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Visual Anthropology

ANT390, Winter 2016, Wednesdays, 10:10 - noon

Dr. Eugenia Kisin

Jackman Humanities Institute
170 St. George Street, office 1004 (10th floor) | 416-978-8731
Office hours: Mondays, 10 a.m 1 p.m, or by appointment

Visual anthropology is a sub-field of anthropology that is committed to the analysis and production
of visual culture. Such commitments call attention to the politics and poetics of representation, and
to the inadequacy of words for representing and interpreting cultural practices. Yet visual
anthropologys traffic with the real is far from straightforward; its histories and practices weave
between documentary genres of cinema, experimental media worlds, and broader disciplinary
debates around ethics and social action. In this course, we will interrogate visual anthropology as a
practice, exploring a range of visual ethnographic approaches to documenting culture in order to
arrive at an understanding of the sub-fields formation and the kinds of anthropological questions it
can ask. We will start with a history of ethnographic film and video in relation to contemporary
questions around representation, asking how different means of showingvisual styles,
technologies, and social relations of productionwork together to generate meaning for various
publics. In the later part of the course, we will analyze a range of visual ethnographic materials
beyond film toward a consideration of the potential of multi-media methods for innovative and
socially engaged ethnographic research.


All films will be screened in class, and will also be on reserve at Media Commons. You will be
expected to refer to visual materials as well as readings in your assignments; we will go over
good active viewing practices in the first class, and work out some strategies for effective note
taking during screenings. Hard copies of all written assignments are due at the beginning of class.
Late work will not be accepted.

Ethnographic film response 20%, due February 10th

Write a short (500 word) response one of the films we have watched in class so far. Be sure to cite
specific scenes, and also refer to class lectures and readings.

Media curation project 20%, due March 9th

Using the format on In Media Res ( as a guide, pair
an audio-visual clip with a 500-word Curators Note and post it to Tumblr (specific instructions
will follow).

Showing seeing group presentation 20%, March 23rd

In small groups, you will do a 15-minute presentation that responds to a very open prompt: show
seeing. You may choose to bring in objects for a show-and-tell format, screen audio-visual media,
create a performance, or do/make/show in any other format.

Final project 35%, due April 6th and Proposal 5%, due February 24th

For your final project, you may either a) write a 3000-word research paper on a topic related to
visual anthropology, or b) make an audio-visual document accompanied by both a shorter piece of
writing (max. 1000 words) summarizing your intentions and some reflections on the process of
making your visual anthropological product. More details will follow.

You must let me know in your proposal which option you are choosing (i.e. no deciding to make a
video on Vine at ten p.m. the night before your project is due). Please list a minimum of four
scholarly sources that you plan to consult; these should connect obviously to your project. If you
choose the audio-visual option, please give me some information about intended format and how
you will get it to me (e.g. on DVD, providing a Vimeo link in an email, etc).


I expect that you are familiar with how to properly paraphrase and summarize from sources, and
how to correctly acknowledge material using footnotes, quotation marks, and bibliographic entries.
It is also expected that you are familiar with what constitutes an academic offence under the
Universitys Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, which includes plagiarism, submitting purchased
material, providing unauthorized assistance to friends, and use of unauthorized aids during tests. If
you are not familiar with these rules, or need a reminder, check these resources. I am available to
you at any time during office hours for help with assignments. You can also get help through your
college Writing Centre and the Academic Success Centre.

Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have
a disability/health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me
and/or Accessibility Services at (416) 978 8060;


January 13: Introduction

January 20: Ethnographic romanticism

Nanook of the North (1922), 79 min. Robert J. Flaherty

Fatimah Tobing Rony, Taxidermy and Romantic Ethnography: Robert Flahertys Nanook of the
North (1996), in The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle (Duke University Press), pp.

Faye Ginsburg, Institutionalizing the Unruly: Charting a Future for Visual Anthropology (1998),
Ethnos 63(2): 173-201.

Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Taylor, selections from Cross-Cultural Filmmaking: A Handbook for Making
Documentary and Ethnographic Films and Videos (1997, University of California Press)

January 27: Science and art
Bathing Babies in Three Cultures (1951), 9 min. and Trance and Dance in Bali (1951), 22 min. Margaret
Mead and Gregory Bateson.

