Pooja Rangan (Amherst College)
Listening like an Abolitionist: Forensic Claims and Forums of Care
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Listening to testimonial claims in pursuit of oppressed truths is commonly understood as the highest ethical responsibility of justice-seeking documentary publics. My talk examines the formation of this consensus, as well as the carceral implications of the jurification of documentary audiences as adjudicators of state and corporate crimes. What happens, I ask, when documentary listening reifies the prison in our political and relational landscape—and what might it mean to approach it as a site of abolitionist struggle? I parse the tensions between these two listening modes (listening like a cop, listening like an abolitionist) in a prevailing model of documentary accountability that involves appropriating the forms of authority associated with forensic truth-claims to present “counterforensic” evidence of state and environmental violence in a range of legal and public forums. I focus on a collaboration between research agency Forensic Architecture and Chicago-based activist media organization The Invisible Institute in response to a racially motivated killing by Chicago police. My reading of The Killing of Harith Augustus pays attention to how this project surfaces its own internal tensions, doubling as a tribunal on the anti-Black violence of juridical listening and an experiment in cultivating an outlaw listenership of neighborly care.
Pooja Rangan is a scholar of documentary media based in Amherst College, where she is Associate Professor of English and Chair of Film and Media Studies. Rangan is the author of the award-winning book Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Duke UP 2017), and co-editor of the anthology Thinking with an Accent: Toward a New Object, Method, and Practice (UC Press 2023, now available in print and as a free open access ebook). Her new book-in-progress, The Documentary Audit, explores how listening has come to be equated, in documentary discourse, with accountability.