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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Social Anthropology

Undergraduate Course: Film and Anthropology (SCAN10075)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course will provide a broad overview of the history of visual anthropology and engage how the formal methods available to anthropological filmmakers have been/are deployed in the context of producing ethnographic engagements with the world that are primarily visual in their orientation. Thus, visual anthropology and its formal (i.e. methodological) relationship to ethnography, cultural and social anthropology, and the social sciences and humanities more generally is the specific focus of the course. Specific anthropologists/filmmakers to be covered will include Robert Gardner, Jean Rouch, Karl G. Heider, Robert Flaherty, Timothy Asch and Lucien Castaing-Taylor; salient non-fiction films or other visual representations (such as the early scientific photography of Charcot or Muybridge and the science films of Jean Painlevé) will also be considered.
Course description 1. Making Nature "Speak": Scientific Photography - Cinematography in the 19th and early 20th Centuries
This session introduces the course and looks at the use of pre-cinematic visual technologies in scientific work from the 19th and early 20th century.

2. An Innocent Eye? Robert Flaherty and The Popular Origins of Non- Fiction Cinema
Using Nanook of the North as our primary source, in this section we closely analyse the films of Robert Flaherty and the foundation of a properly 'documentary' cinema.

3. Art Has Its Own Relation to the Empirical; The Ambiguity of Non- Fiction Films in the Early 20th Century
Lacking established genre conventions, this week we look at films that were understood to be non-fiction at the time but that trouble contemporary criteria for 'truth-telling' in cinema.

4. Things Are Not As They Appear; Surrealism, Soviet Realism and "Non-Fiction" Film
The topic for this session is the relation of avant-garde cinemas of the 1920s and 30s (Surrealism and Soviet Realism) and non-fiction filmmaking.

5. Just The Facts, Please; British Social Documentaries of the 1930s
In reaction to the avant-garde, the British Social Documentary movement asserted a more 'objective' approach to documentary, which is the subject of this session.

6. Modest Witnesses or Mad Scientists? Ethnographic Cinema Appears as a Genre
This session charts the founding of a separate 'ethnographic' genre within the broader category of documentary filmmaking.

7. Man, The Camera, and Ciné-trance; Jean Rouch
This week's meeting pertains to the singular contribution Jean Rouch made to the founding of a properly visual anthropology.

8. Creativity and the Empirical: Robert Gardner
Like Rouch, Robert Gardner is a singular figure in the history of ethnographic film; we take a close, critical view of his oeuvre in this session.

9. Politics and Self-consciousness
By the 1970s ethnographic film was being regularly deployed to assert political points of view, particularly in relation to ongoing processes of decolonisation in the non-Western world. This session provides an critical outline of this approach.

10. Fact/Fiction/Subjects/Objects; What is Cinema?
This final session takes up contemporary ethnographic filmmaking and the profound diversity existing in the genre in the early years of the present century.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 Anthropology courses at grade B or above (or to be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Contribute to preparing students to participate in an effective and informed way in debates regarding the history of visual anthropology, the issues regarding visually presenting human cultural difference, and the relation between visual anthropology and the work of social anthropology more generally.
  2. Have a substantive knowledge and understanding of a selection of important historical and social issues with regard to the development and use of visual technologies in the representation and depiction of cultural diversity, and of the contending viewpoints and claims on these issues.
  3. Identify and characterise key approaches from social anthropology, from other social science disciplines, and from interdisciplinary fields like cultural studies, film studies, and science and technology studies to understanding and evaluating issues concerning visual anthropology as a sub-field, and identify advantages, problems and implications of these approaches.
  4. Critically evaluate contributions to the academic and public debates on the use of film in scientific, philosophical, and humanities-related inquiries in order to engage wider audiences regarding issues of human social and cultural difference.
  5. Identify and evaluate a selection of techniques and procedures used in visual anthropology and their relation to the formal techniques and procedures of cinema generally.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Richard Baxstrom
Course secretaryMiss Lauren Ayre
Tel: (0131 6)50 2010
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