Legitimacy and legitimation—the sociocultural construct and its attendant socio-political process—occupy a central position in everyday life. We all want to be taken seriously, even when we want to be taken amusedly. For the past couple of months I’ve been in a small South Carolina town working on a documentary series about Irish Travelers in the United States. Integral to the local cultural “ethos” is the notion of “authenticity”—acting and speaking such that fellow Travelers take one seriously, perceive, and treat one as a “real” Traveler. This aspect of the Traveler ethos differs only in form from the cultural structures that impinge on—shape and get shaped by—the goings-on in other cultures, arguably in every other culture. Capturing and re-rendering on film the ways of “Authentic Travelers” constitutes my principal mission as an ethnographic filmmaker charged with the task of producing a mainstream media “truth movie” about Travelers here in South Carolina.
Simultaneously, I am working with colleagues at Louisiana State University (LSU-Baton Rouge) to elevate the “legitimacy factor” of ethnographic filmmaking more generally. Day in and day out, we find ourselves facing many of the same challenges elucidated in the compelling book Social Knowledge in the Making, the recently released edited volume we mention in this issue of re/search. With regard to the place of “all things visual” in the social sciences, these are indeed fortuitous times. Never before has The Image played such a vital role in the public sphere or figured so heavily into the actual doing of social science. SSRC’s ongoing collaboration with the Video Ethnography Laboratory at LSU is beginning to bear the fruit of legitimacy. Our slate of endeavors, present and planned, includes cross-institutional and multi-disciplinary ethnographic film working groups, an ethnographic documentary film festival, and a variety of ethnographic video “publishing” initiatives. With respect to the latter, we’re tinkering with all sorts of alternative academic legitimation mechanisms, including the kind of crowdsourcing of peer review described in this issue’s first article.