SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Anthropology and Film

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

This course explores the multiple relationships between anthropology and film. On one hand we look at how anthropologists have used and debated film as a mode of ethnographic representation, that is, how film has been configured as a mode of anthropological knowledge. On the other, we also examine how the medium of film and the intervention of filmmakers have help to shape anthropology and the debates on ethnographic representation. 

We will evaluate film in relation to the wider histories of anthropological practice, written ethnography, photography, film criticism, audiences, documentary and popular fiction film practice and indigenous responses. In what amounts to a kind of mutual interrogation, our strategy will be to both locate film within the internal dynamics of anthropology as an academic discipline as well as in relation to a wider field, external to anthropology, of filmmaking practice and theory.


  • Students enrol via the online Module Sign-Up system.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The main aims of this course are threefold:

  • to introduce the history of ethnographic film by covering the some of the important films and major filmmakers who have defined the field;
  • to examine the main documentary styles and conventions that have been used in the construction of ethnographic films;
  • to consider the main issues and themes that have used to critically evaluate and theorize film as a mode of anthropological inquiry.

Scope and syllabus

Discussion topics include: 

  • early documentary; 
  • film as art; 
  • film in teaching and research; 
  • film as event;
  • participatory and observational film; 
  • indigenous film-making; 
  • film in political advocacy, and the ethics of documentary; 
  • reflexive filming and editing; 
  • anthropology of/on television.

Method of assessment

  • AS1:Assignment 1 - 20%
  • AS2:Assignment 2 - 70%
  • SP1:Seminar Participation 1 - 10%

Suggested reading

Sample readings:
  • R Barsam Non-Fiction film: a critical history (Indiana UP, 1992).
  • P Crawford & D Turton (eds) Film as ethnography (Manchester UP, 1992).
  • P Loizos Innovation in ethnographic film (Manchester UP, 1993).
  • L Taylor (ed.) Visualizing Theory (Routledge, 1995)
  • B Nichols Respresenting Reality (Indiana UP, 1991).
  • B Winston Claiming the Real (BFI, 1995)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules