BASS Sociology and Criminology / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Screening Culture

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOAN30791
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course examines some of the main features of a complex relationship between documentary film-making and anthropology, giving special attention to questions of representation, truth, veracity, realism and reality, images of the Other and reflexivity, colonial relations of power, and ethnographic narrative. It does so by tracing the historical development of various documentary styles through the works of particular authors on a week-by-week basis. This mode of presentation gives students the opportunity to explore the reciprocal influences between the practices and theoretical preoccupations of film and anthropology. They come to understand how styles of filmmaking and cinematographic language relate to different ways of representing the lived world: they reflect the questions and conventions of a certain period while undergoing non-linear changes over time.


Pre-req: Second year students may take the course but must achieve an average of 65%+ in the first year


Visuality and vision are very broad ideas and have been the subject of various kinds of analysis. In anthropology we can speak of visual culture, culturally embedded images and visions produced by different groups of people. This course will focus on one specific form of such production: that of documentary film-making as it relates to anthropology. More systematically, it will examine the ways in which anthropologists have been attempting, throughout the last century, to use moving images in order to create, document, and convey the knowledge they gain in relationships with other people. 

Learning outcomes

Students will become familiar with the main debates surrounding documentary film and its relation to anthropology. They will have read the key critical texts relating to the genre; they will have seen a range of classic films; and, through discussion and analysis, they will have addressed issues concerning truth, authenticity, creativity and the subjective as they relate to visual representation.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, film screenings, discussion sessions and student presentations. 

Assessment methods

4000 word Final Essay - 100%.

Feedback methods

Students receive electronic, personalised feedback on their assessed work and on the film review presentations.

Recommended reading


Crawford, Peter and David Turton, eds. (1992). Film as Ethnography. Manchester University Press.

Grimshaw, Anna and Ravetz, Amanda (2009) Observational Cinema. Indiana University Press.

Henley, Paul (2009) The Adventure of the Real: Jean Rouch and the craft of ethnographic cinema. University of Chicago Press.

Hockings, Paul ed. (2003) Principles of Visual Anthropology. Mouton de Gruyter.

MacDonald, Scott (2013) American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary: The Cambridge Turn. University of California Press.

Ruby, Jay (2000) Picturing Culture: explorations in film and anthropology. University of Chicago Press.

Suhr, Christian and Willerslev, Rane eds. (2013) Transcultural Montage. Berghahn.

Taylor, Lucien, ed.(1994) Visualizing Theory: Selected Essays from V.A.R. 1990-1994 Routledge.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 30
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Alexandra D'Onofrio Unit coordinator

Additional notes



Return to course details