Our participants were from England, France, the United States, Iran, Mexico, Turkey, Lebanon, China, Austria, Ecuador, and the Philippines.

Read more about the Bizü project (pdf)