Visual Ethnography in Old and New Media
MA 421G Seminar in Media Arts

Spring 2001
M W 16:00-17:45
T 203

Katrien Jacobs
Visual and Media Arts
180 Tremont, room 1106
Office hours: Tuesdays 10am-1pm
Phone: 824 8828


*printer friendly version*


description & goals


week by week


The course focuses on ethnography as a mode of representation of cultures by analyzing and questioning the construction of cultures through 'old' and 'new' media such as film, video, audio, photography, and new media. Students are introduced to the history of ethnographic film and to new poetic, theoretical, and interactive approaches in ethnographic film and visual anthropology. The comparison of several practitioners such as Tracey Moffat, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Marlon Riggs, and David MacDougal provides a good overview of current practices, and will be read in reference to critical theories of old and new media. Problems of cross-cultural representation will be raised, including voices of indigenous filmmakers and exile cultures. Particular attention will be given to a critical analysis of colonial and post-colonial representations in film and new media, and to feminist approaches to ethnography. Finally, various modes of interaction between media artists and community, and the processes of production and media imaging, will be discussed.

The course gives an overview of ethnographic theories and practices throughout the twentieth century. From silent film to documentary film, new waves of documentary, television projects with indigenous populations, experimental video to ways of thinking about ethnography on CD-ROM and the Internet. The course discusses the ethics and aesthetics of documenting cultural diversity and subject positions including ethnic and sexual minorities.


On completion of the course, students should be able to:
1. demonstrate a good understanding of the history of ethnographic film as well as current theories and media practices.
2. demonstrate an awareness of a variety of theoretical approaches including postcolonial theory, feminist theory, time/space aesthetics.
3. comprehend and compare the process of constructing media content and aesthetics.
4. critically analyze the forms of interaction and self-reflexivity involved in producing ethnographic programs.


The course examines:
1. ethnic and multi-cultural identities as constructed in ethnographic film, video and new media.
2. the history of ethnographic film and a variety of new media approaches and practices.
3. ways of conducting film analysis as well as carrying out experimental audio-visual imaging.
4. A critique of traditional practices by minority practitioners.


Crawford, P. I. and D. Burton Eds. Film as Ethnography (Manchester University Press, 1992)

Anna Deavere Smith, Twilight Los Angeles (Anchor Books, 1994)

MA 421G Course Reader will be made available

Class attendance and participation is 100% mandatory.

Two page response papers to readings, movies, fieldtrips and websites. These papers will be critical and creative responses to specific questions about weekly topics. Due dates are indicated on week-to-week outline below. Response papers have to be brought into class on the due date, without any exceptions!

One major research paper about three ethnographic films/videos of your choice Due Week Nine!

Final website project and in-class presentation which develops one of the topics discussed in class.

Attendance and Participation 10%
Response Papers 30%
Longer Paper 30%
Final Project 30%



Ethnographic Snapshots

1/22 Early Ethnographic Film

Ash, Timothy, "The Ethics of Ethnographic Filmmaking"

FIRST response paper due, response to "The Ethics of Ethnographic Filmmaking."

1/24 Presentation by Karen Rodriguez

Assignment: Bring five ethnographic snapshots to class

Ethnography and the Mass Ornament

1/29 The Wonderful/Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (In Class Screening)

1/31 Trimuph of the Will & Olympia (In Class Screening)

Readings: Siegfried Kracauer, "The Mass Ornament" Excerpt

SECOND response paper due, response to The Wonderful/Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl

Representing Diversity

2/5 Case Study: LA Race Riots

Reading: Anna Deavere Smith, Twilight LA, 1992

2/7 Marlon Riggs: Black Is/Black Ain't (In Class Screening)

THIRD response paper due, creative response to A.D. Smith

Whose Story is it? Domestic Stories

2/12 Brother's Keeper (In Class Screening)

2/14 Discussion Brother's Keeper

Readings: David MacDougall, "Complicities of Style"
Dai Vaughan, "The Aesthetics of Ambiguity"

Experimental Short Films

2/19 NO CLASSES (President's Day)

2/21 In-Class Screening:
Mindy Faber, Delirium
Tracey Moffat, Nice Colored Girls
Ngoze Onwurah, The Body Beautiful

Reading: Wilton Martinez, "Who constructs Anthropological Knowledge?
Toward a Theory of Ethnographic Film Spectatorship."

Activist Documentaries

2/26 Screening tba (Topic: Sexual Minorities)

FOURTH response paper due. Apply Martinez's ideas to one of the three experimental short films

2/28 Theory Essay Workshop (Bring Samples od Ethnographic Films to Class)

Spring break March 3-11

Virtual Communities

3/12 LAB W417 Ethnography in Chatrooms and Webcams

Reading: Lisa Nakamura, "Race in/for cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet"

3/14: LAB W 417

Reading: Ananda Mitra, "Virtual commonality: Looking For India on the Internet."


New Media and Gender

3/19 :Cyberfeminism LABW 417

Reading: Nina Wakeford: "Networking Women amd Grrrls with Information/Communication technology: Surfing Talkes of the World Wide Web.

3/21 LAB W417 Final Project Worshop A)

Ethnography in Australia

3/26 LAB W417

In Class Screening Frank Reijkjavic, Exile and the Kingdom
David Bradbury, Jabiluka


Ethno-Poetic Approaches

4/2 In-Class Screening:
Trinh T. Min-ha
Naked spaces: Living is Round
Surname Viet, Given Name Nam

4/4 Discussion Trinh T. Min-ha's work

Readings: H.L.Moore: "Trin T.Minh-ha observed: Antropology and the Other"
Nancy Chen/Trinh T.Minh-ha: "Speaking Nearby"

Reality Television

4/9 Discussion of new ethnography on television

4/11 Final Project Workshop B) PHOTOGRAPHY, TEXT, + ONE OTHER MEDIUM

4/16 Work on Final Projects

4/18 Final Presentations (beta)

4/23 Final Presentations

4/25 Final Presentations

main / cv / articles / teaching / peep@porn