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Profile: Gilda Sheppard

I saw a great speaker today, Gilda Sheppard. She’s a sociologist who has worked with refugees in Ghana and street youth in Tacoma, WA (she teaches at the Evergreen College, Tacoma branch, which I didn’t know there was until today). She discussed and showed a film about her work in Ghana, and the organization that was formed there “Women Together as One.” Her main role in the organization was organizer and instigator for the idea, but otherwise in was the Liberian refugee women Sheppard worked with in Ghana that really made the organization exist and work.

The way Sheppard spoke of her work made me feel like I was at a story-telling or poetry recital, or even a gospel church, the way her cadence and voice moved around the words and her body seemed to follow. It was very inspiring for me to see someone using film to inspire repressed people, both in Ghana and here, to take action for themselves, and to use that footage to inspire us as well.

autism · cognition · language · psychology · youtube

Power of communication: "In My Language"

This video, which I found on the blog neuroanthropology, was created by a woman who is severely autistic. The first three minutes show the woman interacting with her environment, and then the woman, through typing on the computer, provides a translation of what she describes as her native language. She is severely critical of people who do not understand and appreciate how she views the world and who call her non-communicative.

This video is fascinating to me on so many levels (warning: possible spoilers). Watching her behavior from a psychologists’ standpoint is interesting with observing her self-stimulating behavior and how her mind is processing all this. But it also from a visual anthropology perspective. She chose to include these specific examples of her language in the movie, and even though she explicitly says they do not symbolize anything in particular, I wonder why these were chosen. Why did she choose to use a visual format to explain herself? Was this video made originally for Youtube, or some other audience? There is obvious editing, and not so much a storyline but definite parts to the movie. How did she decide on this structure, and who helped her, if anyone? Did anyone else film her (from what I can tell I don’t think so). How was she aided in this project? She gives credits at the end of her film, but they’re all thanks as opposed to assigned jobs.

From a communication studies and linguistics perspective, she’s challenging the definition of language. She argues that she has a discourse (several, actually) with her environment, with the objects in her house; they even get a credit at the end of the film. She also uses the “dominant language,” as she describes it, to explain herself and language and berate those who do not appreciate hers for what it is.

She also points out that most of us would probably not look at her on the street, or deliberately look away, which is absolutely correct, which makes a great statement about humans’ fear of the different, “disabled,” and unknown.
(end spoilers)

So a really interesting video on many levels, and I’m sorry my visual anthropology class is essentially over this quarter because I think it’d be great to show to the class and have them discuss it.