The Fear of the Visual? Photography, Anthropology, and Anxieties of Seeing
Sasanka Perera
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

Photography had played a central role in the emergence of anthropology as a discipline in the late colonial period. Despite this, why is it that photography is not taken seriously in contemporary mainstream social anthropology and sociology in South Asia—and, to a great extent, in the rest of the world—as a possible way of conducting research or as an object of research?

The Fear of the Visual? explores this question through a study of the histories of anthropology / sociology and photography. The author studies past and present practices of photography – including contemporary practices such as the 'selfie', and the framing of social / familial events such as wedding photography – and possibilities with regard to theorising the visual.

He also tries to understand the ‘intellectual rupture’ that led to the visual being removed from mainstream sociology / social anthropology to the separate fields of visual sociology and visual anthropology.

This book is as personal as it is academic. The author opens each chapter with personal recollections, choosing to not separate the two domains that have impacted each other in important ways. Central to these personal narratives and the academic discussions that follow are photographs, which form a core part of the argument.

Sasanka Perera is Professor of Sociology at South Asian University, New Delhi and Editor, Society and Culture in South Asia. He is the author of Warzone Tourism in Sri Lanka: Tales from Darker Places in Paradise (2016), Violence and the Burden of Memory: Remembrance and Erasure in Sinhala Consciousness (2015), and Artists Remember and Artists Narrate: Memory and Representation in Sri Lankan Visual Arts (2012).

List of Tables and Images
Preface and Acknowledgements

1. Introduction
From Recollections of Biography to Initial Thoughts on Photography

2. Imperial Power, Colonial Image-making and Photography

3. The Shadows of Two Histories
Anthropology and Photography

4. ‘Selfies’ and the Meanings of the Self

5. Framing and Performing Intimacy
An Incomplete Social History of Wedding Photographs

6. Why Visual Anthropology and Visual Sociology

7. Photography, Research, and the Liminality of Ethics in Contemporary Times

8. Photography as a ‘Fleeting, Casual and Unthinking’ Practice

9. Fear of the Visual?
Power of ‘Writing’ in Anthropology and the Eclipse of Photography


1. New way of seeing: Anthropology and the visual |, 14 November 2020.
2. Strike a pose and click to see the family wedding album | The Hindu, Chennai, 20 September 2020.
3. Why old black-and-white wedding photos lack smiling couples |, 29 August, 2020.
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