BASS Sociology and Philosophy

Year of entry: 2024

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 will examine some of the main features of a complex relationship between documentary filmmaking 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 will do 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 will give students the opportunity to explore the reciprocal influences between the practices and theoretical preoccupations of film and anthropology. They will come to understand how styles of filming 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


The aim of this course is to examine the relationship between ethnographic documentary film and anthropology, with a strong regional focus on Europe and North America, through a systematic examination of the history of documentary film-making practices since the beginning of the twentieth century. The course will concentrate primarily on documentary film work that has emerged in some way in dialogue with anthropology as an academic discipline, even if appealing at the same time to wider audiences.

Learning outcomes

Students will become familiar with the main colonial and postcolonial debates surrounding the use of film for anthropological purposes:

  • By watching a range of classic films and reading key critical texts, students will be able to assess critically the limits and possibilities of creating ethnographic attention through film medium
  • They will learn how to depict and recognise different styles of ethnographic filmmaking while watching films
  • Learn to identify the relationship between different cinematographic styles and technics with various epistemologies
  • They will understand what is at stake in the kinds of power relations involved in the practice of representing others in film
  • Students will become aware of the social political conditions surrounding the production of images in research and as ethnographic representation.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, film screenings, discussion sessions and student presentations. 

Tutorials (seminars): During tutorials, students will discuss specific questions related to the films and to the readings with their group peers, posted in the Tutorial tab (UG or PG). This will be followed by an open discussion with the whole class. You are expected to come to tutorials having attended the lecture when face to face or worked through the Lecture Unit page (watched the films and done the key readings).

Assessment methods

4000 word Final Essay - 100%.

Feedback methods

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

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
Angela Torresan Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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