MA Visual Anthropology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course description

The Visual Anthropology course gives real practical hands on applications of theory.

It¿s one thing to read and write but a whole other to go out into the field, research, and bring back tangible material.

Aaron Robinson / MA Visual Anthropology student
The MA in Visual Anthropology course is tailored to meet the needs of different levels of anthropological and film-making experience, whether you have little or no background in formal anthropology, film-production, visual methods and photography, or if you have substantial experience in one or more of these areas.

For nearly 30 years, the University's Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology has been widely recognised as the world's leading centre for visual anthropology. Our graduates have produced more than 400 ethnographic films seen around the world and it is now at the forefront of the emergent dialogue between art and anthropology, including sensory ethnography and sound, experimental and practice-based methods, photographic and digital media, museum and gallery installations.

Our MA and MPhil courses combine anthropology with training in film-making and editing, visual methods, photography sensory ethnography and sound. You are provided with professional equipment and supported by internationally renowned staff comprising the largest visual anthropology faculty in Europe.

The Granada Centre's teaching and research continues to set the standard of excellence in the social sciences as well as arts. This was formally recognised by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council), and by the AHRC, awarding the master's course the status of a professional preparation masters, something awarded to no other visual anthropology course in the UK.

Special features

As a course that teaches anthropology and practice-based film and media skills, you should be aware that the MA Visual Anthropology course is highly intensive and runs over 13 months rather than the standard 12 months.  

It extends beyond the conventional 12 months because of the additional time required for completing the audio-visual work. Editing the final film and media work takes place in September and final dissertation submission date is at the beginning of October. If you need to complete the course within a 12-month period, you can apply beforehand, so that appropriate arrangements can be put in place.  

Graduation Exhibition and Film Screenings are held mid-October and are organised by the students themselves. These are not a compulsory part of the course, but they have become a traditional rite of passage and opportunity to show work to the public, friends and family.  

Manchester is a creative, dynamic and cosmopolitan city noted for its music scene, media links and industrial past. Studying in Manchester means that you get to access all that a major city offers, yet the cost of living and accommodation are affordable. It is consistently shown to be one of the cheapest places in the UK for students to live.

Teaching and learning

The course combines conventional lectures and seminars with practical 'hands-on' instruction and workshops. Students work in teams and individually.

Your final piece of work is an individual production, however, throughout the year you will spend time working in teams in order to develop team-working and presentational skills. Work is presented to the class and receives feedback from fellow students as well as instructors.

In this way, you learn to analyse your own and others works and through each other's successes and failures, generating a strong range of intellectual, practical and aesthetic resources as well as a sense of camaraderie and cooperation.

Coursework and assessment

During both semesters, you take:

  • 1 x 30-credit unit; or
  • 2 x 15 credit practical film or media courses; and
  • 2 x 15-credit lecture or seminar-based units on more theoretical, methodological or substantive ethnographic topics;
  • the latter are each assessed by means of a 4000-word essay;

The practical units are assessed by various combinations of a portfolio of project work and an accompanying written text.

Course content for year 1

First semester    

Ethnographic Documentary (30 credits)

Practical film-making, directing, camera work and editing: working in teams all students make 3 short films (1) a social or technical process film, (2) a testimony film, and (3) an event film. Compulsory Course.  

Screening Culture (15 credits)    

Weekly lectures and film screenings on the place of film in anthropology and the theory and history of ethnographic film and film-making. Core Course.  

Anthropology of Vision, Memory and the Senses (15 credits)   

Weekly lectures, screenings and workshops, on the anthropology of the senses and memory. Core Course.  

Or, Key Approaches to Anthropology (15 credits)    

A foundation module on Social Anthropology for those without anthropological background.   

Second semester   

Beyond Observational Cinema (30 credits)    

Further film training delivered through lectures and practical workshops. Compulsory Course.  

Documentary and Sensory Media  (15 credits)    

Practice as Research, delivered through lectures, practical workshops and field trips. Compulsory Course.   

Images, Texts, Fieldwork (15 Credits)

Practical research course in urban anthropology that explores traditional and experiential approaches and methods to anthropological research. Compulsory Course.

Course unit details

Semester one involves:
  • intensive practical training in film-making and ethnographic documentary;
  • courses on visual and sensory perception;
  • theories and history of anthropological and ethnographic films; and
  • the anthropology of sound;
  • students with little or no anthropological background will also take introductory courses in anthropology where necessary.

In semester two, you will engage in:

  • alternative modes of ethnographic film-making;
  • courses and workshops in photography, sensory ethnography and sound recording and other art based and experimental forms;
  • anthropological and ethnographic methods in preparation of students' summer research projects.

Throughout the year, screenings and additional workshops are conducted by visiting professionals, including film-makers, photographers and sound recordists.

Over the summer, you will engage in an original piece of ethnographic and anthropological research. The potential for research projects is wide-ranging, both in terms of location and theme, and in any one year may focus on diverse subjects, such as:

  • burlesque dancing in the UK;
  • education in China;
  • Balkan music;
  • Brazilian favelas;
  • Palestinian identity;
  • US summer camps;
  • gay cruising in Manchester;
  • life in Latin American prisons;
  • migration across the Sahara;
  • Congolese fashion; and
  • East African nomads.

We actively welcome Manchester based projects and recent projects include The Manchester Library, post-industrial ruins, and Manchester canals, female prisoners, green spaces and the Manchester music scene.

There are a number of formats in that students may make a 25-30 minute documentary or may choose to combine film with other forms of media and representation, such as photography, a gallery installation or sound and multimedia pieces. The high standard of the MA summer projects is attested to by the number of domestic and international prizes and awards they receive.

Course unit list

The course unit details given below are subject to change, and are the latest example of the curriculum available on this course of study.

TitleCodeCredit ratingMandatory/optional
Elemental Media: Documentary and Sensory Practice SOAN60992 15 Mandatory
Ethnographic Documentary SOAN70121 30 Mandatory
Beyond Observational Cinema SOAN70142 30 Mandatory
Images, Text, Fieldwork SOAN70452 15 Mandatory
Anthropology of Vision, Senses and Memory SOAN70591 15 Mandatory
Screening Culture SOAN70771 15 Mandatory
Beyond Observational Cinema SOAN70142 30 Optional
Beyond Observational Cinema SOAN70143 15 Optional
Key Approaches in Social Anthropology SOAN70811 15 Optional

Disability support

Practical support and advice for current students and applicants is available from the Disability Advisory and Support Service. Email: