Anthropology, Text and Film

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Andrea Pia OLD 6.09 and Dr Megan Laws OLD 1.13


This course is compulsory on the BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

This course provides training in the reading and interpretation of visual and textual anthropology. It introduces students to detailed, holistic study of social and cultural practices within particular geographic and historical contexts and develops skills in bringing together the various elements of cultural and social life analysed by anthropologists. By the end of each term, successful students will have both a detailed knowledge of three important texts and films, and also have a rounded view of the three settings studied.

They will also have developed the capacity to think critically about ethnographic writing and filmmaking, and about anthropological engagements with other mediums such as games, photography, and sound. In addition, the course aims to enable students to examine in detail the process by which ethnographic texts and films are produced through the close analysis of three book-length ethnographic accounts (or the equivalent) in the MT and by providing students with practical training in the production of photo, audio, and video materials in the LT. Students will study a film (or other visual or auditory material) associated with each text or topic each term.


2 hours of lectures, 12 hours of lectures, 6 hours of seminars and 6 hours of classes in the MT. 4 hours of lectures, 9 hours of lectures, 4 hours and 30 minutes of seminars and 7 hours of classes in the LT.

In the MT there are 12 hours of ‘lectures’ that combine a lecture and a film screening.

In LT there are 9 hours of ‘lectures’ that will be film screenings.

This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual lectures, classes and online interactive activities. The contact hours listed above are the minimum expected. This course has a reading week in Week 6 of both MT and LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to read the three set texts in the MT, approximately 1/3 text (two-four chapters) each week, and between two and three academic articles or chapters each week in the LT. It will be essential to do this in order to pass this course. In addition, in the LT, students will be required to submit a 200-word pitch and annotated storyboard for their photo, audio, or video productions each cycle.

The emphasis in classes and seminars will be on developing students' abilities to read and analyse texts as a whole and to produce their own, and to relate them to the other material offered on the course. Supplementary readings or viewings may be provided during the term.

Indicative reading

Detailed reading lists (including this year's set texts) will be provided at the beginning of the course.

For a general introduction to issues covered in the course, see the following:

  • Engelke, M., ed. 2009. The Objects of Evidence: Anthropological Approaches to the Production of Knowledge. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Cox, R., Irving, A., and Christopher Wright. 2016. Beyond text? Critical practices and sensory anthropology. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • MacDougall, D. 2006. The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography, and the Senses. Princeton University Press.
  • Grimshaw, A., and A. Ravetz. 2009. Observational Cinema: Anthropology, Film, and the Exploration of Social Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • MacDonald, S. 2013. American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary: The Cambridge Turn. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Marcus, G. E., and M. M. J. Fischer. 1986. Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Wolf, M. 1992. A Thrice-Told Tale: Feminism, Postmodernism, and Ethnographic Responsibility. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Coursework (100%, 4800 words) in the MT and LT.

All students will produce a portfolio of position pieces (worth 100% of the total mark), to which they are expected to make a contribution after each cycle (submitting a total of 3 position pieces in the MT and 3 position pieces in the LT). In the LT, the student’s position pieces should also refer to their own photo, audio, or video productions. Portfolios will be assessed periodically throughout the year, with the final grade determined at the end of Lent Term.

Students who submit fewer than four position pieces will receive a mark of zero for each missed assessment. The overall mark will be the average of the four position pieces with the highest grades, including any zeroes for missed assessments.

Students who submit at least one position piece and fail the course will be expected to add to their portfolio at resit in order to achieve a pass.  Students who do not submit any position pieces (0 out of 6), will be awarded a Zero Absent for the whole course and cannot be awarded the degree until they submit sufficient work at resit to complete the course.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2019/20: 46

Average class size 2019/20: 12

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information