Birgit Breninger and Thomas Kaltenbacher published the results of a psycho-physiological experiment titled “Tracking the Diasporic Gaze” in Oxford’s Inter-Disciplinary Press collection of Diasporas (2009) which challenges Diaspora scholars to re-envision the perceptual metaphors that scholars translate Diasporas through. Breninger and Kaltenbacher ran with a hypothesis about the habituated patterns of cultural gazes measured by means of retina tracking technologies and a controlled spectrum of visual stimuli. Breninger and Kaltenbacher contend that mapping the observable differences in the viewing patterns of different cultural groups may unveil the process of “showing different seeing.” The test is self-conscious of the explicitly political questions it raises about the nature of diasporic identifications and the complex field of relations implied thereof – whether relations of nationality, race, or culture; political economy, class, or geopolitics; sexuality, gender, or feminism; embodiment, performativity or ableism.
“[T]he disruptiveness of the diasporic gazes” provides the impetus “for a thorough investigation of what seems to constitute and set apart a ‘traditional national’ gaze and in what ways the ‘diasporic gazes’ can be revealed to differ, and as the case may be supplement seeing.” The study attempts to deal with post-Enlightenment psychology’s ‘fossils in the closet,’ if you will. Given “the ‘multiple viewpoints’ of diasporic people” the study asks whether mapping diasporic gazes will reveal “hybrid, or better, palimpsest gazes which comprise at least two ‘national’ gazes” or manifest the complementary, contrapuntal effect thereby unveiling a picture of “cultural transfer and cultural fossilisation in diasporic subjects’ viewing processes (emphasis added)?”
The study utilizes a series concepts or presuppositions that derive from a cultural studies paradigm but tests them according to more positivist and observations of phenomena which more readily translate into metrics, variables, and data sets . The test uses red eye tracking technology to monitor only “directed eye movement,” or patterns wherein “subjects’ eyes followed the structure of the image, governed by cultural relations.”
Images are understood as semantic webs of cultural nodes, varying in terms of intensity, fixation, familiarity, and aesthetic desirousness. The test thus measures a gaze according to certain basic habituated or socialized patterns engrained within perceptual behaviorisms. In writing of their methodology “[f]or reading eye movements,” Breninger & Kaltenbacher contend that “the duration of all fixations (= gaze duration) on a word may show whether subjects are familiar with a word and whether it is unknown, uncommon or not frequently used.” Thus, the relationship between the gaze of the subject of study and the subjects supposed level of knowledge about an object are mapped onto one another, although often producing many data points that defy researchers lustful invitations culling explanations to emerge from their opaque positionings.
Ultimately the test only proved that its gaze was smaller than the image it laid its eyes upon. The researchers admit the uncertain, incomplete and open-ended nature of the experiments initial findings: “Further research will be needed in order to compare and interpret the ‘otherness’ and read the multiplicity of hybrid gazes and its possible potential, which could neither have been proven nor made visible in this study.” Breninger and Kaltenbacher live to see the gaze another day, from a different position, a larger scale, and with more eyes looking back, but also with more possibilities of experiencing dispersed points of blindingly beautiful Blackness.