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2022-2023 Colloquium Series

The Tourism Studies Working Group is pleased to present

Selfies in Auschwitz:
Civil Religious Pilgrimage and the Challenges of the Digital Age

Jackie Feldman
Professor of Anthropology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Head of the Rabb Center for Holocaust Studies

Friday, November 18, 5PM-7PM PST

Hybrid Presentation
In Person: Gifford Room, 221 Anthropology and Art Practice Bldg.
University of California, Berkeley

Also hosted on Zoom: join here
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The proliferation of digital media poses challenges to pilgrimage in general, and civil religious pilgrimage in particular, as a means of fostering social solidarity and moral education. The spread of representations on digital channels and the omnipresence of the cellphone and its camera incur three major changes: 1. Traditions become detached from moorings in particular locales. 2. The greater capacity for interactivity bypasses the gatekeepers of knowledge and memory, and challenges the authority of educational and memorial institutions. 3. The mediation of tradition becomes detached from personal face-to-face interaction.

I will explore these processes by examining the effect of the digital on visits to Auschwitz, in particular the photographing and diffusion of selfies. While some see them as an engaged form of witnessing, other denounce them as a narcissistic violation of the dead. I analyze the taking, composition, and circulation of several of the most popular selfies of Auschwitz and the online reactions to them. The practice of selfies marks a shift from witness to 'witnessee' and from on-site to online presence. Yet it also builds on previous touring practices: photography, postcards and souvenirs, the affordances of the architecture of the memorial site, the bodily presence of the survivor-witness in situ as mediator of the Holocaust, and the redemptive value assigned to the physical presence of the visitor as 'witness of the witness'.

Through this example, I hope to provoke a wider discussion on the interactions of digital media, memory and 'serious' tourism.

Jackie Feldman is a full professor of anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and head of the Rabb Center for Holocaust Studies. His research interests are pilgrimage and tourism, anthropology of religion, Holocaust memory, ethnographic writing, heritagization and comparative study of museums. In addition to numerous articles in scholarly journals, he has published two books: Above the Death-pits, beneath the Flag: Youth Voyages to Holocaust Poland and the Performance of Israeli National Identity (Berghahn, 2008), and A Jewish Guide in the Holy Land: How Christian Pilgrims Made Me Israeli (University of Indiana, 2016). His current research project, funded by the Israel Science Foundation is "Memorial, museum, smartphone: Transmitting Holocaust memory in a digital generation". This research examines how structures of authority, place memory, and social solidarities change as a result of widespread digital technologies and social media.

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