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Reading Rey Chow

Visuality, Postcoloniality, Ethnicity, Sexuality

Paul Bowman

This is the first book-length study of the groundbreaking work of Rey Chow, whose work has transformed the fields of postcolonialism, cultural studies, film, ethnicity and gender. It describes and explains the features and the breadth of Chow's interventions and illustrates Chow’s arguments by way of the analysis of a range of engaging examples drawn from the fields of film, popular music, identity and popular culture. Chow’s work is of interest and importance to anyone working on questions of international and transnational film; popular culture; postcolonialism; poststructuralism; and Chinese, Hong Kong and Asian identity in different national contexts; as well as sex, gender and ethnic politics in general. This book elaborates on and illustrates Chow’s fascinating contributions to scholarship and knowledge across many different fields by arguing that her work can best be understood in relation to the «projects» of cultural studies and postcolonial studies. In this way, the work sets out both the enduring importance of these wider projects and the importance of Rey Chow’s contributions to them.
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Chapter Five. Rey Chow’s Cultural Translation

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In the concluding chapter of Primitive Passions (1995), in a chapter entitled “Film as Ethnography,” Rey Chow asks the question of the relationships between ethnography and the complex matter of visual media representations. She asks this because by and large any serious consideration of the impact and implications of filmic, TV and other media representations have traditionally been excluded or subordinated in the conceptualization and construction of the classical anthropological ethnographic “scene.” The ethnographic scene is a scenario most commonly formulated as being a situation involving an ethnographer and a native subject (or group). The presence and role of all manner of media are not normally immediately considered in this scenario. Yet the contemporary world is, and has been for well over a century, saturated with media—and moreover with a range of mediated images that often claim to testify to some kind of insight into other cultures, in a quasi-anthropological way. There are also types of media text that seem to constitute, precipitate or otherwise relate to one or another kind of cross-cultural encounter, and so on. (I have written about this in Bowman 2010.) The documentary film is perhaps the exemplary contemporary form of media genre that has closest affinities with anthropology; just as the wide variety of texts that seem to represent “other cultures,” however falsely or fictitiously—such as action films, set in “exotic” locations—can be numbered among the media which may precipitate various forms of cross-cultural encounter. Both have, to a significant extent, superseded...

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