For Gods sake, Margaret Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson in conversation.

Ira Jacknis, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson in Bali: Their Use of Photography and Film
(1988) Cultural Anthropology 3(2): 160-177.

Faye Ginsburg, Now Watch this Very Carefully The Ironies and Afterlife of Margaret Meads
Visual Anthropology (2003), The Scholar and Feminist Online 1(2), electronic resource.

Lucien Taylor, Iconophobia: How Anthropology Lost It at the Movies (1996), Transition 69: 64-88.

February 3: Histories of violence

The Ax Fight (1975), 30 min. Timothy Asch and Napoleon Chagnon.

Documentary Educational Resources Ax Fight Study Guide.

Dan Marks, Ethnography and Ethnographic Film: from Flaherty to Asch and after (1996),
American Anthropologist 97(2): 339-347.

Clifford Geertz, Life Among the Anthros, February 8, 2001, New York Review of Books.

February 10: Cin-ethnography

Chronicle of a Summer (1961), 90 min. Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch.

Edgar Morin, Chronicle of a Film (2003), in Cine-ethnography, pp. 229-265, ed. and trans. Steven
Feld. University of Minnesota Press.

Jean Rouch, The Camera and Man, (1973), available online at

February 17: Class cancelled for reading week.

February 24: Ecstatic ethography

Les Matres fous (1955), 29 min. Jean Rouch.
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), 16 min. Maya Deren and Alexander Hamid.

Catherine Russell, Ecstatic Ethnography: Filming Possession Rituals (1999), in Experimental
Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video, pp. 192-237.

March 2: Sensory ethnography

Leviathan (2013), 87 min. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Vrna Paravel

David MacDougall, The Body in Cinema (2005), in The Corporeal Body: Film, Ethnography, and the
Senses. Princeton University Press.

Lisa Stevenson and Eduardo Kohn, Leviathan: an Ethnographic Dream (2015), Visual
Anthropology Review 31(1): 49-53.

March 9: Shooting back

Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1990), 19 min. Tracey Moffatt.
Savage (2009), 7 min. Lisa Jackson.

Terence Turner, Representation, Politics, and Cultural Imagination in Indigenous Video (2002), in
Media Worlds, ed. F. Ginsburg, L. Abu-Lughod, and B. Larkin. (Berkeley: U of Califonia Press).

Laleen Jayamanne, Love Me Tender, Love Me True, Never Let Me Go: A Sri Lankan Reading of
Night Cries (1992), Framework 38: 87-94.

Geoffrey Carr, Bearing Witness: A Brief History of the Indian Residential Schools in Canada
(2013), in Witnesses: Art and Canadas Indian Residential Schools, pp. 9-19. Belkin Art Gallery.

** March 13 is the last day to drop this course from your academic record**

March 16: Activist documentary

The Children of Fogo Island (1967), 17 min. Colin Low
Encounter at Kwache House (1967), 17 min. Rex Tasker


Michelle Stewart, The Indian Film Crews of Challenge for Change: Representation and the State
(2007), Canadian Journal of Film Studies 16(2): 49-81.

Selections from Challenge for Change: Activist Documentary at the National Film Board of Canada (2014), ed.
Thomas Waugh, Michael Brendan Baker, and Ezra Winton. McGill University Press.


March 30: Multi-media ethnography

TBA according to student interests

S. Lochlann Jain, Cancer Butch (2007), Cultural Anthropology 22(4): 502-538.

Haidy Geismar, Drawing It Out (2013), Visual Anthropology Review 37(2): 97-113.

Christina Lammer, Empathographies: Using Body-Art Related Video Approaches in the

Environment of an Austrian Teaching Hospital (2009), International Journal of Multiple Research
Approaches 3(3): 264-275.

April 6: Autoethnography
Sea in the Blood (2000), 26 min. Richard Fung.
Sweet Clover, a Homecoming (2010), 17 min. Jen Heuson.

Barbara Meyerhoff and Jay Ruby, Introduction (1982), in A Crack in the Mirror: Reflexive Perspectives
in Anthropology, pp. 1-35.

Julianne Pidduck, Queer Kinship and Ambivalence: Video Autoethnographies by Jean Carlomusto
and Richard Fung (2009), GLQ 15(3): 441-468.