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Documentary’s Listening Ear

Committee for Film Studies and the Humanities Council’s David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project Amherst College

April 30, 2018 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 010 East Pyne

On Monday, April 30, the Committee for Film Studies will host the final lecture in its seven-part, year-long Thinking Cinema series, which structures vibrant encounters between leading film scholars and the Princeton community. Pooja Rangan, Amherst College, will deliver the talk.


In the field of documentary, voice, rather than point of view, is the prevailing metaphor for a film’s unique perspective, signaling the documentary genre’s textual emphasis on spoken words, as well as its social ethic of “giving voice.” Pooja Rangan’s talk will unpack the humanism of this metaphor, as elaborated in her book Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Duke UP 2017). Drawing on recent work in auditory cultural studies, Rangan introduces a number of terms that move away from how documentaries speak to questions of how they listen, including audit and audibility. If “voice” signals or indexes the human, then how do the documentary conventions of “giving a voice” distribute, calibrate, and audit what counts as human in the domain of sound? How do documentary practices of performing, recording, and editing the spoken word respond to and shape conditions of audibility that not only teach us how to speak but how to listen and what to listen for? Rangan brings an intersectional ear to these questions. Her talk places documentary depictions of autistic protagonists and call center agents in conversation, listening for resonances among disability and postcoloniality that attune us to the unspoken auditory norms that mediate the production and reception of documentary voices.


Pooja Rangan is Assistant Professor of English in Film and Media Studies at Amherst College, and the author of Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Duke UP 2017), a book that examines the humanitarian ethic of “giving a voice to the voiceless” in contemporary participatory media interventions. Rangan’s current research focuses on the medial politics and aesthetics of accented speech and listening. Publications related to this research include a special issue of the journal Discourse on “Documentary Audibilities,” co-edited with Genevieve Yue, and two essays on racialized voicing and auditory discrimination in the forthcoming anthologies Sound Objects (Duke UP, co-edited by Rey Chow and James Steintrager) and Vocal Projections: The Voice in Documentary Film (Bloomsbury Academic, co-edited by Maria Pramaggiore and Annabelle Honess Roe). Rangan has published on topics such as seriousness in documentary, postcoloniality and racism, feminist experimental cinema, and documentary humanitarianism in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Film QuarterlyCamera ObscuraFeminist Media HistoriesWorld Picturedifferences, and The Oxford Handbook of Postcolonial Studies. She also serves as President of the Board of Trustees for the Flaherty Film Seminar.

Sponsored by the Committee for Film Studies and the Humanities Council’s David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project

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