Visual anthropology

 Winter Term 2014-2015

4 credits (8 ECTS) 
Lecturer: Vlad Naumescu
Course description

This course explores the ways in which the visual conveys and broadens ethnographic investigation. In a discipline dominated by words we came to think exclusively in terms of culture as text and ethnography as ‘writing culture’. Challenging anthropology's iconophobia the course proposes a different perspective focused on the role of vision and image in anthropological research. It takes the visual as both technique of representation and mode of knowing, looking at ways of seeing in particular cultural and historical contexts. The course maps the growing field of visual anthropology focusing on theoretical and practical aspects related to photography and film in social research. It exposes the different ways in which cultures can be represented visually and the cultural interpretations of visual representations. Ultimately, the course addresses critical issues in anthropology related to ethnographic evidence, knowledge production, reflexivity, ethics and aesthetics in processes of cultural representation.

The course starts with a definition of the field followed by a closer look at classic portrayals of 'exotic people' and the role of visual documentation in early anthropology. It moves on to discuss film, looking at visual conventions in fiction and documentary, genres, narrative and editing styles, issues of authorship and positioning in contemporary anthropological films. The last sessions explore the theoretical and methodological potential of new media, which has developed further into an array of exciting experiments. The course combines readings with film screenings and hands-on camera practice, aiming to balance practice and theory through substantial visual and theoretical input and students’ own production of a photo-essay or film.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of the course, students should a) demonstrate advanced knowledge of theory and methodology in visual anthropology b) have acquired knowledge of the history of visual documentation in social research c) improve their research skills by learning to use visual methods in social research d) identify and apply appropriate visual methods and theories in a visual project conducted during the course e) creatively combine visual and written forms in their final projects.

Course structure and assessment

This course requires your full interest, participation and creativity. We will have weekly meetings consisting of a brief introduction to the respective topic and readings followed by a film screening and discussion. Film screenings are an essential part of the class so you should be present, attentive and taking notes. All films are accompanied by additional material (film guides) that provide insights into the filmic process, authors’ choices and possible interpretations. Furthermore you can access many of these films on the online database Alexander Press Ethnographic Film Library available through CEU Library. Class discussions are intended to reflect on the specific topics based on films or film excerpts and weekly readings. Additionally we will have a series of workshops and masterclasses with invited guests which will be part of the class. 

For this course you are asked to keep a diary with weekly notes on films, class readings and the progress of your visual project. Diary entries can be uploaded weekly on the e-learning site or on your own blog created for this purpose, but at the end of the class you have to submit the whole diary for grading. For the final grade you have to post at least one entry describing your research project on the course blog. Your final project should be a photo essay (including 10-15 photographs and 1500 words), an multimedia installation or a short film (10 min.) accompanied by a one page synopsis. For the photo essay you have to choose a sociological topic and approach it through photographs and text following the theoretical and methodological issues discussed in class. For the film you have to explore the topic through photography first, then write a short  'script' and shoot the film. On week 4 you are required to submit a paragraph describing the topic of the project and your visual approach. Weeks 4-6 will be reserved for consultations and explorations of the chosen topic. Starting with week 7 we will have presentations of your ongoing projects. The filming should be done by week 10 to allow enough time for editing the film.

The final grade will reflect your participation in class (10%), the course diary (40%) and the photo essay or film (50%). The course blog offers a good overview of previous courses, resources and students’ projects: